After watching virtually every Capitals game this season, it’s become rather pedestrian to determine if the Caps are going to win or lose, and usually requires only five or 10 minutes of observation. The key indicator is the 1st period play of Braden Holtby. Holtby’s success or failure to control rebounds is the indicator to a good or bad evening, and after yesterday’s first period debacle, (three goals in eight shots against Tampa Bay) it was clear the Caps were on their way to defeat.
That is until the Great Eight took over the hockey game and stunned the Verizon Center crowd by scoring four goals with the last coming at 19:27 of the third period. He saved the Caps and sent the game into overtime where they subsequently won 6-5 in a shootout.
What’s clear about this year’s Caps team is that Adam Oates has solved for what ailed Alex Ovechkin. I thought OV was done as he labored to score and looked disinterested at times in Dale Hunter’s defensive minded system. Oates started the resurrection by moving him from left wing to right; something neither Bruce Boudreau nor Hunter thought to try. Then coach overhauled the power play and Ovechkin has turned into an unstoppable force with the extra man, and it’s just wonderful to watch.
That’s not to say the Capitals don’t have problems; they do, and it starts with goaltending and defense.
Braden Holtby is becoming less consistent on a daily basis and the emergence of Phillip Grubauer should have him worried. If Holtby continues to allow fat juicy rebounds, he’s going to find himself in a stint at Hershey. I don’t think the oft injured Michal Neuvirth is the answer, and while Grubauer has ordinary stats this season at Hershey (.910 SAV%/2.60 GAA), he certainly has looked very solid playing in the bigs.
Defensively, the Caps are way too loose with the puck in their own end and struggle to exit the zone. They badly need a pure stay at home defenseman and currently have nobody on the roster to fill that role. They are currently 29th out of 30 teams in shots per game allowed (35.1) and are 12th in shots taken (30.4) Consistently getting out-shot by five per contest is not a formula for success, especially with struggling goaltenders.
The good news is that the Caps are rolling along in second place in the eight-team Metropolitan Division despite amassing a point total ranking 15th overall in the 30-team league. The western conference is just killing the east and the Caps have largely been losing to the better teams and beating up on the bottom feeders. Where does that leave them? Probably as a top-6 team in the east, a qualifier for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but sadly leading the charge to the golf course after the first or second round of the post-season. Hopefully not. Let’s Go Caps!