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Back in the Race

How the Caps got good again while no one was looking

Washington Capitals v Ottawa Senators Photo by John McCreary/NHLI via Getty Images

A funny thing happened while the hockey world (and beyond) was focused on Alex Ovechkin’s pursuit and subsequent eclipse of his most recent mega-milestones.

As national sports broadcasts featured inexperienced hall-of-fame players out to ruin big moments and the local channel spotlighted him on the ice with videogame-like circles, Ovechkin and the team he captains turned their season around and now, improbably, sit in a playoff position on Christmas Eve, heavy favorites to stay there.

On Friday night, the Caps won their fourth game in a row, a run that began one game after a five-game win streak ended. They dramatically outshot the Jets during the portion of the game that was in question, limiting Winnipeg to just ten shots on goal through two periods, one night after similarly stifling Ottawa (12 shots on goal through 40 minutes). Since November 22, the Caps are second in the League in all-situation goals-against rate (Toronto) and expected goals-against rate (Colorado), and top-nine in the goals-for versions of those metrics.

Over the last ten games, they’re third in score- and venue-adjusted five-on-five Corsi-For percentage, and over the last 16 they have a 23.9 percent successful power play and the third-best penalty kill on the circuit. Put more simply, over the last ten games, they have an expected Goals-For share of a tick under 60 percent (for the second time this month, and a number that would put them atop the League if they maintained it for the full season):

via MoneyPuck

On November 22, the Caps were in 13th place in the Eastern Conference; today they’re in seventh. Obviously these impressive numbers come over a small sample (they’ve played 16 games, roughly one-fifth of a season, since that date). But a couple of weeks back, we asked whether the Caps are “good again.” It would appear that they are.

And now, as their captain leaves Mr. Hockey in the dust with just one big mountain left to climb, maybe his teammates (and coach) can get some well-deserved attention, as they collectively look to summit a different peak.