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:
"I know it's gonna be loud. My hope is we play our best and see how it shakes out", Rod Brind'Amour on the series shifting to PNC Arena. He hopes the #Canes give fans something to be excited about. #NHLPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/zYsktqtfAy— Arran Andersen (@arranandersen) April 14, 2019
"I think it's going to loud and and it's going to be emotional."— FOX Sports Carolinas (@CanesOnFSCR) April 14, 2019
-- Sebastian Aho on his expectations for PNC Arena crowd as @NHLCanes host Game 3.#TakeWarning | #StanleyCup Playoffs pic.twitter.com/aljpbwBVEy
If there’s one thing the Triangle does as well as any market in the NHL, it’s playoff hockey. If you remember, you know what’s coming. If you don’t, you have no idea. https://t.co/cskrS4sHaH— Luke DeCock (@LukeDeCock) April 10, 2019
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)...
Goalie charts are updated.— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) April 14, 2019
Smith and Vasilevskiy appear to have switched spots somehow.
Andersen's been good for TOR.
Mrazek hasn't helped CAR's cause.
I regret to say that Hellebuyck, Jones, and Murray are basically where they've been all season long.https://t.co/1K2VPkMry3 pic.twitter.com/PXg1N5CMbQ
...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:
Nothing definitive, but Canes coach Rod Brind'Amour didn't sound today like he's considering switching from Mrazek to McElhinney in net.— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) April 14, 2019
“We’ll decide that tomorrow. We haven’t even really discussed it. He was fine. He made some real big saves for us to just get us to overtime."
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:
In his chat with reporters this afternoon, Reirden said he'd like to play Christian Djoos more. Was out there less than six mins yesterday, which was largely due to lots of special teams.— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) April 14, 2019
But let’s take a closer look. Here are Djoos’s shift charts for the first two games:
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:
Don't sleep on that nice pass from Wallmark, either. pic.twitter.com/6yWFOqWqo7— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) April 12, 2019
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?”
Christian Djoos played two shifts in the third period. He's at 5:39 ice time. The Caps' instability on D after Kempny injury is a thing.— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) April 13, 2019
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:
Hurricanes' Corsi edge 5-on-5 is 102-62 through two games. Going to be really interesting at PNC when they can spot their top two lines against Caps' third pair, such as it is. Djoos has played a total of 12 minutes in two games. Will be tougher to hide him on the road.— Luke DeCock (@LukeDeCock) April 13, 2019
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).
Todd Reirden wants Christian Djoos to play more, too. https://t.co/L3hxygo6Eg— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) April 14, 2019
Play the kid.