THN takes a shot at the Caps

Our buddies at THN, or more specifically, Adam Proteau, takes a shot at the Capitals in his latest article. He questions the team's goaltending and defense (yawn - who hasn't?) mainly. Here's my analysis on his article.

Note: I'm a newbie at this statistic stuff :) If you wanna post your fancy shmancy statistics, feel free to do so in the comments. I'm going 1st grade with this.

Now, Mr. Proteau uses two specific points in his latest post. The first point is about Ovechkin's life off the ice (which is totally irrelevant to the Capitals and their Stanley Cup chances, unless Ovie gets injured or suspended) which I won't talk about in this post, because 1) Proteau fails to further explain this point, and 2) we all know Ovie will be 100% focused come playoff time.

Here's Proteau's main point and emphasis in this article:

"Do the Capitals have the goaltending and defense corps to compliment The-Best-Player-We’ll Ever-Have come playoff time?"

Oh. This argument again?

Well, here's where my 1st grade statistics come in. The Caps rank 12th in the league with a 2.72 GAA, and being the top offensive team in the league, that gives them a +1.11 goals scored/goals allowed differential. No other team has a GS/GA above 1.

Now, the Caps are currently tied for 18th in the league (with St. Louis) at shots allowed, with an average of 30.4 shots allowed per game. That may not look too pretty, but the Sharks, Avalanche, and the Sabres allow more shots per game than the Caps (30.8, 31.7 and 32.2, respectively).

Here's where it gets a bit worse: the Capitals rank 19th in the penalty killing unit, killing off only 80.3% of their penalties. From a fan's perspective, the PK gets hot, and it gets cold. Adding to this stat: teams have had a total of 208 power play opportunities against the Capitals, which is tied with the Penguins for 12th most in the league. Do the math, and teams have scored about 41 power-play goals against the Capitals.

Now, we can all acknowledge that the defense of the Capitals has been decrepit at times recently. It's been an Achilles-heel for the past two seasons. Yet, to commonly jump onto the stereotype that the Capitals' defense should be worrysome come playoff time is, in my case, overreacting. We've all seen the defense grow and become solid before our very eyes. To make a point, and to use two examples of guys who were less than stellar last year on defense, Mike Green has become more responsible in his own end, taking less penalties and making more plays on the puck. Jeff Schultz is among the league leaders in plus/minus, and although he does not play the physical brand of hockey that many would expect him to because of his 6'6" frame, he has taken on a bigger and more noticeable (in my eyes) defensive style in making plays on the puck rather than taking a physical approach. We all know that the defense has improved, and Proteau makes a case for the defense in his article:

"I’d be good if the group of blueliners Bruce Boudreau has now stayed intact through the remainder of the year.

Why? Because Mike Green has shown he no longer is a Michael Bay-worthy abomination in his own zone. Because Jeff Schultz quietly has become one of the league’s most improved defensemen. And because the Caps’ youngsters – most notably, Karl Alzner and John Carlson – hold much in the way of promise for the future."

Oh yeahhhhhhh. Alzner and Carlson.

Let's go over to goaltending. Now, young Semyon Varlamov has been injured for most of the season, leaving the crease duties to Jose Theodore and Michal Neuvirth. Both goalies have gotten the job done, but have been hot and cold, much like the aforementioned penalty kill. 

Want some goaltending stats? Besides the 2.72 GAA mentioned above, the goaltenders of the Capitals have a .911 save percentage (12th best in the NHL) and 143 goals allowed in net (tied for 11th best with the Kings).

According to Proteau:

"Each member of the netminding troika in question – Semyon Varlamov, Jose Theodore and Michal Neuvirth – has put up a decent, if not above-average showing at times this season.

However, with Varlamov still sidelined by groin and knee woes and Theodore leaving Tuesday’s gameagainst the Islanders with a lower-body injury, Boudreau and the Caps were briefly leaning on the duo of the 21-year-old Neuvirth and 20-year-old Braden Holtby, both of whom were called up from the American League, though Holtby began the year in the ECHL.

Yikes. Actually, make that double-yikes, with a side order of excessive stomach acids."

True, the Capitals have brought out decent goaltending this season. Yes, there are injury woes for Varlamov. Yet, he is closer to returning, as is Theodore after a recent hip flexor.

Michal Neuvirth has shown flashes at times in net, and he's shown that he needs more seasoning in the minor leagues. Yet, for Mr. Proteau to experience stomach pains over one simple game without a veteran goaltender is appalling. Injuries happen. They always do. To see Holtby back up ONE GAME does not mean "press the panic button over and over again".

Truth be told, the goaltending could be better, and we've seen some bad goals let in this year, but I believe there's no need to bring in a veteran goaltender at the trade deadline, seeing as we already have Theodore. Going forward, once Varlamov returns, I can see a Varlamov - Theo pairing. Yet, that was the duo going into last year's playoffs, and we all know what happened there. I think having a year of playoff experience under Varlamov's belt, however, will better prepare him for the playoffs, and having Theodore, who has playoff starting experience, helps as well.

Proteau believes otherwise:

"Listen, I know Varlamov demonstrated last spring he could carry a team on his back and steal some playoff games. I’m not saying that can’t and won’t happen again this time around, but let’s be honest with ourselves – Boudreau would not feel especially bold in mid-April with an inconsistent Theodore and two kids as insurance for Varlamov."

Proteau may have a point here. Theodore started last year's game 1 against the Rangers, and didn't do so well. Varlamov took over and carried the team on his back until finally bowing out in Game 7 against the Penguins.

Yet, I remain firm in my belief that the goaltending situation should not be changed. With a noticeably better defense in front of the crease, and a high-octane offense to boot, I think it's safe to say that the Capitals can better support their goaltending if fully healthy. Varlamov has turned in many great performances for this Capitals team, and if he's healthy, he can deliver for the team. Plus, Theodore has playoff experience, and while he was pulled in the Rangers playoff game, he is the veteran goaltender that the Capitals have been linked to getting, in my opinion. Besides, what would the price be on veteran goaltenders on the market (Turco, Conklin, Biron)?

The overall verdict? The Capitals may not be known for their defense or goaltending, but that does not mean it's totally a problem either. With a solid defensive core that will only get better in the future, and a goaltending situation that has been shaky at times, yet mostly solid, the Caps have the major pieces in place for a Stanley Cup run. Only time will tell if they can live up to their great, great billing.

Thanks for reading, and post all your feedback below!

If this FanPost is written by someone other than one of the blog's editors, the opinions expressed in it do not necessarily reflect those of this blog or SB Nation.

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