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The Narrative: Back Out/Tiger In, Hole-tby and Blueline Blues

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

New York Islanders v Washington Capitals - Game One Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

1. Backstrom Out, Eller In

As deflating as it is unsurprising, Todd Reirden announced yesterday that Nicklas Backstrom will miss Game 2:

Not great.

Fortunately for the Caps, they’ll be getting Lars Eller back from solitary confinement and he’s ready to go to work:

Eller, as you’ll recall, stepped in for Backstrom in the 2018 playoffs, posting two goals and three assists in four games, including the game-winning goal in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Suggestion: throw him out there with T.J. Oshie and Jakub Vrana to dig in on that 2018 vibe.

Of course, the Caps will need more than just Eller to beat the Isles:

Yep... guys gotta step up.

2. Avoiding a 2-0 Hole..tby

Speaking of players who need to be better, here’s a look at the locations of the shots Braden Holtby faced in Game 1:

via Charting Hockey

The bottom line is over there on the right, where you see the four goals he allowed and an xG (Expected Goals) of 2.3. In other words, on average, we’d expect an NHL goalie to allow 2.3 goals over the course of a game when facing the shots Holtby faced yesterday. Four is greater than 2.3, so it’s pretty clear that someone didn’t do his job in Game 1. (If you’re curious, the Jordan Eberle goal that got the Isles on the board had an xG of 0.0267 which means, if my math is correct, that that shot goes in roughly once every 38 times it’s taken. Cool.)

Holtby only out-performed his xG in the Bruins game during the Round Robin (though he looked better than that), and, of course, had a very shaky season in The Before Times, so the warning signs have certainly been and continue to be there:

That “easy work, poor results” quadrant will get you nowhere fast.
via Charting Hockey

Holtby knows he has to be better and has bounced back in the past, so here’s hoping he’s got another hot streak left in him before he leaves Washington. Hell, right now we’d settle for “average” goaltending.

3. Blueline Blues

Michael Kempny led all Capitals in five-on-five ice time in Game 1, logging 15:18 at fives. During that time, the Isles outshot (attempts) the Caps 23-6, outshot them (on goal) 12-1, and outscored them 3-0 (the only New York goal Kempny saw from the bench was the shorty). That 20.7 CF% was second-worst on the team (to Jakub Vrana’s woeful 11.1%), and his -38.1 Relative CF% was dead last on the club. The Isles had 13 scoring chances to the Caps one with Kempny on the ice, and six high-danger shot attempts to the Caps’ one. New York’s top-six simply ate Kempny (and, to a slightly lesser extent Kempny’s partner John Carlson) alive:

via Natural Stat Trick

In moving pictures, that sorta looks like this:

Kempny doesn’t seem playable right now, certainly not as a top-pair blueliner capable of facing top competition as a shutdown complement to Carlson. The play here is probably swapping Kempny and Jonas Siegenthaler, or scratching him for Martin Fehervary and shuffling the D-corps a bit more. As much as the break may have helped Michal Kempny, it just doesn’t look as if 2018 Kempny is going to come walking through that door any time soon.