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Who's hot and who's not?: The Caps' offense (finally) has come alive

Who's hot and who's not?: The Caps' offense (finally) has come alive

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.  

Hot

Braden Holtby

The hottest player on the Caps right now is, without a doubt, their Vezina Trophy winning goaltender, who leads the league with six shutouts after blanking the Blackhawks on Friday. It was his fifth shutout in 14 starts. Entering Saturday’s games, Holtby is now top three in every meaningful metric for a goaltender—first in shutouts, second in goals against (1.85) and third in both save percentage (.933) and wins (21). “When he’s been in the zone or having good stretches, he just looks calm,” Coach Barry Trotz said after Saturday’s optional practice. “Every goaltender I’ve had that goes through stretches where they are seeing the puck really well and things are going their way, they just look very calm. Looks like it’s in slow motion for guys.” The combination of Holtby’s stellar play, the team’s commitment defense and a third-ranked penalty kill has the Caps leading the league in goals allowed per game (1.95).  

Steady line combinations

Trotz switched up his lines up following the Caps’ 2-1 shootout loss to the Devils on Dec. 29. Not only have the Caps won eight straight games since the changes, they’ve also scored 35 goals. “The lines started getting an identity and you just let them keep creating that identity,” Trotz explained. “We’ve been fortunate; we’ve had good health. It’s easy to keep the lines together when you’re not ravaged with injuries. It’s been good for us.” After Friday’s 6-0 win over Chicago, the Caps are up to seventh in goals per game (2.98). Last season, they finished second in that category (3.02).

Alex Ovechkin

Since enduring a dry spell in late November and early December, the Caps’ captain has ranked among the league’s most productive players. In fact, he’s amassed nine goals and eight assists in the last 16 games, putting him sixth among all players in that timeframe. With 21 goals in 42 games, the 31-year-old is on pace for 41 goals this season, meaning he’ll need to pick it up in the second half if he hopes to hit 50 for the fourth straight year.

Nicklas Backstrom

He’s got goals in three straight games and 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in the last five games. The most memorable assist, of course, was the set up pass on Ovechkin’s 1,000th point against Pittsburgh. Backstrom now leads the Caps with 40 points, putting him on pace for a fourth straight season with 70 or more points.

Evgeny Kuznetsov

The second line center has two goals, seven assists and three multiple-point performances in the last six games. Is Kuzy back for real this time? Time will tell.

Nate Schmidt

After registering one point from Nov. 18-Jan.3 (16 games), No. 88 has been channeling his inner Nicklas Lidstrom. In fact, Schmidt has racked up a goal and four assists over the past five games, including a pair of multiple-point outings.

Not

Penalties

There’s not a whole to nitpick these days. But there are still a few areas the Caps want to clean up in the second half of the season. One of them, of course, is penalties. It’s been a well-documented issue in recent weeks. But if the Chicago game was any indication—just a pair of minors, their lowest total in 14 games—they’re headed in the right direction.

Power play

The unit popped a couple against the Penguins, but it’s still a bit chilly by the Caps’ lofty standards. Dating back to Dec. 21, a span of 12 games, the power play has produced a meager four goals on 31 opportunities. Overall, the unit ranks 16th (18.0 percent) on the season, a year after ranking fifth (21.9). Interestingly, the Caps received no power plays in either game against the Blackhawks this season, marking the only two times that’s happened all season.

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How to watch classic Capitals games this week on NBC Sports Washington

How to watch classic Capitals games this week on NBC Sports Washington

If you just can't get enough iconic Caps games during quarantine, then NBC Sports Washington is the place for you.

All week long beginning Monday, April 6, NBC Sports Washington will be airing classic Capitals games, including multiple comebacks and culminating with the five games against Vegas in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

The games leading into the postseason re-air will include multiple memorable finishes from the 2019-20 season.

Of course, if you make it that far, you certainly won't want to miss the re-airing of the Capitals championship parade that follows.

Here's a rundown of all the games airing this week on NBC Sports Washington:

Washington Capitals at Vancouver Canucks

Date: Monday, April 6
Time: 8 p.m.
Original Game: October 25, 2019

Backup goaltender Ilya Samsonov had a rough day in net, allowing five unanswered goals in quick succession from the end of the first period into the second. But Evgeny Kuznetsov broke the Caps' drought in the final second of the second period, sparking the team to a remarkable four-goal comeback.

The Caps would eventually win in a shootout, kicking off a six-game winning streak.

Vegas Golden Knights at Washington Capitals

Date: Wednesday, April 8
Time: 8 p.m.
Original Game: November 9, 2019

The game that capped off the Caps' aforementioned six-game winning streak - and extended their point streak to 11 - was an easier win. The Caps pulled ahead early and never looked back, keyed by Backstrom's two-goal day.

Of course, games against the Golden Knights will always have a special place in fans' hearts after the summer of 2018.

San Jose Sharks at Washington Capitals

Date: Thursday, April 9
Time: 8 p.m.
Original Game: January 5, 2020

This was as wild a finish as the Caps have had in a long time. Down 3-2, they pulled Braden Holtby late in the third period, and the Sharks took advantage with an empty-netter. Then, miraculously, the Capitals scored twice in the final 47 seconds of the game to force overtime, where they won the game.

The Caps would have considered themselves lucky just to come away with a point here, and instead, they got two in one of the most memorable finishes in franchise history.

How to watch the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, Washington Capitals vs. Las Vegas Golden Knights

All-day Sunday, April 12

Game 1
Time:
9 a.m.
Location: Las Vegas
Original Game: May 28, 2018

The first team in the nation's capital to make even a semifinal run in 20 years, the hype surrounding the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final was immeasurable. The Golden Knights hosted Game 1 with a breathtaking opening ceremony, and the two teams jumped on each other early with a 2-2 first period. 

Washington took the lead 4-3 early in the third period, but Braden Holtby struggled during the frame and the Caps fell 6-4 to fall behind in the series, as they had throughout the postseason run.

Game 2
Time:
11:30 a.m.
Location: Las Vegas
Original Game: May 30, 2018

The Caps fell behind early in the game, but bounced back to steal a close Game 2. Alex Ovechkin scored his first goal of the series, Braden Holtby was superb - including an all-time legendary save - and the Capitals headed home tied 1-1 in the series.

Game 3
Time:
2 p.m.
Location: Washington
Original Game: June 2, 2018

The first home championship game Washington hosted in years, Game 3 was as hot a ticket as you'll ever find.

Holtby was terrific once again, allowing his only goal in the third period. Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded a goal and an assist, and to nobody's surprise, it was Ovechkin who scored the Caps' first home goal of the series.

Game 4
Time:
4:30 p.m.
Location: Washington
Original Game: June 4, 2018

Game 4 was the Caps' biggest explosion. They scored six goals in the game, including three on the power play. Six different players netted goals for the Capitals in a well-rounded effort, boosted by Backstrom's three assists.

After their easiest win of the series, the Caps were riding high up 3-1 heading back to Las Vegas.

Game 5
Time:
7 p.m.
Location: Las Vegas
Original Game: June 7, 2018

The one that needs no introduction, right? After a scoreless first period, the teams exploded for five combined goals in the second period, including a power play goal from Ovi.

Trailing 3-2 entering the third period, the Caps needed someone else to step up, and they got it. Devante Smith-Pelly tied the game midway through the frame, and Lars Eller gave them the Cup-clinching goal a few minutes later.

Holtby held on the rest of the way, and the Capitals became your 2018 Stanley Cup Champions.

Championship Parade

Time: 9:30 p.m.
Original Date: June 12, 2018

What more needs to be said? The Capitals kicked off the great summer of celebration in style, parading through Washington, D.C. and sharing the glory of their title runs during an unforgettable afternoon with thousands of fans.

If you somehow missed this live, you don't want to miss re-living it now.

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Lars Eller may be the Tiger, but Caps coach Todd Reirden is not about to lump him in with the people from 'Tiger King'

Lars Eller may be the Tiger, but Caps coach Todd Reirden is not about to lump him in with the people from 'Tiger King'

Like everyone during this time of social distancing because of the coronavirus, Todd Reirden is getting some extra time to catch up on some TV. Also like everyone, one of the shows he has watched during the NHL's pause in the season is the Netflix docuseries "Tiger King."

"I did take myself through the 'Tiger King,'" Reirden said on a conference call Monday. "That I did watch. I watched that one on my own. I did not have my wife and son in on that one. I wanted to be prepared for discussion points with the players if they had seen it. So I did watch that. I'll just leave it at that, but I did watch it."

So Reirden has watched it, but just for reference. Right.

"It's just one of those things that you want to be prepared for as a coach because you know they all have watched it and I saw the amount of people that have watched it," Reirden said. "I have not gotten into in-depth discussions but when I do get together with the players one day when things become normal again for us."

While Reirden was diplomatic about what he thought about the people featured in the series, he also made it clear he was not about to compare any of the Capitals players to Joe Exotic or any of the other...colorful characters. That includes Lars Eller.

Eller's nickname, of course, is 'Tiger' after he chose the tiger for his spirit animal in a talk with Tony Robbins. When Reirden was asked Monday if Eller was the team's "Tiger King," Reirden was pretty quick to shut that down.

"Lars Eller, I mean he is our Tiger for sure on our team," Reirden said. "I hate to couple him into the same kind of personality that's going on with the 'Tiger King, 'but certainly he has the name for it. So that's an interesting thought that I need to spend some more time on before I commit to it."

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