1. That’s One
After one uneven performance, it’s easy to focus on a specific tree or two (or a knot on a tree), but don’t forget the forest, and for the Caps, that forest is a 1-0 series lead as they begin their title defense. That puts them in the proverbial catbird seat, as WhoWins details:
Was it perfect? Absolutely not. Was it even good? More on that below (and John Carlson did tie an NHL record). But what it definitely was is a victory and a learning experience (that, frankly, the Champs probably shouldn’t need) and a reminder that came at a relatively cheap price.
Having a 3-0 lead cut to 3-2 and being short-handed multiple times. Not ideal! Right John Carlson? "I think it was good to face some adversity, make us realize how much each play means."— Brian McNally (@bmcnally14) April 12, 2019
One down, 15 to go.
Or is that 17 down, 15 to go?
Part of the reason the “quality” folks’ argument tends to be flimsy is that a decisive edge in quantity usually also results in an edge in quality. Case in point, last night - even adjusting for score effects, the Canes (per NaturalStatTrick) had a massive (and not nice) 69-to-31 edge in shot share (Corsi-For percentage) and a 59-to-41 advantage in high-danger chance share (HDCF%) at five-on-five.
To put a finer point on that, the Caps’ score- and venue-adjusted CF% of 31.5 % and HDCF% of 41% at fives would’ve represented the third- and 34th-worst performances of their regular season, respectively.
That said, add in the power play, and things get a bit more level (in fact, Natural Stat Trick had the Caps with an edge in all-situation HDCF, 9-7):
The Hurricanes almost pulled off the comeback, but Lars Eller seals the deal for the Capitals with a late empty-netter to kick off Washington’s title defense with a 4-2 win #TakeWarning #ALLCAPS #StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/3Zj0OPGHDY— The Point (@ThePointHockey) April 12, 2019
But let’s be clear: the Caps won last night solely based on their talent advantage (particularly in net in this one, though Petr Mrazek did make a few huge stops in the third that allowed Carolina to claw back into the game), their special teams play and some good fortune. Is that a recipe for success going forward? Let’s not find out.
3. Special Special Teams
Speaking of the power play and the penalty kill... who saw that coming? Clearly not our own Kevin, who followed up last year’s incredible reverse jinx post calling for Barry Trotz’s dismissal with a post yesterday on the Caps’ struggling extra man unit (hey, Kevin - write about how I’m always going to be poor and will never meet Kate Beckinsale, would ya?).
The Caps scored twice on the power play in the first period (2-for-4 overall), Carolina went 0-fer in their three chances (generating only one high-danger chance), and that was more or less that. Overall, the Caps generated more scoring chances with the extra man (nine) than the ‘Canes had power-play shot attempts (eight), and that includes a span of 6-on-4 time towards the end of the game (during which Perfect Human Nicklas Backstrom blocked two shots to go along with his two goals from earlier in the game).
On Nicklas Backstrom’s importance in tonight's win, Caps Coach Todd Reirden said: "When it comes right down to it and you need someone out there at the end of the game……Nick Backstrom’s out there. pic.twitter.com/5YrRdrUPiG— Post Sports (@PostSports) April 12, 2019
Back to the power play for a minute. The Caps showed a new look that seemed to befuddle the ‘Canes, leaving Backstrom open for an easy tap-in early (sick pass, Kuzy)...
... which then had them overcompensating and leaving Alex Ovechkin open on the subsequent man advantage.
It’s nice to see some new wrinkles for a power play that had grown somewhat stale - always keep ‘em guessing.
On a related note, how’d this work out for the Hurricanes?
We are definitely seeing a conscious effort here by the Canes to show they are not going to be physically intimidated.— JJ Regan (@JJReganNBCS) April 11, 2019
Strong narrative temptation to say that CAR chased hits in the first instead of “playing their game” and it cost them. Not sure how accurate that would be, but that Ferland penalty wasn’t a good one.— Japers' Rink (@JapersRink) April 12, 2019
If the Caps’ special teams continue to be special and they can tighten up their game at even-strength, they should be in good shape going forward. If not? Pray for Braden Holtby.