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Perfection in Regulation: The 2015-16 Caps

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Perfection in Regulation: The 2015-16 Caps

BY RICH GOLDBERG

Washington finished the regular season with 56 wins, a single-season team record and the most of any NHL team since the 2005-06 Red Wings. Certain Capitals numbers foretold a guaranteed point (or two), and so, here are 5 stats that meant perfection in regulation. 

15-0-2: The Capitals became the first team not to lose consecutive games in regulation since the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens. Montreal accomplished that feat in an 80-game season (82 games for Washington) and the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. Washington is 15-0-2 following regulation losses this season and has outscored opponents 60-31 in those games.

21-0-1: The Capitals ended the regular season as the only team unbeaten in regulation this season when leading after the first period, going 21-0-1. Washington nearly became the first team since the 2002-03 Minnesota Wild to go undefeated when ahead after 1 period. But Washington lost to the Islanders in overtime last week.

37-0-1: The Capitals were one of seven teams unbeaten in regulation when leading after two periods, going 37-0-1. The 37 wins tied for 2nd most in the NHL and the most by any Caps team since the shootout began in 2005-06.

18-0-1: Tom Wilson ranks third in the NHL with 163 penalty minutes this season. But when Wilson's name appears on the score sheet, a Capitals victory is not too far behind. Washington is 18-0-1 this season when Wilson records at least one point. The last time Washington lost when Wilson scored a point; February 22, 2015 in a game against coincidentally, the Flyers.

17-0-1: Alex Ovechkin led the NHL in goals (50), power play goals (19), shots (398). Ovechkin's 18 multi-point games were his third fewest in 11 NHL seasons. But in those 18 games the Capitals would not lose in regulation going 17-0-1. It's the first of 11 seasons the Capitals did not lose a single regulation game when Ovechkin recorded at least 2 points.

RELATED: Capitals talk record season, what lies ahead

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If this year is going to be different, the Caps cannot go down 0-2 in the series again

If this year is going to be different, the Caps cannot go down 0-2 in the series again

In last year’s playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Capitals won two out of the last three games and three out of the last five…and still lost the series. That’s because they lost both Game 1 and Game 2 to fall into a 0-2 hole, much like they did against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round this season.

The Caps know if this year is going to be different, they cannot afford to fall into a similar hole again.

“It's always harder to dig yourself out of a hole,” head coach Barry Trotz said after Thursday’s morning skate. “You're room for error is a lot less and it wears on you.”

“If we've learned anything from last year, you lose two it's tough to climb out of that,” Jay Beagle said. “Then this year first round, lose two, it's tough to climb out. It makes the series really hard. You always feel like you're chasing and no room for error.”

It did not cost them against Columbus as Washington was able to rattle off four straight wins to advance to the second round. Overcoming a two-game hole against the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions, however, is a taller task.

For only the second time in franchise history, the Capitals were able to overcome a 0-2 series deficit when they did it against the Blue Jackets. That means it doesn’t happen very often.

Chances are you won’t be able to overcome a deficit like that against Sidney Crosby and Co.

And that’s what makes Game 1 so important.

Washington is at home, opening a series against their arch rival, the Penguins will be without both Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin and the game will be played with the memory of how a 0-2 hole cost the Caps the series last year.

To call it a must-win would perhaps be an overstatement. It is a best of seven after all. But it’s still not that far off.

“We've got to just make sure we're looking at game one, we're not looking ahead,” Beagle said. “We've got to go after them in this first game and really try and take it to them in our rink.”

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Capitals vs. Pengiuns Preview: Three keys to how this year could be different for the Caps

Capitals vs. Pengiuns Preview: Three keys to how this year could be different for the Caps

The Washington Capitals enter the 2018 NHL Playoffs Eastern Conference Second Round in a similar position. A Metro division championship in hand and a seven-game series with the Pittsburgh Penguins. But while this year appears the same, the Caps are hoping for a different outcome. Will they finally be able to beat their arch rival and reach the conference final?

Here are three keys that will determine if this year will be different for the Caps.

Capitals vs. Penguins Preview:

Key to Victory No. 1: Discipline:

In the Capitals' two victories over the Penguins this season, Washington did not give up a power play goal. No team had a better power play unit during the regular season than the Penguins and we already saw how much foolish penalties hurt the Caps in the first round. Washington took 24 penalties in six games against the Blue Jackets and that is far too many.

They cannot win that way against the Penguins.

The problem is that in the second round with a heated rival, tempers can flare a bit. Just look at the last time these two teams played when Malkin was shooting Oshie's stick off the ice and tried to fight Kuznetsov for speaking Russian to him. Still, the Caps are going to have to keep their emotions in check.

Key to Victory No. 2:  Getting the goaltending advantage: 

The scoring depth of Pittsburgh is unmatched. The fact that a team can have Crosby, Malkin and Kessel all on the same team in the salary cap era is mind-boggling. Oh, and by the way, Jake Guentzel scores every time he touches the puck in the playoffs. Washington cannot win this series if they do not get better goaltending than Pittsburgh.

The good news is that Murray was not lights out in the first round. Yes, he had two shutouts, but there were also three games in which he let in at least four goals. A .911 save percentage is not where the Penguins really need him to be. The bad news is that while Holtby is statistically one of the best playoff netminders in NHL history, he struggles against Pittsburgh. In last year's series, Holtby managed only a .887 save percentage and 2.57 GAA.

One thing to keep in mind, on April 1 Grubauer started a critical game in Pittsburgh and was phenomenal. Could Trotz possibly think of going back to Grubauer if Holtby struggles against the Penguins?

Keys to Victory No. 3: The Mind Games

 Let's face it, there is a mental aspect to the Capitals' postseason struggles. When it comes to beating Pittsburgh or getting past the second round, this has become a mental hurdle. They have to come into this series with confidence they can win and maintain that confidence throughout, regardless of whether they get down in a game or in the series, regardless of whether there is a bad penalty call, regardless of whether Murray stands on his head again, regardless of any of the struggles they may face, they have to stay mentally confident.

When the Caps went down 0-2 against Columbus, Ovechkin said that the series would return to Washington tied at 2. The way he said it, it wasn't a guarantee or some massive proclamation, it was a statement of fact. Both he and the rest of the team believed they were going to come back and win the series. They need that level of confidence against Pittsburgh as well.

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