We're getting down to it now, when the little things matter, and the subtle things take on special importance. Today's topic, the Capitals' "special" problem.
When you're comparing numbers "for" and "against," there are some things that are not a problem. For instance, the Caps are among the leaders in the ratio of goals scored at 5-on-5 to goals allowed. Their ratio of 1.14, is tied for sixth in the league.
But when we get to special teams, well...Washington, we've got a problem.
Their power play -- by itself -- isn't a problem. They are humming along at 24.7 percent -- second in the league.
There are some underlying problems of both obvious and subtle nature that are picking away at their chances for success. The obvious one that screams off the page is penalty killing. At 79.5 percent, they are tied for 22nd in the league -- only Detroit is worse among playoff teams (that's not a misprint).
But dig under that penalty killing number -- and the power play one, too, for that matter -- and there is more.
First, the Caps have had the 292 power play opportunities this year. That's good for 15th in the league. Not bad, but consider...if the Caps were able to dive...uh, draw penalties as well as Carolina (327 power play opportunities), they'd have another nine goals at their current conversion rate.
Now, on the other side, no team in the NHL has found itself more times shorthanded than have the Caps -- 342 times in all. Think about that. The Caps have been shorthanded 50 times more than they have been on the power play (0.70 more per game). If the Caps were, say, 15th -- as they are on the power play opportunity ranking -- it would mean 11 fewer power play goals allowed, even at their relatively weak 79.5 percent penalty killing rate.
The combination of so many shorthanded situations faced with a weak power play compared to fewer power play opportunities with a strong power play is that for all the power play strength of the Caps, they have scored 72 power play goals while allowing 70, a "plus-2" outcome.
Now, consider this. While on the power play, the Caps have allowed nine shorthanded goals. Meanwhile, they have scored six shorthanded goals while killing penalties. The result is that their special teams have scored 78 goals while allowing 79.
The Caps have to have a second-ranked power play just to keep up with other deficiencies in their special teams. In the end, special teams -- an inability to draw penalties and an inability to kill them off -- could end up being what dooms this team.