Sunday, April 08, 2012

So Boston It Is

It has been a trying year on the Washington Capitals. A season that was steeped in a roller coaster of emotions. The highest of highs, to the lowest of lows, the Capitals have clawed their way to seventh in the Eastern Conference. Breaking 5 straight seasons as Division Champs, just two points shy of that title. Limping (quite literally for some) into a post season.

But it is a new season; the post season. And the Capitals will settle for starting things off on the road against the reigning Stanley Cup Champions Boston Bruins. Let's break down the match up and show a few key stats between the pair of teams.

Even Strength - Advantage Boston Bruins. No one in the league has scored more goals at even strength than the Bruins have. They have 191 goals for playing five on five and their goals for/against ratio at even strength is 1.34 and is good enough for third in the league in that department. As for the Caps, they are middle of the pack with 149 goals (15th in the league) and a goals for/against ration of 1.00.

Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images
Power Play - Advantage even. Believe or not, the Bruins and Capitals are 15th and 17th respectfully with the extra man advantage. The Bruins power play has hit a lull, a bright spot in the playoffs last year. They are 17.2% effective. The Capitals once mighty power play has cooled off in the last two seasons. At 16.7%, they find themselves in the same struggling boat as the Bruins to make teams pay for taking penalties. But the Capitals fail in allowing short handed goals against with 10 going in on them this season. Tied with Pittsburgh in that category, and only the Red Wings (11), Lightning (12) and Devils (13) are worse in the league allowing goals in on the power play. Boston has only allowed one short handed goal, best in the league.

Penalty Kill - Advantage Boston Bruins. The Bruins aren't the best in the league, but they are shade better than the Capitals. Ranked 11th in the league, it would be wise for the Caps to shore up their power play as the Bruins have a 83.6% kill rate. The Caps are ranked 21st in the league with a 81.6% kill rate. However, the Caps of late have been stellar in the PK department. They were only scored on twice in the last 12 games. They killed off 26 penalties during that stretch.

Goaltending - Advantage Boston Bruins. Caps will be going to the playoffs with what looks like the third in line back up to their number one and a back up that is the only one other goaltender with a NHL contract that has seen zero time at the NHL level this year for the Capitals. Braden Holtby will have to hold down the fort with only seven games under his belt this season. In fact, Holtby has only been in net for 21 games at the NHL level. What is surprising is his record, which is a not-to-shabby 14-4-3, a .929 save percentage and 2.02 GAA. His back up, Danny Sabourin has more experience with 57 NHL games under his belt. However his stats aren't great at 18-25-5 and posting a career save percentage of .898 and 2.88 GAA. Boston is solid with Tim Thomas in net, although not as good as he was last season. He has 35 wins in 59 starts, a .920 saver percentage and 2.36 GAA. Marty Turco is not available for the playoffs for the B's as he was signed after the trade deadline. Instead it will be minor leaguer Anton Khudobin doing the back up honors for Thomas.

Final Thoughts

Honestly, a road start for the Capitals is not the best thing going into the playoffs. But I don't think it is a bad thing necessarily. While it is nice to start at home in the post season, the Caps have sort of taken that part of their game for granted. Their best games in the playoffs have been on the road. All of their game seven debacles and two early loses last year on the way to being swept happened in the confines of the Verizon Center.

The Caps have had success against Tim Thomas and the Bruins at TD Garden. Both wins were one goal decisions and both were in the month of March. In fact the Capitals won the season series against the B's 3-1 this year, including a win with out the help of Alex Ovechkin for one game serving a suspension at the time.

The Bruins will beat up on the Capitals as they have the clear size advantage when it comes being physical on the puck. With some big boys on the back end in Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic and his ugly mug up front, the Bruins will look to take the Capitals physically. But this is also a team that has struggled against skilled teams like the Caps and Penguins. If the Capitals can break down the Bruins size with speed, there might be a glimmer of hope for the Capitals to make it out of the first round.

But there is more to come as I will break down what the Caps need to do in the playoffs to find success, and of course my fearless predictions (which usually don't stand up past the first round, but hey it's fun to do).

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