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The Morning Narrative: Down in a Hole, Flower Power and Outshined Stars

Three things we’re talking about this morning when we’re talking about the Caps

Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

1. For the second time in this series, the Caps find themselves in a two-game hole, this time without even the minimal wiggle room they had at 0-2. We’ll get to Game 4 specifics in a minute, but first, the history lesson, via WhoWins:

WhoWins continues:

When leading a best-of-7 playoff series 3-games-1, the Pittsburgh Penguins have a series record of 13-3 with an active four-series winning streak and a Game 5 record of 9-7. When trailing a best-of-7 playoff series 3-games-1, the Washington Capitals have a series record of 2-7 and a Game 5 record of 5-4.

The Pens’ three blown 3-1 leads came in 2014 (against the Rangers, with Marc-Andre Fleury in net), 2011 (to Tampa, with Marc-Andre Fleury in net) and 1975 (when they had a 3-0 lead over the Islanders); the Caps’ two comebacks from 1-3 came in 2009 (against the Rangers) and in 1988 (over the Flyers). So it’s happened and it’s happened recently to and for a handful of the guys who will lace ‘em up for Game 5.

You’ve hung around this long - why not stick around another game or three to see what happens?

Are you?

2. Speaking of Marc-Andre Fleury, we probably haven’t adequately used this space to afford him the attention he deserves as the single biggest reason the Penguins are up 3-1 at this point. But here he is with a .937 save percentage in this round (.945 in the three wins), prepared to add his name to the long list of goalies who have turned superhuman against the Caps in the playoffs. Here, via Corsica, is the all-situation tale-of-the-tape between the pipes for the series’ number one netminders:

To say that Fleury has outplayed Braden Holtby is to state the obvious, though this isn’t a game of chess - there’s a lot more than some narrative-driven one-on-one going on here (the one low-danger goal-against for Holtby, for example, is Dmitry Orlov’s Game 4 own-goal).

The big number here is Fleury’s 24-for-27 (88.9%) on high-danger shots. Per Corsica, no goalie that played more than two games during the regular season had a higher high-danger save percentage (Sergei Bobrovsky led the way among regular goalies with an 85.4% mark, and he’s going to run away with the Vezina trophy for his efforts; Fleury’s regular-season percentage on these shots was 81.6%). In fact, the highest all-situation high-danger save percentage of any goalie with 40-plus appearances in season on record is Tuukka Rask’s 86.1 in 2011-12.

Of course, that what Fleury’s doing is wholly unsustainable is of very little comfort to the Caps and their fans, as both will likely be long gone from the playoffs by the time regression hits.

Even Barry is ready to start drinking at this point...

3. As good as Fleury has been throughout the series and in the most recent win, specifically, he didn’t have to face much from the Caps’ biggest guns in Game 4; in the biggest game of the series, the Caps’ stars simply didn’t shine. But don’t take my word for it...

But don’t take Trotz’s word for it...

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored for the second-consecutive game (and third of the series), and his triot was pretty good again. But the top line? They were a total non-factor, at least in a positive way.

Corsica credits the Caps with eight scoring chances in the game, two each for Tom Wilson and Lars Eller, one apiece for Andre Burakovsky (on the power play), Kuznetsov, Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson. That’s at least one for every forward in the middle six, and nary a one for the top trio. In fact, that line was credited with just eight shot attempts overall (four on goal), four attempts (three on goal) at five-on-five. They were also dinged for three penalties (two on Ovechkin, one on Oshie), all of which came in the offensive zone (though, to be fair, all three were somewhat suspect).

So in a game in which the Caps were credited with 72 shot attempts (57 at five-on-five), the top line contributed eight and four of those, respectively (and their Vezina-winner stopped 15 of the 18 shots he faced).

Unfortunate, indeed.