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The Narrative: Soul-Crushing Boners, Pray for Osh, and Squad Goals

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

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

1. Soul-Crushing Boners (SCBs)

Well, that was better. But we’re just about out of runway for moral victories and incremental improvements.

Game 4 was about as even as they come, overall, and now so is the series. But for a couple of horrid displays of team defense, the Caps might even have been able to overcome Petr Mrazek’s terrific performance and eked out a win.

Alas... those breakdowns. They started early:

Matt Niskanen gets burned pinching in can’t catch up to or in any meaningful way impede the ‘Canes down the ice, and Nicklas Backstrom did nothing to help matters.

Then, in the last half-minute of the second period, the Caps (some of them, at least) went for a long line change and got burned. Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie and John Carlson were able to get off the ice after a minute or so on; Brooks Orpik was not. Dmitry Orlov came on for Carlson (a little odd in and of itself, given that Carlson is a right defenseman with Orpik and Orlov a port-sider), went to cover his side of the ice and... so did Orpik. Fire up the carnival music...

Orpik... where ya goin’, bruh? Pretty sure two of your teammates had that square-yard of ice covered. Meanwhile, that’s Teuvo Teravainen comin’ in hot (with Andre Burakovsky trying and failing to catch him).

Two plays nearly book-ending the first two periods on which the team lost focus and it cost them the game. Granted, you’re not going to win a ton of games without scoring an even-strength goal - something the Caps failed to do in two games in Carolina (more on that below) - but the absolutely soul-crushing boners (SCBs) these veterans (particularly veteran blueliners) are making are deflating and certainly not the hallmark of a team that’s a legitimate contender. But if you’re looking for a silver lining (other than, y’know, it being a tied series with the Caps holding home ice), here you go:

Yes, I’m sure we’d all hate a little smooth sailing...

2. Pray for Osh

Speaking of adversity, late in the game, this happened:

It cost Hurricanes forward John Druce Warren Foegele two minutes in the sin bin, but it’s going to cost the Capitals a hell of a lot more.

That’s a gut punch. But perhaps it’s something around which the Caps can rally.

Back to the hit for a minute, Rod Brind’Amour has thoughts:

Brind’Amour is right - the refs sure looked as if they weren’t going to call anything on the play. But he’s wrong in his assessment of the hit itself and as for the rest of it, well... let’s just say that Brind’Amour clearly isn’t an empath.

As for Foegele, don’t hold your breath, but...

3. Squad Goals

The Caps scored 197 five-on-five goals during the regular season, good for third in the League and 2.4 per game. Through four games in the playoffs, they’ve scored five times at fives (with four of those coming in Game 2), 1.3 per game.

Bad luck or bad offense?

Yes.

First, let’s take a look at shot rates (with actual and expected goals thrown in):

via Natural Stat Trick

The Caps’ shot rates are down across the board, and most of the drop-offs are big. Of particular note, shots-for are down 26.5 percent, scoring chances down 24.8 percent (scoring chance shots down 16.0 percent) and high-danger chances are down 26.3 percent (high danger chance shots only down 8.3 percent). You get the point - shot volume is down in the neighborhood of 20-25 percent and, lo and behold, expected goals are down in that same range.

But wait a minute - actual goals are down even more than that. That must mean... yep.

via Natural Stat Trick

Regression, you sonofabitch.

Put another way, Mrazek has been handling an easy workload pretty doggone well (contra Braden Holtby, whose placement on this chart has more to do with the guys in front of him than his actual play):

Pull it all together and, so far, the Caps have gone from a team that out-performed middling shot rates to a team that is underperforming bad ones. Real bad ones...

Via Natural Stat Trick

Couple that with a power play that has scored three times in 15 attempts and the case could be made that the Caps are lucky to be tied 2-2. Of course, with a bounce here or a bit more focus there, they could be going home up 3-1.

Hockey is weird.

And you love it.