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Washington Capitals Hotdish: Boston Bruins

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Offering up a tasty hotdish of things to think about ahead of the Caps’ round robin finale against the Bruins.

Washington Capitals Vs Boston Bruins At TD Garden Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

For the Washington Capitals, the round robin phase of the postseason will come to an end on Sunday, when the Caps “host” the Boston Bruins at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. The Caps and Bruins, each team without a win in this pre-tournament tournament, are playing in what amounts to the losers’ bracket, dueling for the three and four seeds in the Eastern Conference when the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs begins. Let’s hope the three ingredients and the sauce for the hotdish we are going to serve up point the way to a Caps win in the round robin finale.

1. No offense, but… You still have to score to win in this league, and the Caps are doing precious little of it lately. Going back to their regular season ending 3-2 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres, the Caps have scored a total of five goals in 190 minutes of hockey – Alex Ovechkin, Dmitry Orlov, Richard Panik, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Travis Boyd for those of you keeping score at home. How bad has that offense been? Well, let’s take a look:

  • At no time in any of those games did the Caps hold a lead, and in all three instances they fell behind by two or more goals before mounting any offense of their own (0-2 to both Buffalo (in the regular season finale) and Tampa Bay (in the round robin opener), 0-3 to Philadelphia on Thursday).
  • The Caps did not score a first period goal in any of those games. They have two second period goals (both against Tampa Bay), and they have three third period goals (two against Buffalo, one against Philadelphia).
  • The Caps were held to 17 shots on goal in the 3-1 loss to the Flyers on Thursday. That is a season low in shots on goal in a single game. The last time that the Caps had fewer shots in a regular season game was on February 8, 2015, when they had 14 shots in a 3-1 loss to, yes, the Flyers. It had been more than 20 years since the Caps had fewer shots on goal in a postseason game, that coming back on May 13, 1998, when the Caps posted 11 shots on goal in a 2-0 win over the Ottawa Senators in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semi-final series.
  • Radko Gudas leads the team in points in the round robin (two, both assists).
  • Five players have even strength points in the round robin. See if you can spot the problem… Gudas (two), Lars Eller (one), Tavis Boyd (one), Carl Hagelin (one), Richard Panik (one). Not a single top-six forward (and we’ll get to that) nor top-pair defenseman has an even strength point.
  • Panik and Boyd have goals on the only shots they have taken in the round robin. The rest of the team is 1-for-48 (2.1 percent).

2. Waste not, want not…not. What might be among the more frustrating things going on with the Caps is the fact that their defense/goaltending have been reasonably effective. The Caps have allowed five goals in two games. That 2.50 goals allowed per game is better than four teams in the round robin that have two wins or teams in the elimination round that hold 2-1 series leads: Montreal (2-1 lead over Pittsburgh as of Friday morning, 2.67 goals allowed per game), Arizona (2-1 over Nashville, 2.67), Vegas (2-0, 3.50), and Chicago (2-1 over Edmonton, 4.33). Only Vegas has allowed fewer shots on goal per game (22.0) than the Caps (24.5).

Part of this might be a function of when opponents score. Tampa scored two goals in the first 27:48 to get out to a 2-0 lead before the Caps tied the game later in the second period. The Flyers scored goals in each of the three periods to take a 3-0 lead before the Caps got one back. Teams might have been a little lighter on the gas pedal after getting out to multi-goal leads.

But even while we are talking about two games, here is what makes this frustrating. The Caps have allowed only 29.0 shot attempts against at even strength. Only Vegas has allowed fewer (26.0). The best among the teams in the elimination portion of the tournament – Minnesota – averages 33.7 shot attempts allowed at evens per game. But with all that, the Caps have the fourth worst SAT percentage at evens (43.9 percent). That is because they have only 46 shot attempts at evens in the two games, lowest total (and lowest average at 23.0 per game) in the tournament.

Add to that the fact that the Caps have only 21 shots at even strength in two games (11 fewer than the St. Louis Blues in two games), and the Caps have wasted a decent performance by defense and goaltending. “Waste not, want not” refers to the fact that if you use resources effectively, you can avoid want. The Caps have wasted that performance in the defensive end, leaving them wanting for a win.

3. Is Boston the elixir the Caps need? It might be a bit odd to think that the best scoring defense in the regular season (2.39 goals allowed per game) might be what the Caps need to jolt themselves out of their offensive doldrums, but the Bruins are also a team that has been something of an all-or-nothing team on defense in the latter part of their schedule. In their last 11 games, nine in the regular season and two in the round robin, Boston allowed three or more goals seven times. They also allowed one or none four times.

Teams jumped on the Bruins early in those high goal volume games, scoring 11 goals in 11 first periods of those 11 games. Four times in that span, teams had multiple goals scored in the first period, including two by Tampa Bay in the 3-2 Lightning win on Wednesday. The Bruins allowed 3.00 goals per game in the nine games to wrap up the regular season, tied for 17th in the league over that span, and they have allowed seven goals in two round robin games. By period over their last 11 games, the Bruins have allowed 11 first period goals, 11 second period goals, and 12 third period goals for a total of 34 and an average of 3.09 per game. In their most recent performances, this has not been the defensive team they displayed over the first 60 games of the season.

The “sauce”… Top-six needs to be “top.” The Washington Capitals top-six forwards are a formidable bunch. Or so you would think. Not in the round robin so far, that’s for sure. In two games, here is how the top-six breaks down:

That is a grisly collection of numbers. One goal (none at even strength), one assist (again, none at even strength), one goal in 212 combined minutes of ice time for the group. And this was not an especially productive group in the run-up to the round robin. In 20 games after the All-Star Game break/bye they scored 38 goals as a group, but Ovechkin had 14 of those. Kuznetsov does not have an even strength goal since February 8th (13 games without one, including the round robin), and that one coming as the last goal in a 7-2 shellacking at the hands of the Flyers); Jakub Vrana does not have one since February 25th in a 4-3 shootout win over Winnipeg (eight games without one); Nicklas Backstrom has one even strength goal in his last 21 games. Backstrom (plus-2) and T.J. Oshie (plus-3) were the only ones in the group with positive plus-minus ratings.

Too much has fallen on the shoulders of Ovechkin; the Caps are 3-11 in the 14 games he did not score a goal, starting with a 3-2 loss to the Flyers on January 8th. If the Caps are to escape being the lone winless team in the round robin, look here for something that absolutely has to improve.