Good morning Washington, D.C., those within the blast radius, and all areas downwind of the fallout! There is a real chill in the air as we roll on into December, but the Washington Capitals are red hot like cinnamon candy canes, riding a five game winning streak into the last month of the year. Last week the Capitals went 3-0-0 for six points, and currently sit second in the Metropolitan Division.
As your newly-minted (and temporary) Division leaders electric slide on up north this week to face the Montreal Canadiens and the Winnipeg Jets in a foreign country before hosting the Detroit Red Wings, we take a look at some promising scoring habits and get into the holiday spirit in this week's preview.
WHO'S KEEPING SCORE?
Earlier this year, I wrote that I was concerned about the Capitals' tendency to rely upon firewagon hockey to get wins. Sure, you can score four goals, but if you give up three, I'm not all that convinced of your seaworthiness.Thankfully, the Capitals did a lot this week to convince me otherwise.
Over the Caps' five game win streak, they've given up zero to three goals, and scored one to seven themselves. These are encouraging spans, like cheering on a bridge. First, they've not given up more than three goals in five games, which is a defensive accomplishment itself considering who they've played. Colorado and Winnipeg are both in the top 10 in Goals For in the league, yet Washington held both to a three-spot a piece.
On the other hand, the Capitals have shown the poise to win with any type of lead whatsoever. A razor's edge one-goal margin, the sort of high-stress pressure cooker that causes worse teams to crack? Why, the Caps won two of those just this week. Runaway mercy jobs where the offense puts the pedal to the floor and never looks back? Hell yeah, this team has won by as many as three in their last five contests.
Simply put, the Capitals are putting together wins in different, diverse ways. They do better with a lead, but they don't need it. They can win close ones, or they can score the Papa Johns early. They can win in a shutout or win in a landslide. These are all very encouraging signs.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL
With Thanksgiving officially over, the national shame of Black Friday in the books and the wallop of Cyber Monday still only pending on your credit card statement, the holiday season is in full swing. Houses are decorated, department stores are nearly impossible to enter, and even the Washington Capitals are getting into the spirit.
Okay, that's not entirely true. But if you're feeling particularly cheery, it's possible to view them through that lens. Hark, listen! Can you hear that? It sounds like Bing Crosby, Nat "King" Cole and your bourboun-soaked sobs! It's the Washington Capitals - as Christmas carols!
Deck the Halls
Roommates and social media heartthrobs Michael Latta and Tom Wilson are the only Capitals to drop the gloves so far this year. Latta has done the ten-knuckle-shuffle three times, and seems like he has taken the mauler's mantle onto himself to allow Wilson, the more skilled and promising of the pair, to stay on the ice instead of answering the bell. Wilson has pissed away much that by taking all the minor penalties, leading the team in PIMs by more than double the next player.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Just a couple weeks ago I wrote in this most Grecian of columns about the whirling-dervish-cum-roster that was the fourth line. Well, the centrifuge has stopped, clogged with 617 pounds of beef. The Brawny Triumvirate of Latta, Wilson, and Brooks Laich has cemented itself as the night-in-night-out choice for coach Trotz, and for good reason. With the exception of Tom Wilson, who ranks dead last, neither of the other two fourth liners rank in the bottom 10 in Relative Corsi, even though they are thrown out there against the opponents' hottest lines. The result? Fringe and independent candidates Stanislav Galiev, Chandler Stephenson and Sean Collins are getting a lot of rest these days.
Here We Come A-Wassailing
Wherein wassailing means wailing goals into the back of the net, caroler or not. 23 games through the season, six different Capitals are on pace for 20+ goals. Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, Jason Chimera(!), Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie are each staring down the barrel of a cannon they helped build, with Marcus Johansson just barely off the pace, himself. Successful, championship teams are never unsustainably top-heavy. That is, they never rely too heavily on one or two goal scorers; they have so many talents that opponents literally cannot stop them all. So far, that's what these 2015-16 Capitals look like.
Little Drummer Boy
Braden Holtby, like that valiant little rum-pum-pum-pummer in the song who had nothing to give but to play his heart out, is having himself a career season (shhhh, don't tell him). He has a 15-4 record, a 1.95 GAA, and a .926% save percentage. I want to point out two things that means: that means that most nights Holtby is in net, two goals will be enough to win it. That also means that Holtby wins 78% of the games he plays - three out of every four starts is a W for Holtby, or, as far as fractions go: he would rack up 64 wins and 128 points for his team in 82 starts.
Obviously, here in reality (or as reality-adjacent as we can get), no goalie is built to play 82 games and no coach would be ludicrous enough to start him. Regardless, these are some ooey-gooey numbers to enjoy to remind us of just how good Holtby's been.
And with that preview complete, we turn now to the segment that Donald Trump called, "maybe the only mediocre nut that blind squirrel [racial epithet] ever found"...LIABLE TO LIBEL: A BAKER'S DOZEN LIES ABOUT THIS WEEK'S OPPONENTS!
1. Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban's moniker is really a nickname and stands for "Plus de Kilogrammes???", or what his mother exclaimed at the obstetrician in the delivery room.
2. Carey Price is fine if you like tall, handsome, talented millionaires, I guess.
3. They call Alexander Semin "Guns N Roses" because he hasn't been relevant for years and he's nothing without a Slash.
4. If your local hockey team was called the Locs, it would be a lot like Montreal calling its team the Habs, except it wouldn't be offputting to 90% of the continent.
5. Winnipeg forward Mathieu Perreault went from looking like a guy who would buy you a tallboy of Schlitz for your skateboard to a guy who will sell you nefarious riches for your eternal soul.
6. No, there is nothing, nothing, nothing nothing nothing funny about Grant Clitsome's name, and no, I don't care what your older brother told you.
7. When a young defenseman named Dustin calmed a herd of stampeding bovine at 8 years old, the headline of his local hometown paper read "Byfuglien Myfuglien Shyfuglien Buffalo!"
8. When other kindergarten teachers complain about all the "Jenny," "Jenni," "Jennie" and "Jenney"s they have to spell, Ondrej Pavelec's teacher says, "Oh, how tough that must be."
9. Defenses don't know that the only way to stop winger Nikolaj Ehlers is to say his name backwards, trapping him in the parallel demon dimenson whence he came.
10. Russia doesn't have a "nuclear football," it has a nuclear hockey puck, and both Vladamir Putin and Pavel Datsyuk must cross-check their command consoles to activate it.
11. Detroit winger Tomas Tatar has received mixed reviews about his unique style of passing. But then again, not everybody likes Tatar sauce.
12. Detroit fans complained that the boring brand of hockey played by winger Gustav Nyquist was putting them to sleep, so the front office suggested they switch to Dayquist.
13. When Mike Green takes offense at a dirty joke, he shouts, "That's defensive!" because Mike Green does not know the difference.
So there you have it, Caps fans! The home team can snag six points from some northern nemeses this week as we begin the final year of the month. Bundle up, sneak some whiskey in your cocoa, and as always: Go Caps!