1. It’s Now or Never
There’s really not much more to say at this point, is there? We know the historical likelihood of a comeback, we’ve got our thoughts on why things are the way they are, and Todd Reirden is still harping on effort and shuffling deck chairs:
Reirden said he saw a little bit more of the Caps' style of play, but said Washington will "do everything we can possibly can" and pull off their "best effort of the year" in Game 4.— Sammi Silber (@sammisilber) August 17, 2020
Says that means putting together the best lineup for a win.#ALLCAPS
To be sure, the Caps likely will need one of their best efforts of the year if they’re to force a Game 5 in this series. And it’s wholly believable when Reirden says they’ll do everything they can (an implicit limitation which, of course, is part of the problem), and that he has faith:
Reirden: "It's going to be our best effort of the year tomorrow ... I believe in them."— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) August 17, 2020
Reirden believes in them. Maybe it’s unfair to nitpick the semantics here, but one thing that’s been mostly if not entirely missing from Reirden’s comments to the media during this post-season are a sense of accountability. It’s all about the players:
Reirden: "We need to find a way to outwork this team... we don't [do that] for an extended period of time."#ALLCAPS— Sammi Silber (@sammisilber) August 15, 2020
Reirden: "We were disappointed in how our mental and physical focus was for 60 minutes [in Game 2]... [we'll] turn our discipline into effort." pic.twitter.com/Z4g70aIwpd— Sammi Silber (@sammisilber) August 15, 2020
Reirden: "We'll look at video and continue to look at things... ultimately it comes down to us continuing to play a physical, forechecking game."#ALLCAPS— Sammi Silber (@sammisilber) August 16, 2020
Reirden on the #ALLCAPS comeback mentality:— Sammi Silber (@sammisilber) August 17, 2020
"It's about creating belief and having belief and as a teammate, having belief in the guy next to you... that's the key for us, to have that belief that it can be done."
You get the point. And this isn’t to absolve the players - Todd Reirden didn’t let in a terrible goal to key the Isles’ comeback in Game 1, he didn’t fail to score on a breakaway (and rebound chance) in overtime of Game 3, etc. But...
Call me old fashioned, but I'd like to see my coach take some responsibility. Something like, "We've all got to be better, from me on down" at least shows some self-awareness and leadership.— Japers' Brink (@JapersRink) August 17, 2020
Instead, this might be as close as we get:
Reirden: "I put pressure on myself all the time. I believe in myself as coach and our team and our leadership group... our mind needs to be [on getting one win]."#ALLCAPS— Sammi Silber (@sammisilber) August 16, 2020
By contrast, for example, after blowing a third-period lead to Boston last night, Carolina head coach Rod Brind’Amour offered the following:
Rod Brind’Amour: “That’s not something that I’ve seen out of us. Ever. I’ll take the heat for that, I needed to have my guys better for that third period and I’ll learn as well.”— Sara Civ (@SaraCivian) August 18, 2020
That may be more first-person singular pronouns in one tweet than we’ve heard from Reirden all series. Feel free to come to your own conclusions as to how players respond to such things.
Anyway, yeah... it’s now or never.
Yeah, we touched on it yesterday via ol’ Good Tweet Pete, but John Carlson has been bad for the Caps. Like, real bad. To the point where it would be absolutely shocking (and, given his contract, terrifying) if he’s not playing with a significantly hampering malady. Granted, Carlson does lead the team with four points this round (and given that they’ve scored five goals, total, that’s pretty darn solid).
But he’s also been on the ice for all but three of the Islanders’ goals in the series (one on the power-play, two at five-on-five), and his underlying metrics have been horrific (again, there’s some mitigating context, given he’s usually pitted against top competition, but that only goes so far). At fives, the Caps have only managed 36% of shots (attempts), 24% of expected goals and 0% of actual goals (hilariously enough, Carlson wasn’t on the ice for one of the Alex Ovechkin even-strength tallies on which he registered an assist). Unsurprisingly, the Isles’ top players have eaten Carlson alive at fives: Mat Barzal and Jordan Eberle have each been on the ice for 26 shot attempts-for and just three against (Anders Lee has a 26/4 split), and Barzal’s Isles have a 12-0 shots on goal advantage (and 10-0 scoring chance edge) over Carlson’s Caps when the two have been on the ice. You know what that looks like on the ice, so here’s what that looks like on a couple of charts:
Carlson has been one of the worst two or three players still in the playoffs.
Look, there’s playing hurt and then there’s playing hurt and hurting the team. Given his point production, it’s arguable that Carlson is still contributing enough to justify a lineup spot. However, his role at five-on-five probably needs to be reduced significantly because, at this point, he’s a net negative for team there in a huge way.
3. End of an Era?
Okay, this is a tough one, so let’s rip the Band-Aid right off: tonight could be the last time we see Braden Holtby in a Capitals sweater.
Holtby, of course, is a free agent after this season and, despite a down 2019-20 campaign, will no doubt be able to command the kind of dollars and term on a new deal that price him out of the Capitals’ plans as the team likely hands the goaltending reins to the promising (and cheap!) Ilya Samsonov.
So, in case this is it, let’s take a moment to recognize and appreciate all that Holtby has done for this organization, fan base and city over ten seasons. He’s second among goalies in franchise history in games and minutes played, wins, shots faced and saved and is first in all of those categories in the playoffs. His career .927 playoff save percentage ranks first all-time (min. 60 GP), and his career 2.11 playoff goals against average ranks fifth all-time (min. 60 GP).
He’s a two-time All-Star who won a Vezina (and also had second- and fifth-place finishes in voting) and a Jennings Trophy and finished in the top-ten in Hart Trophy voting twice (not easy to do with ol’ #8 on your squad).
Holtby’s off-ice achievements in D.C. have been every bit as impressive, advocating alongside his wife, Brandi, for LGBTQ equality, Black Lives Matter (putting up more than just words) and other causes, and walking the walk. His generosity should never be forgotten.
Of course, what Holtby will be most remembered for in D.C. is bringing home a championship, the Caps’ first and the town’s first in seemingly forever, and one moment in particular...
Sculpt the dang statue right now.
So here’s to Washington Capitals Legend Braden Holtby, who proved a lot of people wrong and did a lot of people right.