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The Narrative: Shout Volume, Coffee is for Closers and Loose the Djoos

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Three things we’re talking about today when we’re talking about the Caps

NHL: Washington Capitals at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

1. Shout Volume

They say that a team isn’t in trouble in a playoff series until it loses at home, so the Hurricanes aren’t in any trouble yet.

They also say that NHL teams that have opened best-of-seven series with a pair of home wins have won those series 88.9 percent of the time (241-30) (and that number jumps to 90.5 percent (531-56) if you expand the purview to other sports), so maybe the Hurricanes are actually in some trouble.

Then again, the Caps have an all-time series record of 4-5 (and a Game 3 record of 1-8) when leading a best-of-seven series two-games-to-none, so maybe the Hurricanes aren’t in trouble after all.

Regardless of how much (if at all) those clichés and historical facts may inform Washington and Carolina’s first-round series, the battleground has indeed shifted to Raleigh for Game 3, where it’s expected to be loud:

Uh oh! Decibels!

Will PNC Arenat be as loud as T-Mobile Arena, where the Caps took two of three from Vegas and won the Cup in June? Will it be as loud as Amalie Arena, where the Caps took three of four from Tampa and won the Eastern Conference in May? Will it be as loud as PPG Paints Arena, where the Caps took two of three and ended Pittsburgh’s season in overtime earlier in the spring? Will it be as loud as Nationwide Arena, where the Caps swept all three games and vanquished Columbus last April?

The Caps won all four playoff series on the road last year and tied an NHL record for road wins in a playoff season (10), then followed it up with a 24-road-win regular season (second-most in the League), including wins in both visits to Raleigh (where they’ve won five in a row overall, albeit all by a single goal or in the shootout). This is a veteran team that could probably win games on the moon if they had to (especially if they played a Winter Classic there).

Whether or not the Hurricanes are yet “in trouble,” they certainly would be with a loss tonight at home... and there’s no reason to think that their opponent will be bothered in the slightest by virtue of the venue in which the game is being held.

2. Coffee is for Closers

The playoffs are only two or three games old for participants and the Caps are the only team that has yet to trail at any point in any game. That said, they haven’t quite been able to finish Carolina the way you might expect of the champs, allowing the ‘Canes to claw out of 2-0 and 3-2 holes in Game 2, and nearly out of a 3-0 ditch in game one. To wit, the Caps’ score- and venue-adjusted five-on-five Corsi-For percentage while leading through two games is just 32.6, second-worst in the League (contrast that with a 48.0 adjusted CF% in last year’s playoffs), and this is one area in which the scoreboard is aligning with the underlying metrics - of the five five-on-five goals that have been scored so far with the Caps leading, only one (T.J. Oshie’s) belongs to Washington.

One reason the ‘Canes have been able to hang around has been the play of Petr Mrazek, who has stopped 17 of 18 five-on-five shots he’s faced while trailing, including memorable third-period saves on Nic Dowd, Carl Hagelin, Brett Connolly and Lars Eller in rapid succession, and Tom Wilson, to name a few, plus this game-saver on John Carlson:

Mrazek’s numbers haven’t been impressive (at all)...

...but his play has been far better than those stats would imply (they don’t seem to fully capture “playing behind Justin Faulk”). And his head coach seems to get that:

3. Loose the Djoos

When the Caps began the playoff run that would eventually end in the first championship in franchise history last spring, they did so with Christian Djoos watching from the press box, a healthy scratch in favor of Jakub Jerabek. Down 2-0 in the series, Djoos got the call and the rest, as they say, is history (there may have been another important lineup change for Game 3 of that first round series, but who can remember?).

This time around - with a second NHL season under his belt and a depleted Caps blueline missing stalwart Michal Kempny - Djoos has gotten a sweater from the start of the playoffs, though blink and you might have missed him out there. Djoos skated just 7:48 in Game 1 and only 5:44 in Game 2.

So the big questions are “why?” and “is that what’s best for the team?”

On the first point, there has been a lot of special teams play in the series and Djoos doesn’t play on either of those units. At least, that’s how his coach is spinning it:

But let’s take a closer look. Here are Djoos’s shift charts for the first two games:

Game 1, via NHL.com
Game 2, via NHL.com

After the first period of Game 1, Djoos was on pace for around 18 shifts and 9:30 of total ice time, which is actually right on his season average for shifts (17.4) and a bit low on his per-game ice time (13:34), but stuff happens. After two periods, he was on pace for 15 shifts and roughly 9:53 of ice. Then came the third period, in which Djoos skated a regular 45-second shift early before being on the ice for ‘Canes goals on his next two shifts.

Were those goals his fault? We’ll let you determine his culpability:

Regardless of attribution of blame (and there’s obviously more context than these replays show), going from a 3-0 lead to 3-2 on consecutive third-period shifts isn’t going to earn anyone a bump-up in playing time.

Djoos’s Game 2 picked up more or less where his Game 1 had left off, with the ‘Canes potting an even-strength goal late in the frame:

Djoos only got five shifts after that - 56 second in the second period, 1:44 in the third and a quick five-second shift in overtime that culminated in Brooks Orpik’s game-winner. So Todd Reirden can say what he wants about special teams limiting Djoos’s ice time, but let’s be real - Djoos has skated 9:06 at five-on-five with the Caps leading so far in the series and Carolina has scored three times on five shots (per Natural Stat Trick) in that time. That’s going to give any coach pause, regardless of how fault is attributed.

So, right or wrong, that’s probably most of the “why” (though we could probably add a note questioning how healthy Djoos really is after missing so much of the season due to injury). But how about the “is that what’s best for the team?”

John Carlson is averaging 26:47 through two games. Matt Niskanen is at 23:44. Dmitry Orlov is at 22:25. Brooks Orpik is playing 18:02 per game and Nick Jensen is at 16:42. That’s actually... not necessarily a crippling distribution of minutes. Let’s compare it to last spring:

That’s not a wildly different distribution of time on the blueline, and obviously this year’s sample is quite small. So if your concern is “they’re over-working Carlson and/or the top-three,” that’s probably not a big concern. But if your concern is “they’re not allocating ice time according to who’s playing the best hockey,” you may have a point:

Djoos, despite those goals-against, is actually the only Caps’ blueliner in the black on five-on-five shot share. Brooks Orpik, despite that big goal-for, is at 31.8 percent and when he’s been on the ice at five-on-five with the Caps leading, the ‘Canes have out-attempted Washington by a 24-3 count. That’s not to say goals don’t matter (let’s not lose the forest for the trees here) or that Orpik hasn’t been impactful so far or that Djoos has earned top pair minutes with his play. But managing the minutes on the blueline will become even more important as the series shifts to Raleigh:

So here’s the bottom line answer to “is that what’s best for the team?” No.

Christian Djoos - Stanley Cup Champion Christian Djoos - can play. He’s shown that. And if he’s hampered by injury or has done something to lose the trust of his head coach (assuming he’s had it), then Jonas Siegenthaler (who has shown his competence as well) should get a sweater - this isn’t the time of the year to be “hiding” anyone you don’t need to hide (especially when it’s forcing questionable decisions further up the lineup).

Play the kid.