Getty Images

The Washington Capitals are up to their old tricks again

22 Comments

The Washington Capitals are doing that thing again.

It seems every year they find a way to work themselves into the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. They’ve finished first in their division seven times out of the past 10 seasons and second twice. Only once — a fifth-place showing — have they been outside the top two during the past decade.

It’s become as predictable as it is remarkable.

And this year, at first glance, it’s sort of surprising.

Sure, Alex Ovechkin is still scoring, Nicklas Backstrom is still assisting and Braden Holtby is still stopping a lot of pucks.

But the Caps also took, what at least appeared to be at the time, a big hit on the backend over the summer.

Offensively, not much has changed (although they did lose Marcus Johannson’s 24 goals) but losing Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk to free agency and Nate Schmidt in the expansion draft left a sizeable hole to be filled on the blueline.

[Alex Ovechkin has never had a goal-scoring run like this]

Statistically speaking, they’ve also regressed from the numbers they put up last season when they amassed 55 wins.

They had the fourth best Corsi rating in the NHL last season, a statistic that made sense giving their winning prowess. Yet this year, with 21 wins, they sit 23rd in the category they dominated last season.

The same story plays out in expected goals, where they sat ninth last season yet are in 26th place now.

Analytically, a lot of their success this season doesn’t seem to add up, and yet they’ve won eight of their last 10 games and are currently on a three-game heater.

So why are they tied for first place in the Metro? There are a few answers to be had.

In the scoring department, several players have stepped up. Jakub Vrana has 10 goals in 33 games after three in 21 games last year and Tom Wilson is just three points shy of the 19 points he put up in 82 games last season. Brett Connolly and Alex Chaisson are also scoring at better rates and Washington sits eighth in five-on-five scoring.

What is also helping is their high shooting percentage.

At 9.22 percent, the Caps sit in fifth in the league, and their PDO, when you combine their shooting percentage and team save percentage, sits at 101.98, good for the third spot in the NHL.

And the Caps have proven they can keep that number high. Only two teams finished with over nine percent last season, and the Caps were one of them.

On defence, John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov have picked up the slack. The rookie third pairing of Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey is averaging 14 minutes a game and have been a solid addition.

And Holtby, is well, Holtby, which has been especially helpful given Philipp Grubauer‘s struggles to return to last year’s form so far.

So the Caps, for the most part, are in a good spot.

The biggest question that will surround the Caps, assuming they hold serve, is if they can replicate it in the playoffs.

Despite winning a slew of regular season games, the Capitals just can’t figure out how to do the same in April and May.

In nine of the past ten seasons they’ve made the playoffs, they’ve failed to even sniff the Eastern Conference Final, never mind a Stanley Cup final berth.

But that’s another story for another day, as it were.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Poll: Will the Caps miss Mike Green?

13 Comments

Mike Green only averaged 19:06 of ice time last season, down more than three minutes from his previous season.

But that reduction wasn’t really a reflection of his play. It was the additions of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik in free agency. There are only so many minutes to go around, and the Caps also had to give John Carlson and Karl Alzner their time.

Despite Green playing less, he actually saw his production increase, from 38 points in 70 games in 2013-14 to 45 points in 72 games last season. Only 15 NHL defensemen had more points than Green did. Shea Weber and Duncan Keith also had 45 points, and they played more games and received far more ice time.

But the Caps had to make a tough decision. If Green wasn’t a top-four d-man on their team, they couldn’t pay him like one. So he signed with Detroit for three years and $18 million.

Green’s departure leaves the Caps with a top four of Orpik, Carlson, Alzner and Niskanen, with a potential bottom pairing of 24-year-olds Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt. (KHL veteran Ilya Nikulin could reportedly be on his way to D.C., too.)

OK, time to vote:

Related: John Carlson is under pressure

Mike Green, a pending UFA, says it’s ‘not about the money’

8 Comments

Caps fans still holding out hope that Mike Green can be re-signed may be buoyed by what the 29-year-old defenseman had to say today.

“I want to win the Cup,” he said, per the Washington Post’s Alex Prewitt. “It’s not about money.”

Green, a pending unrestricted free agent, has been quite open about his desire to remain with the Capitals.

“My heart is in Washington,” he said in March. “It always will be until something else happens. My focus is here. My focus is winning a championship here and giving that to the fans. As an organization, that’s what we want as a team. I’m a part of that until the day I die or retire.”

Then, in April, Green called this season’s version of the Caps “by far the best team we’ve had overall.”

Alas, Washington fell short again in the playoffs. (Thanks in part to an ill-advised penalty by Green.) And with the Caps already committed to four blue-liners through at least 2016-17 — Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner — unless Green is willing to provide a big discount, it remains hard to see him back next season.

Remember also that new contracts will be needed for pending restricted free agents Braden Holtby, Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov. And the Caps may try to re-sign UFA Joel Ward, too.

We don’t want to read too much into this, but one Capitals player was talking today as if Green would be moving on:

Green had 10 goals and 35 assists in 72 games this season.

Is Gleason questionable? Caps summon Schmidt

9 Comments

The Washington Capitals announced that defenseman Nate Schmidt has been summoned from AHL Hershey in a move that might be a hint about Tim Gleason’s status for Game 7 on Wednesday.

Gleason didn’t see any ice time in the final 10:57 minutes of Sunday’s 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers. After the contest coach Barry Trotz described the 32-year-old defenseman as “banged up,” per the Washington Post’s Alex Prewitt.

Washington acquired Gleason from the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 28 in exchange for Jack Hillen and a 2015 fourth-round draft pick. He had two assists and a plus-five rating in 17 games with the Capitals to finish the season, but his ice time has dipped to just 13:28 minutes per game in the playoffs as Washington has leaned on its top-five blueliners in John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, and Mike Green.

Schmidt, 23, had a goal and three assists in 39 contests with Washington during the 2014-15 regular season.

If Gleason can’t play on Wednesday, then that would mark the first change in Washington’s defense since the playoffs began.

Video: Lundqvist believes pressure is on Capitals in Game 6

14 Comments

The New York Rangers, the Presidents’ Trophy winners during the regular season, managed for now to stave off elimination in the second round, extending this series with the Washington Capitals to Game 6 at Verizon Center.

And apparently the pressure is now on the Capitals to close out this series, still leading 3-2 after a loss to the Rangers in overtime on Friday. Game 6 between these teams goes Sunday.

Cue all the chatter about whether the Rangers have put doubt into the minds of the Capitals, and about the swing of momentum.

“We are still alive. Going home now, there’s a lot of pressure for them. I know for sure they don’t want to come back here,” said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, as per Andrew Gross of The Record.

As you would expect, there are differing opinions on the matter.

“I don’t think so. We’re still the underdog in this series. Pressure’s the same no matter what,” said defenseman Karl Alzner, as per Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post.

“We’re OK right now. We knew that we would see their best effort today and we did. And … I don’t think they’ve seen ours yet,” added head coach Barry Trotz to reporters.