BY RYAN LAMBERT
[Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.]
With much fanfare and after, what, four years of waiting, Evgeny Kuznetsov is finally on U.S. soil and both ready and willing to play for the Washington Capitals for these critical last 17 games of the season. During that time, the Caps will try to make up the point that holds them out of the playoffs and hope like hell the teams ahead of them don't pick up any extra points with their games in hand.
The thing is, there would be reason to suspect the Caps wouldn't be able to make the playoffs even if they currently occupied a position which would enable them to do so. However, they do not. They are, in fact, 10th in the East. And while it's dumb to play the “What if the shootout didn't exist?” game — as the shootout does unfortunately continue to exist — the Caps have picked up eight of their 30 wins in this gimmick competition, second in the league behind only the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are likewise not very good.
This at least tells us a lot about where the team actually stands in legitimate NHL games: Not highly.
But the problem with this notion that Kuznetsov, by all accounts a premium prospect who's very capable already of contributing at the NHL level, is going to fix what's wrong with the Caps really only lends credence to the nonsense logic behind George McPhee's trade deadline transactions.
For starters, this is a team that isn't very good in possession, coming in 23rd out of 30 in corsi with the score close (48.6 percent). This is lower than other notably bad teams like the Hurricanes, Predators, Jets, and Islanders. One could suggest that adding Kuznetsov, a good offensive player, helps in this regard, as does tacking on Dustin Penner, whose corsi share (albeit on a much better team than the Capitals) is north of 50 percent, but only barely. The problem, though, is that the Caps aren't exactly wanting for offense; they're 14th in the league in shot attempts (1,733) which isn't great but it's something, and they're not exactly shooting poorly, at 7.4 percent, tied for 17th. Much of that, though, is down to the season enjoyed by Alex Ovechkin, as one might expect, and so any additional goals those two might provide couldn't, by definition, hurt.
But it's also not the Caps' area of greatest need. Seemingly to that end, McPhee went out and acquired — for the price of Rostislav Klesla and Michal Neuvirth — a pretty decent goalie in Jaroslav Halak who could, in a reasonable scenario, platoon with Braden Holtby for the rest of the season. Except that Neuvirth had a .914 save percentage with the Capitals this season, slightly better than league average, and Halak brings a .917 from a much better team, so you'd say perhaps that the difference is negligible.
So the team's real problem then, and obviously, is the fact that it bleeds possession because it cannot defend. They are, in fact, 22nd in the league in shot attempts against at 1,830, and the addition of two forwards and a goaltender does nothing to address this issue; John Carlson and Karl Alzner are indisputably their two best defensemen, but at the same time they're being devoured by the top-quality players they face. Mike Green and Dmitry Orlov have both been serviceable but play favorable zone starts and soft competition, beyond that, the D is a hodgepodge of guys you've never heard of and guys you wouldn't want to use on your NHL team. Andrew MacDonald, for instance, might have been something of an upgrade.
The issue, though, is that this isn't like the Penguins trying to get Ryan Kesler and ultimately failing; this is George McPhee not seeing his team's defense as a problem. Upon acquiring Halak and 86ing Neuvirth, he said this to the media: "We play a system where teams get probably more shots the way we play but most of them are from the outside, we’ll allow those. In some ways that might be better for this particular goaltender." The problem, of course, is that this isn't the case. There's really not all that much from the “outside” in this heat map of the shots Holtby has faced this season. Besides, this is an argument about shot quality, which is problematic, because good teams don't have to make it.
As a general rule, too, teams that say they're playing well despite the fact that they're not even .500 without the shootout, and that being outshot pretty much every night doesn't matter, have a lot more credibility when they're in a playoff spot (and when their PDO is about at equilibrium). You shouldn't expect to see the Capitals there any time soon, either.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Real great story on how the Ducks are trying to grow the game in Southern California as a means of helping to ensure they're going to be getting ticket revenues for a good long time. It's probably a little bit less cynical than that in real life but oh well.
Boston Bruins: This is textbook interference.
Buffalo Sabres: When Rusty Klesla's http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=445655, “A couple hundred grand to live in Buffalo? I'm going back to the Czech Republic,” things in Buffalo are pretty dismal indeed.
Calgary Flames: We're really stretching the definition of “mediocrity” if that now includes “The Calgary Flames.” I mean, come on.
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes don't have an identity? I'm pretty sure “no defense and not very good” counts as an identity, bud.
Chicago Blackhawks: Apparently Cory Conacher asked Patrick Kane if he could wear No. 88 in Buffalo for some reason. Kane on the subject: “I was like, ‘Yeah, you don’t need to be asking me about that stuff. It’s fine.’”
Colorado Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon didn't get a point against the Blues the other night. That ended his NHL rookie-record 13-game point streak. Figure it out, kid.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Ryan Murray — and for that matter, the Blue Jackets themselves — can't seem to catch a break. He's out for the remainder of the season after undergoing knee surgery, and with that the Jackets' chances of getting into the playoffs have diminished appreciably.
Dallas Stars: Big-time antagonist move by the Stars to retire Mike Modano's number against the Wild. I love Conference III for this exact reason.
Detroit Red Wings: “Suddenly.” They're like 18th in the league in goals per game.
Edmonton Oilers: So it's come to this.
Florida Panthers: Get it straight, Lalongo! Yer bein' rude out there! Listen Don, not everyone can tweet about bees and raccoons and all the good stuff like that hey? Let's go.
Los Angeles Kings: The Kings have been one of the best teams in the league basically all season and still are, but now they're looking great because they picked up Marian Gaborik and Jon Quick had five good games? C'mon. Everything in the West still runs through Chicago.
Minnesota Wild: Wild draftee Avery Peterson was named Minnesota Mr. Hockey for his 35-30-65 in 25 games for Grand Rapids High School this winter. Some decent names have worked their way onto this list in recent years.
Montreal Canadiens: Michel Therrien says the Habs “lacked energy” against the Sharks in a 4-0 loss but more likely they lacked “enough players to make a difference against one of the best hockey teams on the planet.”
Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: Gabby Bourque went from a 26-goal pace last season to having five as of right this second. Would is surprise you to learn that last year he shot 22 percent on 50 shots, and this year he's at 6 percent on 83? His shot rate, by the way, is effectively unchanged.
New Jersey Devils: This Tuomo Ruutu acquisition is looking better all the time! Brilliant move by Lou, as always.
New York Islanders: But for real how does Garth Snow still have a job?
New York Rangers: Career shutout No. 49 for Henrik Lundqvist, in what is also his 300th win. One out of every six Ws for him is a shutout. That is bananas. Still a long way to go to catch Martin Brodeur, though. He's at 124.
Ottawa Senators: Congrats to Mike Hoffman on his first-ever NHL goal and whatever, but I wanna take this Jason Spezza pass out for a nice brunch. He didn't even look!
Philadelphia Flyers: Yeah but they got Andrew MacDonald! Funny how it's not easy to replace one of the five or 10 best defensemen of all time, isn't it?
Phoenix Coyotes: After Saturday's loss, the Coyotes are 28th in the league in winning percentage when leading after two periods, having dropped seven losses in 26 opportunities. They're ahead of only Detroit and the Islanders in this regard, which is something else.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pens still want to acquire Ryan Kesler to shore up their bottom-six depth at center, not play the wing with Sid Crosby. Yeah, good idea, Shero.
San Jose Sharks: Big-time assist from Logan Couture here. Can't teach that vision.
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St. Louis Blues: The Blues have won four straight games since acquiring Ryan Miller and his save percentage in those games is .933. Think someone's happy to be out of Buffalo?
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts ended up losing to the Bruins after seven rounds of a shootout on Saturday and boy if I don't want this to be the Eastern Conference Final again. Boy oh boy.
Toronto Maple Leafs: I love this idea that Tyler Bozak is “proving his critics wrong” or whatever. He's not "elite.” He plays between one elite winger and one very good one, and he's shooting 21.2 percent this season and his PDO this year is 104.2 and that's tied for 12th in the league. Is Corey Tropp elite? He's tied for third. Forget it with this “Bozak is good” garbage.
Vancouver Canucks: Man, the Canucks can't buy good press with a mediocre win over the Calgary Flames in which their netminder gives up a goal from center ice? Maybe Tortorella should try to fight Bob Hartley again.
Washington Capitals: Evgeny Kuznetsov is living with Alex Ovechkin for one day and already making the NHL's leading goalscorer do a bunch of pushups. Man.
Winnipeg Jets: Huh what do you know?
Play of the Weekend
Where was this during the Olympics you bums???
Gold Star Award
In five starts since the end of the Olympic break, Steve Mason has allowed four goals in four of them, and 22 on 141 shots (.844). He's somehow 3-1-1 in them. No problem there are all!
Minus of the Weekend
Well if you're gonna give up a center-ice goal, Eddie, at least it's to Sniper Supreme Brian McGrattan.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “iCanada” needs to log off ASAP:
One of Oscar Klefbom or Martin Marincin
One of Lander, Pitlick, or Moroz
Oilers 2015 1st Round Draft pick
Don't judge me. Sometimes a man just needs to be alone with his crawlspace.
No. 1 Star: Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
Officer Bobrovsky stopped all 28 shots he faced, as Artem Anisimov’s goal stood up for the 1-0 victory over the Nashville Predators. That included an awesome save on Colin Wilson with 28 seconds remaining.
No. 2 Star: Joffrey Lupul, Toronto Maple Leafs
Lupul cashed in a Dion Phaneuf pass on the doorstep, as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-3. He earlier assisted on Nazem Kadri’s first-period goal. Kimmo Timonen had two goals for the Flyers.
No. 3 Star: Tuomo Ruutu, New Jersey Devils
The former Carolina Hurricanes forward set up Travis Zajac’s opening goal and scored the game-winner for the Devils, as New Jersey survived a Canes rally for the 5-4 win. Adam Henrique had two goals.
Honorable mention: Tommy Wingels had two goals and Logan Couture had three points in the San Jose Sharks’ 4-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens. Antti Niemi made 27 saves for the shutout. … Ryan Miller made 26 saves and Patrik Berglund had the game-winner in the St. Louis Blues’ 2-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche. … Erik Cole had a goal and an assist and Tyler Seguin had a 3-point night in the Dallas Stars’ 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild. … Ales Hemsky and Jason Spezza each had three assists in the Ottawa Senators’ 5-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets. … Tuukka Rask was perfect in the shootout while Reilly Smith scored for the Boston Bruins, as they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-3. … The Washington Capitals scored three third-period goals to rally post the Phoenix Coyotes, 3-2. ... Eddie Lack rebounded from a bad goal to make 22 saves in the Vancouver Canucks; 2-1 win over the Calgary Flames.
Dishonorable mention: Mark Streit and Tyler Bozak were a minus-3. … Thomas Vanek was scoreless again for Montreal. … Paul Stastny played just 40 seconds before leaving the Avs’ game with an injury. … Dallas Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen left the game in the third period following a collision with Minnesota Wild center Erik Haula. … Brendan Gallagher and Max Pacioretty were a minus-3. … Raffi Torres boarded Lars Eller and was jumped by Jarred Tinordi, who was given an instigator. … Ondrej Pavelec was pulled after giving up five goals.
One of the best forwards on the team since the Olympic break, Artem Anisimov was named the second star of the week by the NHL, and is on pace for a career season.
With the focus on the playoffs, we need to also appreciate the quality of the hockey we're seeing along the way.
The Jackets and Predators duked it out in a classic battle, with Columbus departing Nashville victorious.
Ryan Murray out 4-6 weeks after undergoing knee surgery.
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