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Who's hot and who's not?: Holtby is rediscovering his Vezina winning form

Who's hot and who's not?: Holtby is rediscovering his Vezina winning form

Once a week this season, we're taking a closer look at the numbers and pointing out a few trends that every Capitals fan should know about.

RELATED: Prediction recap: Caps dominate Tampa from start to finish

HOT

Braden Holtby

-- After Friday’s 4-0 blanking of the Bolts, Holtby now has three shutouts this season, including two in his last five starts. Only Devan Dubnyk (5), Tuukka Rask (4) and Peter Budaj (4) have more. Since the 2012-13 season, Holtby has 23 shutouts, which is tied with Rask for the most shutouts during that timeframe. (Carey Price is second with 22.) In his last eight starts, Holtby is 5-1-2 with a .949 save percentage and 1.47 goals against average.  

Dmitry Orlov

-- Orlov made the highlights Friday night for his aerial set-up pass to Alex Ovechkin against the Lightning. But he’s actually been setting up goals with regularity for a while now. In fact, the 25-year-old defenseman has seven assists in the last nine games, putting him on pace for a career-best 33 helpers. Seems the defensive pair tweaks are working out for everyone involved, huh?

Nicklas Backstrom

-- With a pair of assists against Tampa, Backstrom now needs just three to become the 10th Swede to record 500 assists for his career. The 10th year veteran has eight points (two goals, six assists) in the last eight games and 18 points in the last 20. Backstrom leads the Caps with 29 points; Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson are second with 24.

Penalty kill

-- The Caps have faced five shorthanded situations the past two games…and did not yield a shot on goal on any of them. Over the past six games, the penalty kill has allowed just one goal. As a result, the unit is up to sixth in the NHL at 84.8-percent after scuffling near the bottom of the league for a time earlier this season.

 

NOT

The Caps’ upcoming schedule

-- The players and coaches had better enjoy this three-day break (and manage to get some rest, too). Because it’s going to be crazy on the other side of it. The Caps return to action Tuesday in Brooklyn…and then it’s a full out sprint for three weeks, with a game scheduled every other day for 21 straight days.

Evgeny Kuznetsov’s faceoffs

-- Kuznetsov has never been particularly strong on faceoffs. In recent games, though, he’s struggled more than usual. In fact, he’s won fewer than 40-percent of his draws in six straight games, including just 27.3-percent (3 of 11) vs. the Lightning. That marked his third-lowest percentage of the season. Overall, he’s fourth among the Caps’ full-time centers at 41.4-percent. 

The Caps' record in shootouts

--After Wednesday's 3-2 loss in Philly, the Caps fell to 1-3 in games decided by shootout this season. Considering how tight the playoff race figures to remain down the stretch, every point matters. As a result, the Caps have dedicated a little more time in practice to shootout drills. Will it pay off? (I'll have a little more on this next week.)   

MORE CAPITALS: Carlson and the Caps' D are starting to 'heat up' offensively 

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Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

There's a saying in sports that goes, "A series doesn't start until a team loses at home." For the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets, their series won't start until someone wins at home.

Four games into the series, the road team has won every game. Columbus took Game 1 and Game 2 from Capital One Arena and the Caps answered back by winning Game 3 and Game 4 in Ohio.

"We came [to Columbus] to try to get the first one," Barry Trotz said after Thursday's win. "Did that. We came here to get the second one. Did that. All we've done is just got on even terms."

Now the series is a best of three with two of those final three games in Washington, but how much of an advantage does that really give the Caps?

"We've got to make sure that we're ready to go," Trotz said. "I think we have been since we got here. We've just got to do it at home."

The various playoff struggles the Caps have suffered in the Alex Ovechkin era have been well-documented to this point. One particularly maddening issue is the team's struggles to win at home. Since 2008, the first year the Ovechkin-led Caps made the playoffs, the team is just 28-25 in home playoff games. Since 2015, Trotz's first season as head coach, the Caps are 12-10 in Washington.

Part of that is just the nature of hockey. Upsets are prevalent in the playoffs in the NHL and home-ice advantage does not mean as much as it does in other sports. But it should mean more than 28-25.

Besides having the crowd on your side, home ice also provides matchup advantages. The home team gets the second line change at home, meaning during a stoppage in play the home coach gets the opportunity to see who the opponent puts on the ice before making his own change. For the Caps, this means getting Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against Artemi Panarin.

Trotz has matched his top shutdown pair against Columbus' top line all series long. According to Natural Stat Trick, when Niskanen was on the ice in Game 4 he held Panarin's Corsi For percentage to 36.36. When Niskanen was not on the ice, Panarin's percentage shot up to 71.43. 

Theoretically, it should be much easier for Trotz to get those favorable matchups at home. Now all the Caps have to do is take advantage.

"Our home record hasn't been really great in the last little stretch at the end of the season here and obviously the first two games of the playoffs," Trotz said. "We owe it to our fans, we owe it to ourselves to take advantage of that."

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John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference after Game 4

John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference after Game 4

In each of the first three games of the series, the Columbus Blue Jackets always had an answer for the Washington Capitals.

The Caps built a two-goal lead in each game and Columbus was able to battle back and tie it each time.

In Game 4 on Thursday, however. the Blue Jackets had no answer in a 4-1 loss to Washington and that includes head coach John Tortorella.

"We weren't good," Tortorella said to the media after the game. "There's no sense asking me things about the game. I'm telling you, we laid an egg. I'm not going to break it down for you. We sucked. We sucked."

Tortorella is known for having some fiery interactions with the media. By his standard, Thursday's postgame presser was fairly tame.

The Capitals may have won Game 3, but Columbus certainly looked like the better team for most of the night. That was not the case in Game 4 as Washington dominated from start to finish. That led to the contentious postgame presser.

"We laid an egg," Tortorella said. "That's all I have to say, guys. I'm sorry, I'm not going to break it down for you. Nothing went well for us. It's on us, we have to figure it out and we will."

Reporters continued to press the head coach until he finally walked out.

Before you laugh too hard at this, it is important to consider that this may be a calculated move by Tortorella.

Sure, there have been times in which he has lost his temper in the past, but these outbursts may be more premeditated than we think.

Consider this. After their worst game of the series, a game in which the Blue Jackets only scored once and saw a 2-0 series lead evaporate in two games at home, we're talking about the head coach. We're not talking about the loss or the performance of the players. Instead, we are talking about Tortorella walking out on reporters.

Even if Tortorella was not willing to give any answers on Thursday, he will need to find some soon. The series now shifts back to Washington for Game 5 on Saturday with all the momentum on the Caps' side.

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