Capitals offense has been historically good this postseason

Much of the credit for this Capitals run – which currently has them one win shy of their first Stanley Cup – has gone to their smothering defense, physicality, and clogging the middle to ice, stifling the transition game of opponents.

While those factors have played a huge role in the Caps success this postseason, don’t let that make you think Washington’s identity as an offensive juggernaut – an identity they’ve carried during the Alex Ovechkin era – has gone away. In fact, it’s as real as ever.

Nobody knows this better than Marc-Andre Fleury, who came in the Stanley Cup Final as the unabashed leader in the Conn Smythe race. That was before he allowed 16 goals in the first four games of the Cup Final, allowing three-plus goals each game. Fleury is the latest in a long line of netminders victimized by the Caps offense this postseason, as Washington has found the back of the net at least three times in 17 of their 23 postseason games. They hung three or more in all six of their games against Blue Jackets netminder Sergei Bobrovsky in the First Round, three more times against Matt Murray in the second, and then three more times against Andrei Vasilevskiy in the Eastern Conference Final. So while Fleury’s .845 save percentage and 4.08 GAA in this series is ugly, he’s not in bad company.

The Capitals have scored an average of 3.57 goals per game in these playoffs, which currently stands 13th all-time among teams that have played at least 20 games in a postseason. No team has reached that threshold since the 1996 Avalanche averaged 3.64 en route to a title. The closest any team has come since was the 2010 Blackhawks, which averaged 3.55. After that it’s the 1998 Red Wings and 2014 Kings, who averaged 3.41 and 3.38, respectively.

And it’s coming from up and down the lineup, too. Four players have scored 20 points, the 17th time a team has had four players reach that threshold in one postseason. If John Carlson gets one more point, they’ll become the sixth team in NHL history to have five different players with 20 points in one postseason, and the first since the 1991 North Stars. The previous four came from the 1980s Oilers (who did it three times) and Islanders, two teams that nobody would accuse of being anemic.

With Lars Eller within striking distance of 20 (he currently has 17 points), the Capitals could become just the third team ever to have six. They would join the 1983 Islanders and 1985 Oilers.

Tom Wilson (14 points) makes it seven players with double digits with Matt Niskanen (9 points) and Jay Beagle, Dmitry Orlov, and Brett Connolly (8 each) sitting on the doorstep. Nine different players have scored at least five goals.

Meanwhile, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin are leading the way with historically-good postseasons.

Kuznetsov, who had four assists in the Capitals 6-2 win in Game 4, has 31 points this postseason. Only two other players have reached that mark since 1997, when Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby put up 36 and 31, respectively, in 2009.

Ovechkin is sitting on 14 goals, which is tied for the most by a Capital in a postseason. With one more goal, he’ll become the 22nd player in NHL history to score 15 goals in a postseason. Crosby, who potted 15 in 2009, is the only player that has reached that mark since 1997.

And while Kuznetsov is the 27th player to reach 31 points in a postseason and Ovechkin would be the 22nd to get 15 goals, they represent an outlier on the spectrum of NHL history.

Of those 27 postseason performances in which we saw 31 points, 24 came in a period between 1981-96 – a period when, well, you’ve probably seen some of those games. Of the 21 in which we’ve seen 15 goals, 17 came during that same time period.

Many of those performances featured names like Gretzky, Bossy, Lemieux, Kurri, Messier, Sakic, etc.

The offensive numbers the 2018 Capitals have put up mimic something from 1988. So while we’ve seen this Capitals team do some things we haven’t seen in quite some time, the offense has gone nowhere. It’s as good as it’s ever been.

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The Capitals slugged their way to a Game 3 win

The Capitals are near-unbeatable when they establish the physical tone in a game. They did just that on Saturday night and they’re two wins shy of a Stanley Cup as a result.

Right off the opening hop, the Caps were flying. They ran over and ran through anything and everything on the ice. Washington forced Vegas into a physical, checking game, and the Golden Knights played right into the Capitals hands.

Washington dominated for the first 40 minutes of the game. The only thing that kept the game 2-0 after two periods as opposed to 6-0 was Marc-Andre Fleury, who was spectacular. Fleury made 23 saves, several of which were of the ‘wow what a save’ variety. Fleury was the reason the Golden Knights were very much in it when they came out fast in the third period and were in position tie it after Tomas Nosek cut the lead to 2-1 early in the period.

You have to credit the Caps, who executed the gameplan and got the Golden Knights to play a certain way. It got Vegas off their game and they never really recovered from it.

That’s what the theme has been for Washington in these playoffs. Guys stepping up big in key moments, and players rising to the occasion and elevating their game. It hadn’t happened enough in years prior but it’s happened plenty this year. It’s what has them this close to the Cup.

Speaking of players stepping up..

Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin are the catalysts of this Capitals team. Those two guys have been unbelievable this postseason and the rest of the team seems to feed off it.

Kuznetsov left Game 2 with an upper-body injury that didn’t look good based on how he left the ice following the hit he took from Brayden McNabb that caused the injury. He came back for Game 3 and all he did was score a goal and assist, upping his NHL-high point total this postseason to 27.

Oh, and he brought back the arm-flapping celly after scoring his 12th goal of the postseason.

Meanwhile, Ovechkin made history of his own by scoring his 14th goal of the playoffs in the second period, tying John Druce for the most all-time by a Capital in a single postseason.

And obviously the big story with Kuznetsov is the injury he suffered that knocked him out of Game 2. Then he comes out and puts forth a performance like that in Game 3. It reminds you of what Sean Couturier did for the Flyers back in the First Round when he suffered a knee injury colliding with Radko Gudas in practice. We found out after the fact Couturier was playing on a torn MCL. I can see us learning that Kuznetsov was playing with a similar type of injury after this series is over.

Play of the night

What a goal. First the effort by Jay Beagle to win that foot race with Shea Theodore then fish the puck out of the corner and get it to Devante Smith-Pelly, who put it high corner with a beauty of a shot. That goal pretty much sealed the win for the Capitals and ended any hopes of Vegas finishing off their third-period rally.

Other thoughts

*Evgeny Kuznetsov is sitting on 27 points this postseason. Only four players have reached 30 since the 2004-05 lockout – Evgeni Malkin (36 in 2008-09), Sidney Crosby (31 in 2008-09), Daniel Briere (30 in 2009-10), and Logan Couture (30 in 2015-16).

*Alex Ovechkin has 14 goals this postseason. Only one player since 1997 has 15 – Sidney Crosby.

*This heat map put out by Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post is a snapshot of just how dominant Ovechkin has been.

*This is the first time a Washington team has held a series lead in a championship round since the Bullets led the SuperSonics 1-0 in the 1979 NBA Finals.

*Let’s put that into context before simply saying ‘WOW, Washington went 39 years without leading a championship series.’ First and foremost, the Redskins have won three Super Bowls in that span, and obviously the NFL doesn’t have playoff series. For 26 of those 39 years, Washington didn’t have a MLB franchise. And despite being in the mix quite a few times, the Nationals haven’t reached the World Series since relocating to Washington from Montreal in 2005. So this isn’t necessarily Buffalo we’re talking about here.

*A good sign for the Caps – of the 27 times the Stanley Cup Final was tied 1-1 prior to this year, the Game 3 winner has gone on to win the Stanley Cup in 21 of those series.

*A good sign for Vegas – the last three teams to fall behind 2-1 after splitting the first two games has won the Stanley Cup – the 2013 and ’15 Blackhawks, and the 2004 Lightning. The last team to win after splitting the first two games and winning Game 3 was the 2002 Red Wings.

*Hard hat: Jay Beagle – When the Capitals play their best, Beagle always seems to be one of the guys setting the tone. That was the case again on Saturday, when he finished with two assists and was a plus-two in 13:25.

*Matt Niskanen was incredible again on Saturday. Four hits, three blocks, plus-two in 27:16. Logged 2:26 shorthanded. Niskanen is one of the big reasons the Caps are up 2-1 right now.

*Michal Kempny stepped on a puck during warmups and went down, hitting his face hard against the boards. Scary situation, one that can be very dangerous (i.e. Taylor Hall). The spill ceded itself to a look that is peak Stanley Cup Final.

*One last thought: This image will live forever. Alex Ovechkin is playing his best hockey and living his best life right now.

25 Lars Ellers and you win every year

The role Lars Eller plays on this Capitals team is one that typically goes overlooked and unnoticed.

Until Nicklas Backstrom goes down with a hand injury. Or Evgeny Kuznetsov is injured on a hit from Brayden McNabb.

Eller can play anywhere in the lineup. He’s as capable of playing top-line minutes as he is doing the third and fourth-line grunt work. He can play wing if such a need is necessary. The quintessential swiss army knife. When top players go down, which is not uncommon in the relentless, unforgiving two-month path to the Cup, a player like that proves invaluable.

Never was that more on display than in Wednesday’s Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, a 3-2 Capitals win that evened the series 1-1.

Kuznetsov was lost for the game after being injured on a hit from McNabb during the first period. That led to Backstrom being bumped up to Kuznetsov’s spot on the top line between Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson while Eller came up to the line Backstrom centered between Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie, a trio that was coming off a strong effort in Game 1 despite the loss for Washington. Eller went on to score a goal and while getting a pair of primary assists, both of which were textbook passes to Ovechkin and Brooks Orpik, respectively.

The type of puck movement that will be shown to kids at hockey camps this summer.

Eller could’ve had a point or two more, as well. It didn’t matter who he was playing with, whether it was his third-line flanks Andre Burakovsky and Brett Connolly, second-line partners Oshie and Vrana, or Ovechkin and Backstrom on the powerplay, whenever Eller was on the ice, he was making things happen. The tape on his stick was in lockstep with the puck. It was just one of those nights.

And it’s been one of those postseasons for Eller, who has 17 points (6-11) in 21 games in these playoffs. He filled in admirably when Backstrom went down during the Second Round and missed four games. He took over the game on Wednesday when Kuznetsov went down.

It’s the type of player Eller is, going back to when he was in Montreal. A guy who can play anywhere, and with anyone. And he’s been every bit of that and more this postseason for Washington.

Play of the night

Nothing in sports makes fans jump out of their seats, makes social media blow up quite like a paddle save during the third period of a playoff game.

What a save by Holtby. Save of the playoffs. A once-every-five-years type of save.

And what a night for Holtby, who finished with 37 saves on 39 shots, bouncing back from a rough Game 1. He outplayed Marc-Andre Fleury after Fleury got the upper-hand on Monday with a big third period. Like they say, the game should be called goalie.

Other thoughts

*The Capitals won the first Stanley Cup Final game in their franchise history on Wednesday night.

*This guarantees the Caps won’t be swept like they were in 1998 by the Red Wings. That 1998 Cup Final was the last time there was a sweep in the Stanley Cup.

*Lots of tempers boiling over with quite a few scrums, including one after the final horn sounded to end the game. It was something you could sense coming, with a lot of physical, even chippy play through these first two games.

*Shea Theodore has had two really strong outings to begins the series. It was nice to see him rewarded with a goal in the third period. Here’s a good look at how the 22-year-old is establishing himself as a full-time NHLer after a couple years of shuttling back and forth between the NHL and AHL.

*Through two games the game-winning goals have gone to Tomas Nosek and Brooks Orpik. I gave you guys the heads up that would probably happen but nobody would listen.

*For Orpik: 1st goal in 221 games, regular season and playoffs, dating back to 2016. First goal in 56 playoff games stretching back to 2014.

*The last time Brooks Orpik scored a goal, Las Vegas had not yet been awarded a franchise.

*James Neal opened the scoring on a great shot that stung the top corner to give the Golden Knights a 1-0 lead 7:58 in. This was the shot of the night.

*Hard hat: Matt Niskanen – Didn’t show up on the scoresheet but put up plenty of crooked numbers in other categories, with three shots, four hits, and blocking a shot. He played a game-high 27:13, including 5:25 of shorthanded time.

*Speaking of which, big night of penalty killing for the Capitals, who held the Golden Knights to one powerplay goal on five opportunities. The effort was highlighted by killing off a 1:09-long 5-on-3 during the third period.

*One last thought: A sneak preview at Game 3 on Saturday night – Vegas is 3-0 following losses in these playoffs, with Marc-Andre Fleury allowing seven goals on 103 shots. Meanwhile the Capitals are 4-5 at home this postseason.

Stanley Cup Final: Why the Capitals win

Is this the Caps year?

Well, four wins shy of the Stanley Cup is the closest they’ve ever come. This is the second time the franchise has been to the Cup Final, the first time coming in 1998 when they were swept by the Red Wings. But anyone who has followed knows what the Capitals are about – always there but never getting over the hump. Well, after years of not being able to get past the Penguins or the Rangers, Washington finally broke through.

So can they do it?

The first thing that pops off the page when you look at Vegas is Marc-Andre Fleury, who is riding a heater in net right now. Whether the Capitals can beat him remains to be seen, but they have what it takes to match him in Braden Holtby. Holtby has gone 12-5 in his 17 starts this postseason, and recorded back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Final to get the Capitals past the Lightning.

Alex Ovechkin looks like someone that is refusing to be denied in these playoffs. He was the best player on the ice in the final two games of the East Final, elevating his game to an even higher level. The 32-year-old, who is in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in a career that has spanned 13 seasons with 1,003 regular season games, 1,122 points and 607 goals in addition to another 116 games, 112 points, and 58 goals in the postseason. Of the all-time great players across what has been a century of NHL play, a handful of those names are missing from the Stanley Cup. Ovechkin is one of those names, and he’s doing everything in his power to make sure his name gets on it in the coming weeks.

Then you look to the right of Ovechkin. Evgeny Kuznetsov has been spectacular in his own right. He’s got a playoff-high 24 points (11-13) in 19 games. Kuznetsov etched himself into Capitals lore when he scored the game-winner in overtime of Game 6 in the Second Round to officially push the Caps past the Penguins.

This team is deep and physical, especially on the back end, and unlike previous years came into the playoffs under the radar and playing their best hockey of the season.

Washington has had guys step up in big spots and have had bounces go in their favor – two things that didn’t seem to happen in years past.

In sports, not just in hockey, you can sometimes sense when a team is on a run that is going to end with a title. When it’s ‘their year’, for lack of a better term.

It’s a sense I get with this Capitals team.

Player that puts the Capitals over the top: Tom Wilson – Wilson gets a bad wrap because of his style of play and has a history of suspensions and suspendible plays. Does Tom Wilson play a predatory game? Yes. Is Tom Wilson a good hockey player capable of making impactful plays and playing big minutes? Yes. As hard as it is for some people to grasp, both of those things can be true. Playing on the right side of the Caps first line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, Wilson had 12 points in 16 games. His absence was felt on that top line when he was suspended for three games during the Second Round against the Penguins.

Canadiens Celebrate Home Opener No. 99

It’s the first big Tuesday night in the NHL, and one of the headliners will be the Montreal Canadiens opening up the Bell Centre against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the 99th opener for the Habs. It will also be the home debut for big ticket defenseman Shea Weber, acquired from Nashville over the summer.

Here’s the slate of games for Tuesday; Colorado at Washington, 7; Anaheim at New Jersey, 7; San Jose at N.Y. Islanders, 7; Pittsburgh at Montreal, 7:30; Florida at Tampa Bay, 7:30; Arizona at Ottawa, 7:30; Dallas at Nashville, 8; Los Angeles at Minnesota, 8; Philadelphia at Chicago, 8:30; Buffalo at Calgary, 9; Carolina at Edmonton, 9; St. Louis at Vancouver, 10.

Players to Watch

Colorado: Gabriel Landeskog; The Avs captain has nine points in seven games against the Captials, the second-highest output against a team that has been in the Eastern Conference the entirety of his career. He has 10 points in seven games against Ottawa.

Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov; The Capitals pivot has yet to record a point through two games. Tuesday’s matchup against Colorado would seem like a setup for a breakout for Washington’s leading scorer last season. In two games against the Avalanche last year, he had a 1-3–4 line. Against 28 games against Western Conference opponents last season, he had 36 points.

Anaheim: Ryan Getzlaf; Has landed 17 shots but has just one goal, coming off a season in which he buried just 7.3 percent of his chances. They have to go in at some point, don’t they?

New Jersey: Kyle Palmieri; Had a 30-goal season in 2015-16, his first year in New Jersey following five seasons in Anaheim. The Ducks would gladly take him back.

San Jose: Brent Burns; He’s got six points in three games. Looks like a man on a mission.

N.Y. Islanders: Cal Clutterbuck; Three points through three games to begin the season.

Pittsburgh: Chris Kunitz; Passed Mike Bullard for 15th place on the Penguins all-time points list with his 361st career point on Monday night. Next up is Greg Malone, at 364. Within striking distance: Mark Recchi (385) and Ron Schock (404). Needs a few seasons for Mario Lemieux’s 1,723.

Montreal: Al Montoya; Carey Price still isn’t ready to return to the ice. Thankfully, Montoya has been pretty good, with 65 saves on 69 shots through two games.

Florida: Jon Marchessault; The 26-year-old is filling in nicely for the injured Jonathan Huberdeau, with two goals and four points through two games.

Tampa Bay: Alex Killorn; He has 11 points in 16 games against the Panthers, the most points against any opponent for the 27-year-old forward.

Arizona: Oliver Ekman-Larsson; Played a yeoman-like 31:46 in the Coyotes opener.

Ottawa: Erik Karlsson; Facing Ekman-Larsson, he makes up half of the showdown between go-to Swedish defensemen.

Dallas: Kari Lehtonen; Will get his first start of the season after making 12 saves on 13 shots in relief of Antti Niemi on Saturday.

Nashville: Mike Fisher; The newly-elected captain has played 19:23 while scoring two points, taking a team-high 44 faceoffs, winning 26.

Los Angeles: Tyler Toffoli; Has put eight shots on net, but just one goal to show for it.

Minnesota: Zach Parise; His next goal will be No. 300 for his career. He ranks 18th among active players.

Philadelphia: Claude Giroux; The only player left over from the Flyers 2010 Stanley Cup run who remains on the Philly varsity.

Chicago: Richard Panik; His four goals in three games are two off the pace he totaled in 30 games for the Hawks.

Buffalo: Ryan O’Reilly; Has 40 points in 55 games against the two Alberta franchises, coming off a monstrous four-point performance against Edmonton on Sunday.

Calgary: Johnny Gaudreau; No goals on nine shots, he’s snakebit.

Carolina: Sebastian Aho; The Finnish phenom has points in each of his first two NHL games.

Edmonton: Cam Talbot; The Oilers netminder has stopped just 86 of the 99 shots he’s faced.

St. Louis: Jake Allen; Needs a shutout to tie Brent Johnson for fifth on the Blues all-time shutout list. A shutout after that matches the 13-shutout output by Roman Turek, who played 121 games from 1999-2001. Lurking in the distance was Glenn Hall, whose 16 shutouts stood as a club record for 42 years until Jaroslav Halak recorded his 17th of 20 shutouts he had in a Blues uniform in October 2013. Brian Elliot, who is the franchise leader at 25, became the standard bearer in March 2015.

Vancouver: Alex Edler; The defenseman is averaging 25:20 through two games. His 24:27 ice-time per game last season was a career-high.

#HatTrickChallenge

Kyle Okposo: The big winger had a great debut on a Sunday, with a goal and assist in the Sabres 6-2 win over Edmonton. He puts up three against a Flames defense corps that looks suspect yet again.

Game of the Night

Pittsburgh at Montreal: It’s the defending Stanley Cup champions visiting the franchise with the most. You can count on the bleu, blanc et rogue reminding them of that at some point during the night. Opening night at the Bell Centre is always a spectacle.

Lock to Win

St. Louis: The Blues jump out to a 4-0 start against a Vancouver team who is out to a 2-0 start, but hasn’t faced a team as good as St. Louis and will be playing its backup goaltender.

Links

Craig Custance looks into Doug Armstrong’s penchant for scooping up first-round picks that didn’t work out for other franchises.

Shea Weber set to introduce himself to the Montreal faithful.

Zach Parise, closing in on his 300th career goal, touches upon his unique relationship with Wild assistant Scott Stevens. Parise’s early days in New Jersey (he was drafted by the Devils with the 17th pick of the 2003 draft, played there until 2012) intersected with the final days of Stevens’ years with the Devils, where he played 13 of his 22 seasons in his Hall of Fame career.

Blues forward Jaden Schwartz, originally expected to miss a month, could return earlier than initially expected. Matt Murray could be close to returning for the Penguins.

With Ryan Miller unavailable, the Canucks have called upon University of British Columbia netminder Matt Hewitt as an emergency backup for Tuesday’s game against St. Louis.

The Avalanche feed off the energy from new coach Jared Bednar and captain Gabriel Landeskog.