“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;Or close the wall up with our English dead.In peace there's nothing so becomes a manAs modest stillness and humility:But when the blast of war blows in our ears,Then imitate the action of the tiger;Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage…”
So said King Henry in “Henry V,” by William Shakespeare. And once more, the Washington Capitals find themselves in the breach, pushed to the edge of an early off-season after their 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night. The cousins are of different minds when it comes to Shakespeare, but are they of the same mind about last night’s game?
Cheerless… I hear you can get some pretty good deals on golf balls this time of year. I should ask Caps players. They know a lot about early-bird golf sales, I imagine.
Fearless… Not so fast, Gloomy Gus. The Caps have outshot the Penguins, 142-93 in this series, have a 21.4 percent power play, an 86.7 percent penalty kill, have an overall shot attempt share of 65.23 percent, and have 72 offensive zone faceoffs to 42 for the Penguins. By any reasonable measure, the Caps have dominated this series.
Cheerless… except for that goals thing and the wins thing.
Fearless… OK, since 2009, four 3-1 series leads, lost two of them…
Cheerless… This isn’t the time to bring up the Caps’ record in series when they had 3-1 leads.
Fearless… I wasn’t doing anything of the sort. That’s the Penguins’ record. Heavens, they had a 3-1 lead over the Caps last season and were an overtime goal in Game 6 from heading to a seventh game in Washington.
Cheerless… In the Ovechkin era, the Caps are 2-5 in series in which they lost Game 4. All of those games were on the road.
Fearless… The Caps are 5-3 in series in the Ovechkin era when they win Game 5.
Fearless… When the league went to a two-referee system, the thought was that having an extra pair of eyes watching a game that was only getting faster had to be a good thing. Looking at the calls against John Carlson and T.J. Oshie last night, one wonders about that sentiment. Scott Wilson flopped like a flounder at the Seattle Fish Market to draw a “roughing” penalty on John Carlson, and T.J. Oshie’s alleged “high stick,” earning him a trip to the penalty box, never touched Nick Bonino’s face.
Cheerless… Ahh…”bad zebras,” that’s what teams that lose always say.
Feerless… There have been 38 games in this postseason decided by one goal so far, including both games last night. Any single call by a referee, especially one with less than two minutes to play (that ended up being a “phantom” penalty) takes on added significance. We don’t advocate the “let them play” dictum, but maybe some officials are assuming a foul when one does not exist. Even former official Kerry Fraser wondered about the Oshie call…
Fearless… The Caps have the seventh-best Corsi-for at 5-on-5 of any team in any postseason since 2008 (57.38; numbers from Corsica.hockey).
Cheerless… Know how many of the other six ahead of them got to a Stanley Cup final? One…Detroit won it in 2008; they have the third best postseason Corsi-for (60.38).
Cheerless… So, about that bottom six. They sure are putting the “bottom” in that term. The seven players to occupy this six slots – Lars Eller, Andre Burakovsky, Tom Wilson, Daniel Winnik, Jay Beagle, Paul Carey, and Brett Connolly – have a grand total of one point in this series. One stinking point (Eller, an assist). Among them, they are shooting 0-for-31. Burakovsky has twice as many missed shots (10) as the next highest Cap (Ovechkin with five).
Fearless... Five of those players (Burakovsky, Eller, Wilson, Connolly, and Carey) have overall shot attempt shares of 70 percent or better. Beagle is the only one under 50 percent (42.59). That's not "tiliting the ice," it's taking it up in one sheet and depositing it in the offensive zone.
Peerless… So here we are, right back where we were at this time last season, a 3-2 loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh in Game 4 (that game went to overtime), taking a 1-3 deficit in games back with them to Verizon Center for the springtime “must-win” game. Makes this team little different than its immediate predecessor and not much, if at all different from any of its predecessors in this era.
A loss at home in Game 5 would arguably be the worst loss in the history of the franchise. More than Game 7 in 2010, perhaps more than a potential Game 7 in this series (from which one could argue that the Caps fought back to make such a game possible). To lose to a team in five games that lacks its number one goaltender and number one defenseman for the entirety of the series, and its best skater – the best player on the planet – for half of his team’s wins in the series would be an unvarnished disaster for this franchise. There would be no argument one could make that the season was successful (who remembers who won the President's Trophy in 2015?). For more than the players and coaches, Game 5 is a must-win game. A win might be the only thing keeping the franchise from being a punch line for years to come.