Sunday, April 14, 2019

Off Day: The Cousins Look Back on Game 2

The Washington Capitals won Game 2 in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes and have an off day before resuming the series in Carolina on Monday night.  The cousins take a break from Sunday brunch to offer some thoughts.

Peerless:  Two games in.  Any surprises?

Fearless:  Carl Hagelin leading the forwards in even strength ice time (15:35, more than a minute per game more than Tom Wilson) qualifies.  Wilson being second in that category would qualify, too.  Wilson has an interesting time on ice profile.  As of Sunday morning, he and Carolina’s Sebastian Aho are the only forwards so far to average at least 14 minutes a game in even strength ice time, more than three minutes of shorthanded ice time, and more than two minutes of power play ice time. 

Cheerless: The bottom six forwards have one point – Lars Eller’s empty net goal in Game 1.  The third line of Eller, Carl Hagelin, and Brett Connolly have 11 shots on goal, which isn’t all that bad, so one might think a breakthrough is coming.  The fourth line of Nic Dowd, Chandler Stephenson, and Andre Burakovsky has a total of two shots on goal, both by Dowd.  All of them are averaging less than nine minutes of ice time per game so far.

Peerless: This is a strange place for the Caps, winning Games 1 and 2 on home ice.  They did not do it last season.  They have done it once since 2013, winning Games 1 and 2 at home against Philadelphia in the first round in 2016.  Is this a bad place for them?

Fearless:  Not really.  You’re thinking like “Old Disappointed Caps fan,” not like “New Stanley Cup Champion Caps fan.”  This is a club that last season did not let going down two games on home ice in the first round become a fatal matter, and while they did drop three straight against Tampa Bay after winning Games 1 and 2 on the road in the conference final last spring, they did scratch out wins in Games 6 and 7 to advance to the final.  The point is that the Caps did not get too high with the highs, nor did they get too low with the lows.  There is no reason to think that they won’t behave in similar fashion with largely the same group this season.

Cheerless:  In the back of my mind…y’know, it’s really cluttered back there what with all the…

Peerless: You were saying…

Cheerless: Oh yeah, I just can’t help but think that this is a team that has not finished games all that well this season and that they have allowed Carolina twice to tie games in the third period in this series.  It does not give one the most comfortable feeling that they are just going to put the Hurricanes in a three-game hole.  One thing to think about, though; the Caps went on the road 11 times this season after winning a game on home ice and went 7-3-1 in those games, so it is not as if going on the road stifled their momentum to any large degree.

Peerless: Of 17 goalies to dress so far, only two – San Jose’s Martin Jones and Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy – have worse save percentages than Carolina’s Petr Mrazek.  However, Mrazek has faced only 50 shots.  Only San Jose’s goalies (Jones and Aaron Dell) have faced fewer (49).  The Caps emphasize “quality” over “quantity” of shots, but has 50 shots (not including the empty netter) been too low a number?

Fearless:  I think this is something that will sort itself out, given the way the shots have been distributed so far.  Jakub Vrana (two), T.J. Oshie (two), Evgeny Kuznetsov (one), and Andre Burakovsky (none) have combined for five shots in two games.  In the regular season, those four players combined to average almost eight shots per game as a group.  One has to think that one or more of them will return to some higher level of shots on goal frequency.

Cheerless: Two things to think about here.  First, Mrazek, whether his own or his teammates’ fault, has had awful first period numbers.  In Games 1 and 2, he stopped 11 of 16 first period shots, a .688 save percentage. That would be bad in a beer league.  Compare that with stopping 32 of 33 shots over the second and third periods of those games, a .970 save percentage.  Then there are the third period shots.  The Caps have had a total of 13 third period shots on goal in the two games and have one non-empty net goal (Tom Wilson in Game 2).  Carolina had 18 third period shots on goal with three goals scored.  Maybe the Caps weren’t sitting back, but it sure looked as if they were.

In the end…

Through two games, these teams are almost mirror images of one another.  The Caps get off to fast starts, outscoring Carolina by a 5-1 margin in the first periods of Games 1 and 2, while the Hurricanes finish stronger, outscoring the Caps, 3-2, in the third periods of games (and one of the Caps’ goals was an empty netter).  The Caps, who emphasize quality over quantity in shots, still have the worst shot attempt differential at 5-on-5 of any of the 16 teams left (minus-40), and it’s not close (Dallas is minus-31). 

The good thing about that, or the scary thing (if you think the Caps are sitting back with a lead), is that the Caps are minus-39 in 5-on-5 shot attempts when holding a lead.  The next worse team when holding a lead is Toronto at minus-14. But then again, the Caps have held the lead for 75:41 of 181:48 in total ice time in this series.  Carolina has yet to hold a lead, the only one of the 16 teams yet to do so.  And that raises the question going into Game 3, can the Caps continue to play from ahead as the series shifts to Carolina?  A road team able to do that, able to take a crowd out of the game, can make things that much more difficult for a team trying to climb out of an 0-2 hole to make this a series.