Boy, it feels good to say those words again. Words we will NOT say again are these, at the bottom of our prognosto to start the 2013-2014 season… “Washington Capitals Stanley Cup Champions 2014.”
What we will prognostify is that the Capitals will: a) be better than they were last seasons, and b) will return to the playoffs. The march to that end begins on Thursday night with the season and home opener against the Montreal Canadiens. And this, being Washington, we wanted to get some insight on the contest from a man who is no stranger to conflict, intrigue, and dirty tricks, the President of the United States.
No, not Barack Obama, the REAL President of the United States, Francis Joseph Underwood. Mr. President, it is a pleasure to welcome you…
"It is, isn’t it?"
Yes, well, I guess the first question I have for you is, I know you’ve been a devoted follower of the sport, especially the Capitals. What is it you like about them this season?
Well, they are an underdog, but it seems that few in the hockey media give the Caps much of a chance to make the post-season. Do you pay attention to those kinds of predictions?
"I have no patience for useless things."
"I have no patience for useless things."
Still, all you hear about is how the Islanders have improved, the Blue Jackets, the Devils, even the Panthers...
On to another subject. Last year the Caps were seen as being too passive, lacking enough aggression to make teams sit up and take notice. They seem to have adopted a more aggressive approach under new head coach Barry Trotz. Maybe they’re taking a page out of your playbook. How would you characterize it in terms of what you wanted to inflict on opponents?
Can you elaborate on that?
"There are two kinds of pain... the sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain, the sort that's only suffering."
So you’re saying…
At the end of the season, what do you think Capitals Nation will be saying to the rest of the NHL?
And on that, Mr. President, I want to thank you giving us a moment of your time.
The Capitals have a long history; 153 regular season meetings (the Caps are 64-69-17-3), a memorable seven-game playoff match-up in 2010. What they do not have is an Opening Night game against the Canadiens in any of their previous 39 seasons.
As the Caps embark on their 40th anniversary season, it is perhaps fitting that they should meet a new opponent for an Opening Night contest. The Caps are, after all, set on a new path with a new general manager (Brian MacLellan), a new head coach (Barry Trotz), and two new free agent defensemen (Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik) to hopefully give the Caps a new sense of depth on the blue line that they have not had in more than a decade.
As for the Canadiens, the most storied franchise in the history of the sport with 24 NHL championships and nine other appearances in the league finals, they have neither won nor appeared in a Stanley Cup final since 1992-1993 and have “only” two Stanley Cup wins in the last 34 seasons. If only the Caps had so few wins.
In Montreal, however, this represents unfulfilled expectations, and the question is whether this edition of the Canadiens can contend for the prize. Last year’s team, playing in the loaded (by Eastern Conference standards) Atlantic Division, finished third behind the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning. However, they still had the fourth best record in the conference and tied the Los Angeles Kings for the ninth best record in the league (46-28-8 for 100 points).
1. Montreal’s 5-on-5 goals ratio (0.99) last season was one of only two teams in the playoffs last season whose ratio was under 1.00. Philadelphia (0.96) was the other.
2. Only three teams had more power play opportunities on the road last season than the Canadiens’ 139: Florida (142), Pittsburgh (142), and the Caps (143).
3.. Montreal was tied for fourth in fewest goals allowed in the first period last season (53). Los Angeles (49), San Jose (47), New Jersey (45), and Boston (44) allowed fewer.
4. The Canadiens were one of seven teams not to lose a game in regulation last season when leading after two periods. They had the third-best winning percentage (.921), behind only Anaheim (.930) and Florida (.938). Yes, Florida, but they only had 16 such games (15-0-1).
5. Among players drafted in 2007 having played in at least 100 games, Max Pacioretty is tied with Dallas’ Jamie Benn for third in career goals per game (0.34). Only Patrick Kane (0.35) and Logan Couture (0.38) have averaged more.
1. Washington was another of those seven teams last season not to have lost a game in regulation after taking a lead into the third period. However, they were only tied for 14th in winning percentage, having taken only 28 such leads (24-0-4).
2. Washington was fourth in the league last season in second period goals scored (90). They were one of only four teams with a plus-20 goal differential from both the second period to the first (+28) and second to the third (+21) periods. Anaheim, Carolina, and the New York Islanders were the others.
3. The Caps scored 66 5-on-4 goals last season, first in the league. They scored one goal at 5-on-3; only Dallas and Buffalo didn’t score one.
4. Only Toronto and Buffalo (65 times apiece) were out-shot more last season than the Caps (58). Worse, the Caps had the sixth worst winning percentage in such games (.431), even though only three teams won more games: Montreal (26), Toronto (30), and Colorado (35).
5. Brooks Laich is 14th in his 2001 draft class in career goals scored. Of those top 14 goal scorers, only Jussi Jokinen (taken 192nd over all) and Laich (193rd overall) were taken later than 100th overall .
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Montreal: Carey Price
The 2007 draft class was a pretty good one for goaltenders. Five have played in at least 100 games in the NHL: Ben Bishop (108), Tuukka Rask (196), Ondrej Pvavelec (288), Jonathan Quick (335), and Carey Price (369), who was the first goalie taken (fifth overall). He has more wins than any in this group (179) and the second best career save percentage (.917 to Rask’s .928). Against Washington, however, he has had his struggles. In 16 career appearances against the Caps, Price is 4-9-3, 3.24, .894. Those goals against and save percentage numbers against the Caps are his worst career numbers of any Eastern Conference team he has faced. He was not any better last season. In one appearance he allowed four goals on 22 shots in 30 minutes, a .846 save percentage and a 7.92 goals against average. If there is a team who can light him up, it’s Washington.
Washington: Alex Ovechkin
Right out of the box, eyes will be on Alex Ovechkin and that whole “buy-in” thing with respect to his new coach and a new philosophy. But let’s not forget what made Ovechkin famous. He has scored 20 or more career goals against ten teams, one of them being the Canadiens, against whom he has 20 goals. Three of them came in three games against the Canadiens last season. And here is your scary Ovechkin number: 12. Alex Ovechkin has scored 12 goals in nine home openers, drawing blanks only in 2012 against Carolina and 2013 against Winnipeg. Don’t be surprised if he gets off to a fast start in front of the home folks.
In the end…
Montreal is widely regarded as a playoff team; Washington is not. However, the Caps seem to have Montreal’s number more often than not. Since January 2008, the Caps are 18-5-2 against the Canadiens, including 2-1-0 last season. Price has lost his last three decisions to the Caps, allowing 12 goals on 78 shots (.846 save percentage) in 149 minutes of play (4,81 goals against average). Most folks will look on paper and think, “Montreal.” Recent performance suggests otherwise.
Capitals 4 – Canadiens 2