By the time the Caps return to the ice on August 3rd, it will have been 144 days since the pause. I don’t know about you, but that has felt like an eternity for me. With that in mind, here are the top 4 facts and figures that you should know or at least be reminded of, as we go into the Return to Play in the next couple of weeks.
4. Caps Combined Record Against Round Robin Teams: 6-4-0
While the lower seeded teams are facing off against each other in best of 5 series, the Caps will be facing off against the Bruins, Lightning and Flyers in a round robin. Seeing as this merely determines seeding for the next round, it is of dubious importance, especially since all NHL teams are good (just ask last year’s Tampa Bay Lightning if having a “weak” opponent is helpful in the slightest).
However, one thing is for certain, momentum does play a huge role in playoff outcomes. Crushing the other 3 best teams in the conference would be a big morale boost going into the first round of the playoffs. Personally, if I had to bet, I’d expect them to beat the Bruins and get the upset against the Flyers (who had our number the whole regular season), but fall to the Lightning. (Stat via Hockey Reference).
3. Powerplay Efficiency: 19.4%
The Caps Powerplay woes during this regular season were well documented. Once considered perhaps one of the most dominant powerplays in the history of the sport, the Caps finished the regular season 17th overall in this area. Unfortunately, not only did they struggle throughout the year, but they finished weakly, converting on just 15% of powerplays from February through the shutdown. (Powerplay Stats via NHL.com).
2. Holtby Save% Last 10 Games: 0.908
Another area of struggle this season was Holtby’s play, particularly in December and January. While we can debate how much of it was his fault vs. that of the defense in front of him, the fact of the matter is, Holtby was in no way bailing the team out as he has been known to do in the past.
What’s important, is that, leading up to the shutdown, he seemed to have had a massive turnaround, as his the save% on his ten games from December 31st through February 10th went from .863, to .908 on his ten games from February 15th to what would ultimately be the end of the season, an absolutely massive jump. That 4.5% jump in save percentage is approximately equivalent to stopping a whole extra goal from going in each game.
Obviously, this is effectively a brand new season, so we don’t know how much of an effect this kind of momentum will have on the playoffs, but we all saw how important solid goaltending was in 2018. Hopefully this tournament will showcase the Holtby from the second half of February, and not the first half. (Holtby Stats via Hockey Reference).
1. Caps record in first ten games of a season (2015-2019): 30-14-6
As has been pointed out before, in many ways, this Return to Play can be treated as a brand new season. And as such, the natural question becomes, “How do the Caps do at the beginning of a new season?”
Unsurprisingly, the Caps have a dominant 60% Winning percentage in the first ten games of a season, over the last five years, which is top 5 in the league over that time frame. In other words, typically, they get off to a hot start. And of course, anecdotally, this is obviously true. Who can forget Ovechkin’s Opening night hat trick against Ottawa in 2017?
And of course, there was the time when the Caps raised the Banner on the Bruins, and won 7-0. The Bruins were no easy team to beat that year either, as they ultimately took the Stanley Cup Final to a Game 7 that year. (Stats via Stathead Hockey).
Putting all this together, the Caps are in a pretty good spot overall. The extra camp is giving guys like Dillon and Kovalchuk the chance to really fill in with teammates. Hopefully the break stopped the bad momentum of the powerplay. Things will be pretty weird with the new format, and not having any fans at the games, but at this point, it’s just good to have some real hockey to talk about and look forward to.
Keep staying safe Caps fans!