Caps Preview: Week 3
With two weeks and five games in the books, we’re starting to get a picture of what the 2014-15 Caps look like. Yes, the season is still young, but what we’ve seen thus far indicates that the Caps are a good team, and more importantly, will continue to be a good team (unlike the Leafs last season. Hello, PDO!)
The Caps have played a variety of opponents: Cup contenders like Montreal and bottom-feeders like Florida. And how they perform against top teams isn’t necessarily representative of their overall play, as we saw in Saturday night’s game against the Panthers. Still, there are certain things we can expect from these Caps as they head for western Canada to face the Oilers, Flames, and Canucks. Given the caliber of their competition, the Caps should aim to extend their win streak to four games and go 6-for-6 in terms of points. However, they shouldn’t underestimate their opponents. Bad teams aren’t always easily beatable, and if the Caps come out slow in the first period, they could lose a serious advantage and send the game to overtime.
Going into this road trip, there are three stats that stick out for me. First, the Caps are the only team in the East who have yet to be defeated in regulation. Not saying they’ll be the 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks, but who know. Second, they have yet to allow 30 shots in a game–a far cry from last season, in which their shots-against average was 33.5. Third, they currently rank 11th in the league in Corsi at 52.4%. Interestingly, the Oilers come in at 53.3%, good for ninth in the league. (It’s still early in the season.)
10/22 at Oilers
Remember how lousy the Oilers were last season? That hasn’t changed much; in five games, they’ve collected a single point. As I mentioned above, the Oilers have fairly solid possession numbers. However, these haven’t translated into results. They have yet to play a game in which their offense, defense, and goaltending are consistent.
Their power-play success rate is 20%, which is a decidedly inflated statistic due to small sample size. This isn’t knocking the Oilers specifically; I doubt that the Penguins will capitalize on 47.1% of their opportunities in two months. They’ve only had 15 power-play opportunities in five games. On the flip side, their 73.7% success rate on the penalty kill puts them well in the bottom third of the league. Lackluster is a good way to describe the Oilers’ special teams, which means the Caps should be able to notch a power-play goal or two.
10/25 at Flames
Though marginally better than the Oilers, the Flames don’t pose much of a threat to the Caps. A 3-3-0 record has them fourth in the Pacific Division, and they’ve both won and lost by various margins. Their most surprising victory came against the Blackhawks, in which Jonas Hiller delivered an oustanding performance. The ‘Hawks peppered Hiller with 50 shots, yet he let in only one. The team before him was decidedly less solid, finishing the night with a mere 18 shots in their eventual overtime win.
The Flames will likely give the Caps a harder time than the Oilers. They have a stellar top defensive pairing in TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano, who have combined for 13 points (4G, 9A.) They both log significant minutes and will be deployed against the Caps’ top forwards.
On the offensive side of things, Johnny Gaudreau’s return from the press box was marked with a goal and assist in the Flames’ 4-1 win over the Jets. The Flames have several players capable of making offensive contributions, so it’s difficult to pinpoint where exactly goals might come from. Their special teams are far from exceptional, with a middle-of-the-pack power play and below-average penalty kill. If the Caps can stay focused and disciplined and play a full 60 minutes, they should head to Vancouver with two additional points.
10/26 at Canucks
Sitting at fifth in the Pacific Division, the Canucks have failed to make much of an impact. Most notably, however, is the absence of the offensive woes that plagued them under John Tortorella. They’ve scored at least two goals in each of their games so far. Daniel and Henrik Sedin lead the team in points (seven and six each, respectively), and they’ve sourced offense from other players.
At 53%, the Canucks’ Corsi is 10th in the NHL. That isn’t far ahead of the Caps’ 52.4%. While we’re talking stats, the Canucks’ special teams deserve a serious look. At 21%, their power play is quite effective and will give the Caps’ revamped penalty kill a workout. And the Canucks’ penalty kill boasts an 87.5% success rate, 10th in the League. Playing a disciplined game will be critical for the Caps, whose proclivity for penalties wore them down in their home opener.
Before they face the Caps, the Canucks gallivant off to the States to face the Stars, Blues, and Avalanche. The Stars transformed into a dangerous team in the offseason, while the Blues remain potent as ever. How the Avalanche will fare against the Canucks is anyone’s guess. How the Canucks perform against these teams will give Trotz a better of idea of what to expect, and if the Canucks get worn down, that’ll be a boon for the Caps. But they could suffer a similar fate–long road trips with time zone changes often make for sloppy play.