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The Narrative: Down in a Hole, ‘V’ is for ‘Vanishing Act’, and Bettman and Robin

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

Washington Capitals v New York Islanders - Game Two Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

1. Down in a Hole

What started off with promise ended in despondence on Friday night as the Caps turned in a second poor performance in two games and now find themselves in an 0-2 hole in their first-round playoff series.

Through two games, the Caps have been pummeled in just about every stat that matters, but a picture is worth a thousand numbers (or something), so take a gander at this one, displaying five-on-five shots and goals:

via Natural Stat Trick

That’s an awful lot of dark blue in the “homeplate” area (from the goal to the faceoff dots to the top of the circles), and not all that much quality or quantity at the other end of the ice.

In a word, yikes.

Per Natural Stat Trick, through two games, the Isles have outshot the Caps at fives 46-33 (58.3%; shot attempts are unsurprisingly similar), have a 43-31 edge in scoring chances, and a whopping 24-10 advantage in high-danger scoring chances. Oh, and all of those numbers are bumped up a bit for the Caps by score effects.

In a word, yikes.

The Caps simply have no answers right now - their breakouts are horrendous, in-zone defensive coverage abysmal (see graphic above), power-play entries horrific, and they’re generating nothing in the offensive zone, largely because they’re rarely there.

Yeah, I don’t know, Coach... something tells me it ain’t all on the players. (More on that to come.)

The Caps haven’t scored more than two goals in a game (that counts) since entering the bubble and have only allowed fewer than three once. You do the math.

But if you’re looking for a straw to grasp, you’ll recall that the 2018 Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals found themselves down 0-2 in their first round series against a similarly disciplined, structured defensive team in Columbus. Vastly different circumstances from the goal on out, of course, but you could scroll through social media after Game 2 of that series and find a bunch of tweets about that team and its coach that didn’t age particularly well, so maybe wait another game or two before burying this club. At least enjoy this moment of zen:

2. ‘V’ is for ‘Vanishing Act’

Okay, back in the morbid hellscape that is 2020, let’s talk about Jakub Vrana. Since potting a goal and two assists in Game 5 against Pittsburgh in 2018, Vrana has played 25 playoff games and has scored... one goal (granted, it was a biggie in a big game). Part of that is crappy luck - he has fired 47 shots on goal and a career 12.7% regular-season shooter doesn’t go on a 2.1% drought without some pretty awful luck.

But the Caps simply need something from Vrana (who was goalless in seven games against Carolina in the spring of 2019). Or, at least if he’s not going to score, he can’t be... well, doing this:

What a killer, not a dozen seconds after Alex Ovechkin’s second goal of the night tied the game at two.

Vrana rode the pine for the rest of the second period, but took a regular shift in the third. Hopefully the message was received and no further action will be taken, but you never know.

To be clear, Vrana is one of many Caps not paying to his presumed potential right now. Evgeny Kuznetsov has two playoff goals (not counting this year’s round robin) since the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals. Ilya Kovalchuk has one goal in 12 games for the Caps. Carl Hagelin has no goals in a dozen playoff games against the Caps (after he was good for what seemed like two or three in every series when he faced Washington). Richard Panik has one career playoff goal in 17 games. Lars Eller hasn’t scored since Game 1 against the ‘Canes last year. And that’s just the forwards. The Caps’ scoring depth has probably been overstated; at least it seems that way. Where have you gone Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky, Caps Nation turns its lonely eyes to you...

3. Bettman and Robin

Okay, let’s take a break from wallowing in the Caps’ disappointing play and focus on other teams’ disappointing play, specifically the best teams in the League. Remember way back (a week ago) when the top four teams in each conference were sleepwalking their way through a seeding round, resting nicked up players and paying lip service to the importance of their games while the rest of the teams in the bubble were fighting tooth-and-nail to make it into the playoffs? Well, funny thing about that - those eight teams are now a combined 8-9 in the first round, with only Vegas and Colorado leading in their series (both up 2-0... the other six teams are a combined 4-9, with the last two Cup champs in 0-2 holes). And, of course, the two #5 seeds that faced what many considered “virtual byes” in the first round, are currently socially distancing on golf courses.

Spin whatever narrative you want with those numbers, but the teams that already have a series win under their belts have played more meaningful hockey than those that haven’t, and perhaps we’re seeing the effects of that early in Round 1.