Friday, April 24, 2015

Seinfeldology: Staying Serene,
The last time I posted, the Caps had delivered an awful performance in Game 1 against the Islanders, leading to nightmares in Caps-land. Since then the Caps have steadily improved, and today are up 3 games to 2 on the Isles with Game 6 coming up tomorrow in potentially the last game ever at Nassau Veterans Coliseum.

With all the pressure on the Caps and Isles, fans may be feeling emotions run high and tempers flare. We all know that the Caps are not very good under pressure in the playoffs, and if the Caps struggle in Game 6, fans may be getting a sudden influx of bad memories.

So, to learn how to combat this, we turn once again to the greatest sitcom of all time, Seinfeld, to see what we can learn about staying calm in the face of adversity.

The Issue: Calm Before the Storm?

As explained above, the Caps are in a familiar position: they have the chance to win the series before Game 7 and move on to the next round. However, with a loss, the Caps would be put in an even more familiar position: Game 7 on home ice. Needless to say, the Caps haven't done all that well in Game 7's at home during the OV era.

Combining the pressure that inevitably comes with an elimination game with the ghosts of playoffs past creates a perfect storm that can lead us fans on an emotional roller-coaster the likes of which we have never seen or experienced before. We will need to decide how to stay calm and/or betray our emotions and accept the consequences that come with that decision.

How should we stay calm or express our emotions? What will happen if we bottle up our emotions versus showing them? Let's ask Seinfeld.

The Episode: The Serenity Now (Season 9, Episode 3)

One of the first episodes of Seinfeld's final season, The Serenity Now is a clinic in using a show's character's full potential. We have Kramer with amazing physical comedy, George feeling down and out, and of course Frank and Estelle Costanza, the greatest TV parents in history.

This episode centers around Frank, George's father, and his scheme of building and selling computers with the help of George and his formerly insane rival, Lloyd Braun. George has no interest in selling computers, but takes the job to beat Braun in number of sales. George, of course, couldn't sell pizza in a soup kitchen, so he ends up buying a bunch of computers and storing them with Kramer.

Frank is also told by his doctor to say "Serenity Now" before yelling at anyone so that he keeps calm and maintains his stress levels down. Kramer gets into the habit and becomes a believer, his anger "melting right away" in the process.

George wins the competition, but Braun warns George that "Serenity Now" just bottles up the anger, leading to an explosion later on. George doesn't believe him, but something else is brewing. Kramer, who is being tormented by kids in the apartment, ends up releasing all of his pent up stress at once, destroying the computers George was storing there.

There is another storyline with Jerry that complements the main point, that storing your emotions will just lead to you blowing up at an inopportune moment. But what does this tell us?

What Can We Learn?

If you haven't figured it out yet, the lesson here is that it is OK to express your emotions. Fan is derived from the word fanatic for a reason. We are deeply invested in the Caps, to the point that we consider it our team, not Ted Leonsis's team.

This is basically my long-winded way of telling you, Caps fans: let it all out tomorrow. If the Caps win, let it all out next series. If not, let it all out during Game 7.

Whatever the case, lay it out on the line and scream loud and proud, LET'S GO CAPS!!!!!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

How the Caps can Win Game 2

The Caps stunk it up in Game 1 against the Isles Wednesday. They looked lethargic at the beginning, started to panic towards the middle, and eventually just gave up. It was probably the worst game I've seen the Caps play since the St. Louis game in November, a surprisingly terrible start to what should have been a good postseason.

However, what's in the past is in the past. The Caps realize they messed up and I have confidence in Barry Trotz that he will do whatever it takes to remedy the mistakes made. For the most part the errors the Caps made were basic: too many turnovers, rushed shots, poor positioning for passes and rebounds, etc.

Beyond that, what can the Caps learn from the Game 1 loss? Here's a look at some of the elements of the game the Caps need to improve:

Courtesy of

As Caps fans (and all hockey fans) implore of their team, the Caps need to shoot the puck. They were being completely out-possessed and outshot by the Isles. I was at the game, and it was maddening to see the Caps try to force passes when the Isles defense was in perfect position to stop it from going through. The Caps made Brian Strait look like Shea Weber in Game 1, and that is not something that can continue going forward.

Looking at the shot attempts chart, the Caps also need to sustain consistent pressure like the Isles did for the most part. The interval from the Islanders first goal to the Islanders second goal saw the bad guys pull way ahead of the Caps in shot attempts. We already know that the Isles are a very good 5 vs. 5 team (one of the best in the league), but the Caps cannot continue to be outplayed at even strength like they were in Game 1. The Isles PK, although bad numerically, operated at a 90%+ clip in March and April, and yesterday they put pressure on the Caps PP and did an excellent job limiting the Caps to one shot attempt at a time. If that trend continues, the Caps really need to step it up 5 on 5 lest the season end very soon.

To be concise, the Caps just need to shoot more. Jaroslav Halak is not the kind of goalie who is going to stop every shot he faces, and if we hit him with a high shot volume, he is going to give up rebounds and struggle. Shooting more is the first thing the Caps need to fix.

Line Combinations:
Courtesy of

When I mentioned how the Caps were panicking earlier, I was mainly referring to how Barry Trotz was constantly switching up the lines at even strength to try to create a rhythm. Save for a few good shifts at the end of the second period and beginning of the third period, the Caps were being consistently outplayed at 5 on 5, as can be seen from this chart. Very few players were on the right side of the Corsi For/Minus line.

Alex Ovechkin is always going to be a force on 5 on 5 just based on the sheer volume of shots he produces. Therefore anyone can play with him and be above the red line, but that does not necessarily mean he is a good fit on that line (see: Joel Ward). What OV needs on his line is a playmaking center with a decent to good pass and a power forward who can muck it up and get rebounds. Maybe Curtis Glencross would be good in that role?

Nick Backstrom on the 2nd line was a tremendous idea from Trotz, as it allows the Caps to increase their scoring depth. However, Troy Brouwer is always a possession black hole, so it may not be a great idea to give him Top 6 minutes, especially seeing how atrocious he was last game. That means there is a toss-up between Jay Beagle and Brooks Laich for the 2RW slot. I hate to say it, but I think Beagle deserves it, and he also will provide a steady defensive presence for the second line. If you really want to switch things up, put Fehr on the 2RW and put Beagle at 3C, but I don't see Trotz doing that.

This is how I'd like to see the lines tomorrow:

Ovechkin - Kuznetsov - Glencross
Johansson - Backstrom - Fehr
Laich - Beagle - Brouwer
Chimera - Latta - Ward

I am extremely wary of that third line. Laich, Beagle and Brouwer all play the same vein of muck it up hockey, but unfortunately they don't do it all that well, thus leading to the poor Corsi differentials seen above. Still, this would allow a balance of depth, style and energy that will catalyze the team.

(Of course, playing Burakovsky over Chimera would also be a good idea, but let's not get too crazy now).

In conclusion, there are two main things the Caps need to do to win tomorrow: play clean and shoot the darn puck. If Trotz decides that the Caps need a push, then shaking up the lines would be a good start. (Although with Trotz you run the risk of putting Beagle or Chimera on the first line). Whatever happens, I expect the Caps to play much better in Game 2 than they did in Game 1, and I am standing by my prediction of Caps in 6 games.

Make sure to tune in to CSN tomorrow at 7pm for Game 2, and as always...

Let's Go Caps!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Breaking Down the Caps-Isles First Round Series

Playoff hockey is back in DC.

For the first time in 2 years, Caps hockey will extend through April, when the Caps host the New York Islanders in the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Caps and Isles finished off the regular season with 101 points each and the same number of Regulation + OT wins (40), but the Caps receive home ice because they won the season series over the Islanders, taking 6 points vs. 5.

Capitals Islanders Regular Season Series
Date (Location)
November 26 (New York)
Islanders 3-2 (OT)
November 28 (Washington)
Capitals 5-2
December 29 (New York)
Islanders 4-3 (OT)
February 21 (Washington)
Capitals 3-2 (SO)

Given that the home team won every game of the season series, it was very important that the Caps got home-ice advantage. It has added significance when one considers that this is the last season for the Isles' famed Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders will be playing in Barclays Center in Brooklyn starting from next year.

Here is the full schedule for the playoffs, with dates, locations, and TV listings:

Capitals Islanders Schedule
TV Listings
Wednesday April 15
7 pm
Friday April 17
7 pm
Sunday April 19
12 pm
New York
Tuesday April 21
7:30 pm
New York
*Thursday April 23
*Saturday April 25
New York
*Monday April 27
* - if necessary

This is the first playoff meeting between the Caps and Isles since 1993, when Dale Hunter infamously cheap-shot Pierre Turgeon after the latter scored the series-clinching goal. Other than that meeting, the Caps and Isles have had a long, treacherous playoff history. Only the Pittsburgh Penguins have caused more heartbreak to Caps fans than the Isles have.

Capitals Islanders Playoff History
Islanders 3-1
Islanders 4-1
Islanders 3-2
Capitals 3-0
Islanders 4-3
Islanders 4-2

However, this is a new Caps team, one that is completely different from those of years prior. This year's Caps have solid offensive depth, a lockdown defensive corps, and an elite goalie who has been playing at a high level all year.

The Islanders are not to be a team to be looked over, however. With John Tavares and Kyle Okposo leading the offense, Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy anchoring a solid defense, and Jaroslav Halak performing admirably in goal, the Isles have the ability to do some damage in the playoffs.

Here is how the Caps and Isles compare in some basic stats:

Capitals Islanders Regular Season Stats
Goals/Game Played
Goals Against/Game Played
5-5 For/Against
Power Play %
Penalty Kill %
Shots/Game Played
Shots Against/Game Played
Faceoff %

These are two teams that play very different styles of hockey. The Caps are much more of a physical, muck-it-up sort of team, whereas the Isles are a free-flowing team that relies on speed and skill, a team reminiscent of the Caps teams of the past few years. The Islanders scored more than the Caps in the regular season but also gave up more goals. Both teams are even at 5 on 5 play. The Islanders are better at getting shots through and a bit better at shot suppression. However, the Caps have clear advantages on special teams and faceoff numbers. Considering how even the teams are at 5 on 5, special teams may decide this series.

Here is how the Caps and Isles compare in some advanced stats:

Capitals Islanders Regular Season Advanced Stats
SAT % (Corsi)
USAT % (Fenwick)

The Islanders have a clear advantage in shot attempts and unblocked shot attempts percentage. In fact, they were actually one of the unluckiest teams in the league in the regular season, with a SPSV% that was 25th in the league and worst among playoff teams, which means that they may in fact be better than they have been. The Caps on the other hand have a relatively high SPSV% (11th in the league), signifying that the Caps may regress just a little bit. This is the area that will give the Caps fans the most angst.

Overall, these are two very talented and evenly-matched teams who will put on a show in the first round. If the Caps D and Braden Holtby continue to flourish, there is no reason the Caps can't go toe-to-toe with the Isles at 5 on 5.

Where the difference will be made in this series is the special teams. The Caps have clear advantages in both their power play and their penalty kill, and if the Isles can't stop the Caps power play, it's going to be tough for them to win.

Prediction: Caps in 6.

This series can go down to the wire, but in the end I think the Caps' advantages in special teams and experience will give the Caps the edge.

Whatever happens, this will surely be a great series and great playoffs. Make sure to tune in on Wednesday, and as always...