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Caps Preview: Week 7

After a disappointing weekend of winless hockey, the Caps are looking to snap their two-game losing streak. Their record stands at 7-7-3 (17 points), good for fifth in the Metropolitan Division. After facing the New Jersey Devils and St. Louis Blues, the Caps take on three of the League’s weaker teams.


11/18 at Arizona

The Caps last played the Coyotes on Nov. 2 and lost 6-5 in a wildly inconsistent game. The Coyotes haven’t had a magical turnaround since. They’re still pretty bad, with a 8-9-1 record (sixth in the Pacific Division.) Their possession leaves much to be desired (48.4 CF%, 23rd in the NHL).

The ‘Yotes are riding a two-game win streak after a 5-0 blowout of the Canucks and a narrow 2-1 win against the Oilers. Despite being outshot by a 35-23 and 34-28 margin in each contest, the ‘Yotes have enjoyed stellar goaltending from backup Devan Dubnyk. In their previous two wins, their power play and penalty kill clocked in at 25% and 85.7% respectively.

This game should be winnable (we said that last time, too.) First and foremost, the goaltending must be better, and the Caps need to regain their scoring touch. Moving Jay Beagle off the top line would be a good start. Recently, the Caps got a lot of good looks on the power play but couldn’t capitalize. They’ve scored two goals as many games, and both tallies came at even strength despite a handful of man-advantage opportunities. Even their 4-2 win over Columbus isn’t as dominating as the final score would appear. The Caps’ possession is (mostly) there, but it’s just not translating.

 

11/20 at Colorado

This week, the Caps have a trio of matchups against some of the NHL’s weaker teams. The Avalanche are among these teams. Their 6-8-5 record is stronger than their second-worst CF% numbers would indicate (with a Corsi-for percentage of 43.6%, the only thing stopping them from a league-worst ranking is the Buffalo Sabres.)

Yet the Avs are coming off two strong road wins against the Rangers and Devils. Their power play (17% success rate) is absolutely moribund, but their penalty kill is the NHL’s fourth best. Even with playing a disciplined game, the Avs haven’t allowed a power-play goal in two games (five total opportunities.)

The Caps will be facing a team with four days of rest time. But they can’t use a fresh opponent as an excuse for slow starts or lazy penalties. The Caps need to focus on shutting down the Avs’ many offensive talents, from Matt Duchene to Erik Johnson to Tyson Barrie to Nathan Mackinnon…and preferably with an improved “shutdown pair.” And let’s not forget Varly, who has a .918 SV%.

 

11/22 vs. Buffalo

The Caps and Sabres met three time last season, and the Sabres won each contest by a one-goal margin each time. Fortunately, Ryan Miller is now playing for the Canucks, so if the Caps can outshoot the NHL’s worst possession team (37.2 CF%), there’s no excuse not to win.

The Sabres have suffered through a number of blowout losses (three in this month alone), but dished out their first beatdown Saturday night against the Leafs. Shot totals were 35-34 Sabres, whose six goals came from five different players. Such offensive output is rare from the Sabres, who scored seven goals in four games at the start of November. Their power play is unsurprisingly in last place, at an incomprehensible 7%.

All signs point to the Caps winning this game, especially as Trotz adjusts lines to overcome the lack of offense. Without a brick wall to stop every shot, the Sabres look to be a conquerable opponent. With that being said, it’s possible that our old friend Neuvy might get the start–and his numbers look pretty solid (.918 SV% and 2.96 GAA.)

Full audio of Laich interview provides context on playoff comments

In an interview Wednesday morning with The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan, Washington Capitals forward Brooks Laich was asked, “This is worst case scenario, but if the Caps do wind up missing the playoffs, is there one game from the past month or so that you’re going to look back on and say that’s the one that cost us a playoff spot?” Laich responded, “We’re making the playoffs. We’re not talking worst-case scenario. We’re making the playoffs.”

Laich

Laich (Photo credit: clydeorama)

As Dan Steinberg wrote in a D.C. Sports Bog post about the interview, “…it was pointed out to Laich [by the Junkies] that he had just guaranteed a playoff berth. He sort of laughed, but didn’t respond.” Laich never actually used the word “guarantee” himself.

To me, it sounded like Laich didn’t quite know what to say when he ‘sort of laughed,’ as the Junkies joked that he’d just made a “guarantee.” As one of The Junkies pointed out once Laich was no longer on the line, “I think Brooks is probably saying, ‘Holy shoot, what did I just say. That’s gonna be all over the papers.'”

Laich did not back down from his comments later in the day at Caps practice, as The Washington Post’s Katie Carrera reported on the Capitals Insider blog: “I have a belief we’re going to be in the playoffs and that’s it,” Laich said. “I don’t want to discuss any scenario that we’re not. My belief is that we’re going to be in the playoffs.”

Some media outlets and Twitter users have labeled Laich’s comments a “guarantee,” like in the headline of Carrera’s Capitals Insider article that’s linked to in the previous paragraph. (Caps radio guy John Walton wasn’t a fan of that approach). Other have compared him to Mark Messier, who guaranteed a Rangers victory during the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It seems to me that Laich is just looking at things in a confident, positive way—somewhat like Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco was with statements he made this week about his quarterback skills—and, like Flacco, perhaps Laich should have chosen his words differently…or maybe not.

These two situations with Laich and Flacco are examples of how the media often chooses to focus on the sound bite that generates attention, produces web hits and causes reactions like the one from the Buffalo Sabre’s goaltender Ryan Miller about Laich’s comments. The press will pick that one statement and run with it, sometimes without providing context or the rest of the story. When the full interview is taken in, Laich’s words seem more about a mindset than a guarantee.

As for Flacco, on Tuesday he said he thinks he’s the NFL’s “best” quarterback—or at least that’s how his comments came across to some.

On CSNBaltimore.com in a post titled “What Joe really said”, John Eisenberg wrote about Flacco’s comments:

Numerous national experts weighed in with a range of opinions, many either mocking him or daring him to prove it.

My response? Yeah, yeah, big deal. Let me know when he says something interesting.

If you actually listen to the interview, which took place on WNST 1570, he merely responded to a question about whether he thought he was a “top five” quarterback by suggesting all NFL quarterbacks should believe in themselves along those lines.

“Without a doubt [I’m in the top 5],” he said. “What do you expect me to say? I would assume everybody thinks they’re a top-5 quarterback. I think I’m the best. I don’t think I’m the top 5, I think I’m the best. I wouldn’t be very successful at my job if I didn’t feel that way. That doesn’t mean that things are going to work out that way. It just means that’s the way it is – that’s the way I feel that it is and that’s the way I feel it should be.”

Going back to Laich’s comments, Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff commented to the Buffalo News, when told about them: “Those are all predictions that you live with, you die with, you hope to motivate your team with. He probably believes sincerely they’re gonna make it. They probably like their schedule, their chances of playing Florida in their building. We got our work cut out for us, they got theirs. Our thoughts are making the playoffs too.”

Is that a guarantee, Lindy? Quick! Somebody better go ask the Caps what they think of that.

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