The Capitals are probably screwed again
Columbus’ 5-4 overtime win on Sunday sends the Blue Jackets home with a 2-0 series lead. It will surprise no one that this bodes well for them. NHL teams that start seven-game series with a 2-0 lead go on to win them 87 percent of the time. (The figure is lower for road teams that start up 2-0, as Columbus has done. They win about 82 percent of the time.) More than 55 percent of teams that take a 2-0 lead in a series go on to win it in fewer than six games.
If there’s any solace for Washington, it’s that the Capitals were the best team on the ice Sunday by several country miles. They’d still be favored to beat the Jackets in a seven-game series, but this isn’t a seven-game series anymore. It’s a five-game series, and Columbus only has to win two to prolong the Capitals’ spring misery. A series loss would be right up there with any other disappointment in the Capitals’ Stanley Cup-less history.
The Capitals dominated this game and should have won.
There’s a stat called “high-danger scoring chances,” which tracks exactly what it says it tracks. Those are basically the times when a team has the puck on someone’s stick in the area right in front of the net, and extending outward a bit.
The Capitals had 17 high-danger chances in Game 2, and the Blue Jackets had five, according to the analytics website Natural Stat Trick. Washington controlled 63 percent of the game’s total shot attempts and put 58 shots on goal to the Blue Jackets’ 30. While the Blue Jackets had to settle for lots of shots from the faceoff dots, the Capitals got look after look from right in front of the net:
Washington had leads of 2-0 and 3-1. It carried the play for virtually the entire game, including an overtime period where it put twice as many shots on goal as Columbus did. Alex Ovechkin scored a pair of wicked power-play goals from his customary perch in the left faceoff circle, and his line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson was comically great. When Ovechkin and Kuznetzov shared the ice at even strength, the Capitals had a 5-0 edge in high-danger chances and had the puck about 70 percent of the time.
Not only should the Capitals have won this game, they should have done so in a rout.
The Capitals lost because their goalies didn’t stop enough pucks.
Washington started usual backup Philipp Grubauer for the second game in a row — a fair choice, given that Grubauer has outplayed longtime stalwart Braden Holtby this season. But Grubauer was no good in Game 2. He let in four goals on 22 shots, bringing his save percentage to .837 (eight goals allowed on 49 shots) in the series’ first two games.
Grubauer gave up two particularly bad goals before Holtby replaced him at the second intermission. Both of them involved Blue Jackets shooters sneaking the puck into little windows of space on the short side of the net, where better technique by Grubauer would’ve sealed off any opportunity at a goal. Here was one:
Holtby did fine after replacing Grubauer, though the Capitals’ relentless puck-possession game meant a small sample size. He only faced eight shots his 32 minutes between the third period and overtime, and the only one to go in was Calvert’s overtime winner. Holtby gave up a meaty rebound, and defenseman Jakub Jerabek did approximately nothing to prevent Calvert from poking the puck over Holtby’s left pad and into the net.
Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 54 of 58 shots for Columbus, a solid .931 save percentage that doesn’t quite tell the story of how many excellent, pressured saves he had to make.
Even if Holtby changes things, Washington is in a deep hole.
Holtby is now the Capitals’ goalie again. Starting Grubauer made sense given the two goalies’ performances this year, but it turned out to be a misadventure, and Holtby has always been this team’s guy at root, anyway. Holtby might play brilliantly for the rest of the series, and Washington might not face the same issues it has through two games.
But even if Holtby is great, his teammates have a heavy lift ahead of them. Winning Game 3 in Columbus on Tuesday would only lift Washington’s series chances to about 41 percent, based on league precedent. The Capitals are going to be on the ropes until they win two games in Ohio, where the Blue Jackets have gone 26-15. So, the Capitals are probably — and that word, “probably,” is just a statement of numbers — about finished.
Anything’s possible. But Washington needs Holtby to play well and for nothing else to go wrong and spoil such a performance in the next couple of games. For reasons having nothing to do with the Capitals’ own playoff past and everything to do with how difficult it is for any team to overcome an 0-2 hole, they’re in a world of trouble.