1. The George McPhee Era in Washington, at least insofar as it overlapped with The Alex Ovechkin Era in Washington, was characterized by a lot of regular-season winning and a lot of postseason disappointing. Critical to the latter point, it often seemed, was McPhee’s inability to adequately address the team’s depth down the middle behind all-everything center Nicklas Backstrom. Sure, there were a couple of years of an old-but-effective Sergei Fedorov, and Mike Ribeiro had his serviceable moments. But there were also the Brendan Morrison, Eric Belanger, Brooks-Laich-as-2C, maybe-Eric-Fehr-can-play-center, let’s-give-away-Matthieu-Perreault, and so on years.
Then along came Evgeny Kuznetsov.
And then along came Lars Eller.
The trio has provided the Caps with the kind of pivot play that wins championships, and this year they might do just that. Consider this, from Vogs:
Washington has dominated Vegas in the middle of the ice in this SCF series. Caps pivots have combined for 18 points (three goals, 15 assists), or three times the production of their Vegas counterparts (one goal, five assists).
Evgeny Kuznetsov had four assists and Nicklas Backstrom had three helpers in the Caps’ Monday night rout of Vegas. With those seven points, those two Caps centers combined for more scoring in Game 4 than Vegas has received from all four of its pivots combined in the four games (six points). Caps fourth-line center Jay Beagle has two points (both assists) in the series, matching the point total of any of the Golden Knights’ middle men.
For those of you that struggle with math, that’s 4.5 points per game from Caps centers to 1.5 for Knights middle men in this series. And it hasn’t just been this series, either.
Against Columbus, the Caps’ four centers rang up nine goals and 12 assists, while Jackets centers finished with five goals and four helpers. Against Pittsburgh (whose center depth has been the envy of the League for years), Caps centers had five goals (including one pretty memorable one) and another dozen assists and the Pens’ pivots had four goals and eight assists. And against Tampa, the Capital quartet notched eight goals and 14 assists, while Bolts centers had nine goals and five assists. Add it all up and, through 23 games, Caps centers have 25 goals and 53 assists (an average of 19.5 points per center), opposing centers have 19 goals and 22 assists (10.25 point per pivot). [Note: those stats are just cumulative totals for the teams’ top-four centers and don’t account for fill-ins in games missed by Backstrom, Beagle, Alex Wenneberg and Evgeni Malkin, and not all power plays feature two centers like the Caps’ extra-man unit does. So it’s pretty rough. But you get the point.]
Granted, some of these teams have pretty prolific wingers (like Artemi Panarin, Nikita Kucherov and Jon Marchessault), but so do the Caps. Point being, the Caps have been getting great play from their centers... the kind of pivot play that wins championships.
2. One of those middle-men - Evgeny Kuznetsov - is at the center (no pun intended) of everyone’s favorite debate these days: who gets the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP? (By way of background, we tackled the question before the Final started.) With the ginormous caveat that the Caps haven’t won anything yet...
Conn Smythe race is Evgeny Kuznetsov vs. Alex Ovechkin. That's it. That's the list.— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) June 5, 2018
A Russian will win the Conn Smythe Trophy for the second time in history this year. Question is, which Russian. Ovie or Kuznetsov?— steve simmons (@simmonssteve) June 5, 2018
Washington is 1 win away from a #StanleyCup and Evgeny Kuznetsov is running away with the playoff scoring lead. Impressive, but @SportsnetBen, @JDBunkis & @MattBarnaby3636 can't see the Conn Smythe trophy going to anybody but Alex Ovechkin. #GoodShow #BestInShow pic.twitter.com/ppSnJVlP5I— Sportsnet 590 The FAN (@FAN590) June 5, 2018
The Hockey Night in Canda panel last night was unanimous that Evgeny Kuznetsov should be Conn Smythe winner IF #Caps close this out. Caps Twitter seemed to disagree so...have at it. Either way - win or lose so you can't claim #jinx - who is your Caps playoff MVP?— Brian McNally (@bmcnally14) June 5, 2018
I am answering this question in my weekly mailbag, which runs tomorrow, but I want to ask it here too: If the Capitals win the Stanley Cup in either of the next two games, who should win the Conn Smythe Trophy?— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) June 5, 2018
Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
So who ya got? I agree - don’t even talk about it until... you know. Because as one of the candidates put it best...
Do you care about the Conn Smythe Trophy? Evgeny Kuznetsov: “ What’s that going to get you? Nothing, right?”— Brian McNally (@bmcnally14) June 5, 2018
3. We’d be remiss if we didn’t include some exterior crowd shots from Monday night, so here we go...
Update on the crowd outside of Capital One Arena during tonight’s Stanley Cup Final Game 4. pic.twitter.com/7kQffQSfvn— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) June 5, 2018
Looking west down G Street from the 400 level at Capital One Arena. The crowd also a block in each direction to the north and south on 7th Street. Insane. pic.twitter.com/fq9VwqCTvu— Brian McNally (@bmcnally14) June 5, 2018
One Caps fan climbed a streetlight after Game 3, went to jail for two nights, then went right back to Chinatown for Game 4. "It was just where I wanted to be," he said. https://t.co/KdbVRLjqnB— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) June 5, 2018
Much more here:
Washington is going bananas again https://t.co/MnrNyhX2ys— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) June 5, 2018
That, my friends, is as genuine as it gets. Or at least as genuine as it has gotten so far.
TIL “We want the cup!” is much more powerful when it sounds like you’ve never chanted it before.— Katie Nolan (@katienolan) June 5, 2018