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Why can't the Caps win at home?

Why can't the Caps win at home?

As the old expression goes, a series doesn’t start until a road team loses.

Wait, that’s not it. Shouldn’t that be until a “home” team loses?

Well, it used to be, but that just doesn’t seem to fit anymore.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Washington Capitals jumped out to a 2-0 series lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning with two wins in Florida. When they returned home, where they are hypothetically supposed to have the greater advantage, they lost both Game 3 and Game 4 and now find themselves in a tied series.

This is not the first time this postseason the Caps have struggled at home. Washington is now only 3-5 at Capital One Arena in the playoffs, but 7-1 on the road.

What gives?

Well, first it should be noted that this is a trend across the NHL and not just in Washington. Including the Caps’ loss at home on Thursday, the home team has gone only 34-39 in the postseason.

“It doesn’t matter this time of year if you’re home or away,” Tom Wilson said following Game 4. “Every game is huge. The emotion’s going to be there.”

Home ice does not seem to mean as much as it once did. Having said that, however, of the four teams remaining in the playoffs, the Caps are the only team with a losing record at home. So even if you establish that home ice is not a major factor, the Caps have still been the worst at home of the remaining teams.

You can talk about how there is less pressure on the road, how it can be better for a player to get away from the family during the playoffs and how teams can rally around an ‘us against the world’ mentality, but that is true every single year. That does not explain why they have had so much trouble this year in particular on home ice.

Let’s compare some of the stats to see if we can break down exactly where the problem is.

At home: 8 games played, 3.25 goals per game (26 total goals), 3.38 goals against per game (27 total goals), 3.88 penalties drawn per game, 25.8-percent power play, 3.75 penalties taken per game, 70.0-percent penalty kill.

On the road: 8 games played, 3.75 goals per game (30 total goals), 2.13 goals against per game (17 total goals), 3.13 penalties drawn per game, 32.0-percent power play, 3.38 penalties taken per game, 77.8-percent penalty kill.

The three most glaring stats that jump out are goals against per game, the power play and the penalty kill, all of which are dramatically better on the road.

With home playoff records being a topic of conversation across the NHL, former player Martin St. Louis made headlines with his recent take:

There may be something to that, but that does not explain the situation for Washington given their special teams success away from Capital One Arena. Line matching does not matter when it comes to the power play and the penalty kill.

As unsatisfying as it may be, the answer is that there is no clear answer for why the Caps have struggled at home. If there was, the team would fix it.

Of the five games they lost in Washington, they were the better team in Game 1 and Game 2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Braden Holtby did not start either of those games. They were the better team in Game 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins for all but a five-minute stretch in which the Penguins scored three goals. And they were the better team in Game 4 on Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Game 3 against the Lightning was Washington’s worst home game of the postseason, but, for the most part, the Caps have actually played pretty well on home ice. The results just have not been there.

Looking at each game, it would seem that their home record is more of an anomaly than anything else. Perhaps the real question is not why they have struggled at home, but why have they been so good on the road?

“We’ve put together some pretty darn good games at home that we just couldn’t find those little plays,” John Carlson said, “The big moments that we didn’t take advantage of the in certain situations and that’s why our record is what is as at home and away.”

If you are looking for solace, however, two of the final three games of the Eastern Conference Final will be played on the road and, should Washington advance to the Stanley Cup Final, the winner of the Western Conference will have home ice.

To win the series and the Stanley Cup from this point, the Caps will need to have more success on the road than at home. Based on how they have played, that is probably fine by them.

“That’s our focus next game on the road where we have had a lot of success,” Carlson said. “We believe in here.”

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Capitals take back first place in Metro by dismantling shorthanded Devils

Capitals take back first place in Metro by dismantling shorthanded Devils

A three-goal second period fueled the Capitals to a 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, giving Washington back sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Goalie Pheonix Copley earned his sixth straight win with 20 saves while Brett Connolly became the fifth Cap this season to reach the 20-goal mark.

Here are four reasons Washington got the win.

Kyle Palmieri leaves early

The Devils were already without Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, Miles Wood, Jesper Bratt, Pavel Zacha, Mirco Mueller and Sami Vatanen so they really could not afford to lose Kyle Palmieri. Palmieri took an inadvertent shoulder from Nick Jensen which dropped him. He was very slow to get back to the bench and did not return. He played only 1:18.

With the number of injuries the Devils have faced, Palmieri has been huge with 27 goals and 50 points, both team highs. Trying to beat the Caps without so many key players was already going to be a tall task. Adding Palmieri to that list was a real blow to the gut.

Andre Burakovsky stays hot

Burakovsky got Washington on the board early as he ripped a shot past MacKenzie Blackwood less than three minutes into the game. The Caps winger circled around the boards with the puck and New Jersey gave him some room to work with. He cut from the boards to the faceoff circle and fired the puck through the legs of defenseman Eric Tangradi. There was so much speed behind that shot that, Blackwood barely had enough time to react. The puck did hit him in the arm, but on the way out. The puck was hit so hard it bounced back out into Blackwood’s arm.

The goal is Burakovsky’s 12th of the season. He has scored five of those goals since Feb. 23.

Brett Connolly opens the flood gates

The box score does not look great for Blackwood, but he was doing all he could to keep the Devils in it. With the score tied at 1 at the start of the second period, Blackwood made a number of dazzling saves to preserve the tie, including stoning Jakub Vrana on a 2-on-1. His play made you wonder if a beaten up New Jersey team would somehow be able to steal away two points from the Caps, but Brett Connolly put fans’ fears to rest.

Christian Djoos, playing for the first time since Feb. 23, made a good play at the wall faking the pass to open up the lane, and fired the puck right to the tape of Connolly who tapped the puck in for his 20th goal of the season. This marks the first 20-goal season of Connolly’s career.

From that point, the Caps added two more goals in the second to take control. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored his 19th of the season about six minutes later and just over a minute after that Tom Wilson extended Washington’s lead to three.

Top-Six Shuffle

About midway through the game, Todd Reirden switched centers on the top two lines with moving Nicklas Backstrom with Wilson and Alex Ovechkin and Kuznetsov down with Vrana and T.J. Oshie. The move had positive results for both lines.

Vrana tipped the puck up from the defensive zone to Kuznetsov who called his own number on the 2-on-1 and buried the puck through the 5-hole of Blackwood. Later in the second, Backstrom and Ovechkin both earned assists on Wilson’s 21st goal of the season.


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Top 20 goals of the Stanley Cup run: Brooks Orpik's game-winner

Top 20 goals of the Stanley Cup run: Brooks Orpik's game-winner

As the 2018-19 regular season winds down, we at NBC Sports Washington are taking a look back at the 20 most important goals of the Capitals 2018 Stanley Cup run.

NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May thinks this one should be higher. 

In what was only his third playoff goal in 146 games, Brooks Orpik helped quiet the ghosts of the team's past with the game-winning goal in the Caps' 3-2 win in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. 

"This is a guy that doesn't score goals, and then he scores that one. It's the first ever game-winning goal for the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final," May said. "Everyone's got to chip in, everyone's got to pull on the rope, everyone's got to grab an oar, whatever you want to use, he certainly did it that night.

"And I think it shut a lot of people up. He certainly begame a hero to me that night."

So where should this goal be ranked according to May?

Top six or seven for sure. The goal tied the series up at one to send the Caps home with a bit of momentum and, more importantly, confidence.

"You want to split the first two games," May said. "He split them."