Capital Ideas: Week 12

Mitchell Layton

Our weekly collection of Caps-centric thoughts, musings, debates and more.

Neuvirth's return, second-line shenanigans, O from the D, Ovi and more in this week's edition of Capital Ideas - debate, discuss, enjoy!

  1. Between Braden Holtby's performance and a string of ill-timed maladies, Michal Neuvirth had been on the sidelines for three weeks when he stepped between the pipes against Tampa Sunday night. If he was rusty, though, he didn't show it, picking up just his third win of the season, to be followed two nights later by his fourth. I guess he did okay in the process... all he did was post a .932 save percentage and a GAA of 2.00 in games against two of the three highest scoring teams in the East (and the third- and fifth-highest scoring teams in the NHL). That's all.
  2. Luckily he didn't have to do it alone, as the team in front of him gave him some decent support with seven goals in the two games - something that's been crucial for Neuvirth this year. Give him some goals, he'll get the win. Granted, any goalie with a GAA between 2.01 and 2.99 should win more often than not if you score three for him (and will lose more often than not if you give him just two), but Neuvirth's numbers in both situations have been pretty telling as he's 4-0-0 when they score three or more in his starts, 0-6-1 when they give him 2 or fewer.
  3. If the Caps' top line has been driving this team's success, the second line has been the hockey equivalent of the kid who falls asleep in the backseat after eating too much ice cream. The trio of Troy Brouwer, Mike Ribeiro and whatever winger happens to be healthy on game day has really struggled with even strength possession for a few weeks now, and it's become more pronounced over the last five games (especially in stark contrast to the top line's soaring possession stats). No doubt some of that is due to a less-than-100% Brooks Laich and a revolving door of wingers taking his place, but possession is driven by the center, and we've seen how Ribeiro has the ability to make his linemates better. He needs to get back to doing just that.
  4. The return of Martin Erat to the lineup should hopefully help in that department, as he's been a pretty consistently strong puck possessor over the course of his career. And with two guys on his line who can put the puck in the net like Ribeiro and Brouwer (albeit with two completely different styles), Erat could fit in nicely and give the Caps that one-two scoring punch they've been missing of late.
  5. There's been a fair amount of praise lavished on Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom these days - and deservedly so - but Marcus Johansson does deserve a bit of a shout-out for his role on what is one of the hottest lines in the NHL. While some of his recent success (13 points in the last 11 games) is probably the sheer luck of skating alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom, he's not just a passenger on the line and definitely isn't dragging them down. He's been more decisive and more confident in his shot, and has freed up space for Ovechkin by forcing defensemen to respect his speed.
  6. You may or may not have heard about the nontroversy surrounding Caps' owner Ted Leonsis and the Wizards (and if not, you can read about it here). Our take on the story is pretty "meh"... but it does serve as a reminder that leagues should have a single trophy that gets passed from team to team every year instead of pumping out shiny replicas each season. Not only do you create a legacy and a mythology that's lacking in these mass-produced trinkets, you also avoid embarrassing stories like this - because everyone knows where it is at all times (...or at least most of the time), whether it's at the bottom of Mario's pool or serving as a diaper for Kris Draper's kid. Yet another reason hockey is simply better.
  7. Back in the 2010 playoffs, the high-flying offense of the Caps was thwarted by, among other things, incessant shot-blocking by the Canadiens. Tuesday night in Montreal featured something of a role reversal, with the Caps blocking 34 of the 76 shots sent toward the net by the Habs en route to a 3-2 Caps victory. What's amazing about that number is that it tops any regular season single-game total in the shot-blocky Hunter era... and was only six blocked shots short of their total in Game 3 against the Rangers, a game which lasted a whopping 114 minutes. Eleven different players blocked at least one shot Tuesday; seven of them blocked more than one, including the captain, with John Carlson and John Erskine racking up a whopping seven apiece.
  8. You didn't really think we'd get to #8 without dedicating at least one to the Great 8, did you? Not after a week like the one Ovechkin has had, not a chance. Consider that it took Ovechkin 26 games to hit double-digits in goals this season, more than half the year and the second-slowest start of his career (the first, unsurprisingly, being last season). Since then he hasn't gone more than one game without scoring a goal, something that has happened only three times in the last fourteen games. In the first half of the season he had one multi-goal game; since then, he's had four, including three in the last five games. Unsustainable? Most likely... but the way he's playing makes it feel like the dropoff won't be so drastic this time because he's starting to become a more well-rounded player overall. And that's worth a little dip in the stats, for sure.
  9. Speaking of Ovechkin, his empty-net goal Sunday night was not only his first of the year (and would've been even if he'd missed the net, thanks to Alex Killorn) - it was his first in almost exactly two years, dating back to the one he picked up on April 6 against Florida. Not for lack of trying, of course, at least this season...
  10. Over the last five games, the Caps' blue line has combined for five goals and seven assists; over the last ten, it's up to nine goals and sixteen assists. Most of the output of late has come from Mike Green, John Carlson and Jack Hillen (he of the four points in his last two games) but overall it's a sign of just how potent this defense can be - offensively, at least - when healthy.
  11. Of course when it comes to offensively-potent and healthy (hooray!) blueliners, no one can top Mike Green, who has taken his game up a notch right along with his buddies up front. He saw his four-game goal-scoring streak end in Florida and his five-game point-scoring streak snapped the following game, but the fact that he had those streaks in the first place is worth noting. He's been putting up big numbers lately and doing so when the Caps have most needed it. He scored the huge game-tying goal in the dying seconds of the Buffalo game to force overtime, scored twice (tying the game both times) in a come-from-behind effort against the 'Canes, and provided the only tally in a shootout victory over the Islanders. With five goals in four games, including what amazingly was his first power play goal of the year, he's launched himself up into the League top goal-scoring defensemen once more, trailing only PK Subban for top spot. With eight games left, can he take over the lead?
  12. When the lockout-adjusted schedule came out in January, there was one stretch that likely caught everyone's eye as being the roughest, the part that had the Caps playing nine of twelve games on the road beginning in late March. And as that stretch drew closer one only had to look at the Caps' position in the standings - and their miserable 4-8-1 record away from DC - to assume that this would kill any playoff aspirations they may have had. And yet somehow they pulled it together in order to go 7-1-1 in those nine games, picking up 15 of a possible 18 points on the road. Thanks to that run, they've gone from having one of the worse road records to 11-9-2, a .571 points percentage that's 6th-best in the East.
  13. One area where the team hasn't struggled too much is on the power play, and it's been fairly consistent regardless of whether they were at home or away. In fact, Tuesday's win in Montreal marked the first road game in which they didn't score with the extra man, after scoring 11 power play goals in the previous 8 road games. The last time they were held off the scoresheet 5-on-4 was in their loss to Boston on March 16; the last time they did so in a road game and won? A 3-0 win over Winnipeg way back on March 2.
  14. "Overheard" on Twitter: Brooks, meet Brooks. Awesome.
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