The Caps have long been known as an offensive locomotive, and are still very much so. With weaponry such as Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, TJ Oshie, and a handful more, the NHL’s defenses have long feared the firepower that they face night in and night out. This year, of late especially, the Capitals d-men have been flying under the media radar as one of the league’s most stout and stubborn defenses.
The most noticeable stat that shines through may in fact be the most important as well. Before the tilt with Montreal, the team has given up a stingy 83 goals, totaling the lowest in the league. The game has evolved into (much to fans delight) a high scoring affair, and the Capitals sit at first in the NHL in goals against.
Goaltending is obviously a bright star in this equation, as Braden Holtby just recorded two consecutive shutouts, maintaining over a .930 save percentage over the year and a sub 2.0 goals against average. Philipp Grubauer has taken 7 wins in 9 starts, and his stat line is almost just as impressive. What lies directly ahead of the netminders has yet to receive the credit deserve though.
Through over a quarter of the season, the Caps have managed to suffocate the league’s best offenses on a nightly basis. Not to take anything away from the goalies, but when the team’s defensive prowess can keep high scoring clubs at bay, it creates a winnable scenario even when the good guys aren’t scoring a ton of goals. They have kept speedy forwards to the outside, which is crucial in taking away quality shot chances. Penalties don’t seem to be a problem for them, either, as they have done a phenomenal job staying out of the box.
Speaking of penalties, the PK has been absolutely outstanding most of the year, especially lately. They’ve climbed the ranks and now sit at 3rd in the league in penalty killing, and don’t look to be giving up any ground. Opposing teams are kept to the perimeter of the offensive zone, which in turn makes set plays incredibly hard to execute for teams trying to capitalize with a man-up opportunity.
Scoring chances are often spoiled by perfectly placed sticks, breaking up dangerous passes that can create dead legs for penalty killers. Special teams, especially the penalty kill, have become such an important asset to playoff bound hockey teams. The Capitals have seemed to find a great system to roll with, and fans can be confident that the trend will continue.
A lesser known stat across the league is plus/minus, however, it says a lot about both individual AND team performance. Not ONE Capitals defenseman has a negative rating so far this year. In fact, the only regular starter on the entire team with a negative rating is Lars Eller, at a timid -1. Those numbers alone say a lot about a team’s all around ability to win hockey games.
By Brennan Reidy