Friday was the anniversary of the Capitals Stanley Cup win. But on Saturday, Caps fans were left with the memory of 2018 and the knowledge that a new team will be crowned the champs this year after Washington’s first-round exit.
The 2018 Caps had an answer for everything the playoffs threw at them. The 2019 Caps…did not.
What exactly was the team able to do so well in 2018 that they were not in 2019? Let’s compare.
Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom were both incredible in the playoffs. The problem for Washington was that the rest of the offense was not.
The Caps scored 20 goals in seven games against the Carolina Hurricanes and nine of them came from Ovechkin and Backstrom. Forget top-six vs. bottom-six, this is two players accounting for 45-percent of the team’s offense.
In 2018, Washington scored 86 goals in 24 games, good for 3.58 goals per game as opposed to the team’s 2.86 in 2019. Eighteen different players scored en route to the Stanley Cup compared to 10 in 2019. Granted, it is a smaller sample size and more games over time would presumably give you more goal scorers. But the reason why the offense was so effective was because it did not revolve entirely around those top players. In 2018, the team’s two leading goal-scorers were Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov who scored a combined 27 goals. That is just over 31-percent of the team’s offense.
A championship team needs depth scoring and the bottom-six has to be able to contribute at key moments. In 2019, however, the Caps were not just reliant on the top-six, they were reliant on their top two for offense. It does not matter how good Ovechkin and Backstrom are, they cannot be expected to carry half of the team’s offense by themselves.
A healthy blue line
Near the trade deadline or around the start of the playoffs, you always hear analysts say something along the lines of “you need seven or eight defensemen to make a deep run.” That’s because over the course of a grueling postseason, you are going to have injuries to deal with on the blue line. Most players cannot play through a broken jaw like Zdeno Chara.
For the Caps, the most significant injury to the defense happened before the playoffs even began as Michal Kempny suffered a serious knee injury and did not play at all in the 2019 postseason. Jonas Siegenthaler stepped in for Christian Djoos after three games and played well, but it was not enough.
Sure, the Caps had their injuries in 2018, but none of those were on defense. Washington’s playoff run lasted 24 games and five defensemen played in all 24. Jerabek played the first two but was replaced by Christian Djoos who played the remaining 22 games.
That means for 22 games in the playoffs, the Caps had the same six players on defense. That is absolutely incredible.
Everyone pitching in
This was something that really struck me when I rewatched the third period of Game 5 in the latest Capitals Talk podcast. Everyone and I mean everyone, had to contribute. There were no passengers in 2018.
Kuznetsov, who scored one goal in seven games in 2019, was a beast with 32 points. Ovechkin scored 15 goals. Lars Eller scored the overtime winner in Game 3 against the Columbus Blue Jackets—the goal that saved Washington’s season—and the Stanley Cup-clinching goal against the Vegas Golden Knights. Devante Smith-Pelly was a hero with seven goals. Andre Burakovsky’s two goals were in Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Brooks Orpik scored the first Stanley Cup Final game-winning goal in franchise history. Matt Niskanen’s one goal tied the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3.
Heck, even Jakub Jerabek recorded an assist in just two games played.
Remember how the Caps were without both T.J. Oshie and Michal Kempny in 2019? Well, the 2018 team had personnel issues too. Nicklas Backstrom was dealing with a hand injury and Tom Wilson was suspended for three games. In Game 6 in Pittsburgh, Washington was without Backstrom, Wilson and Andre Burakovsky who was also injured. So what happened? Nathan Walker notched an assist in his only game of the playoffs to set up Alex Chiasson.
The Caps just did not get those kinds of key contributions from all over their lineup in 2019. There were far too many players who were essentially non-factors.
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