Capitals Month In Review: March

March sure was one hell of a month for the Caps. They went 12-2-1 while outscoring opponents 41-26. They also had a strong shot % of 52.4% and Fenwick of 50.4% showing that they were definitely outplaying teams on a lot of nights to win games. Though, it helps when you have two games against the Islanders, two others against the Oilers and Blue Jackets. However, they have victories over strong teams like Tampa Bay, Chicago and Philadelphia but it should be noted that the victories against those teams came in OT or a shootout. In fact, 6 of their wins this month were after regulation and 8 of them were only one-goal victories. I made a post during their nine game winning streak suggesting that luck had a lot to do with the streak and that could have been the case in some areas. There were definitely a few games we won despite being outplayed completely (Philly, NJ).

One of which was goaltender Braden Holtby having an absurd .962 save percentage at even strength in seven games played. I’m not discrediting Holtby at all because he’s been outstanding in his last few call-ups but I’m having a difficult time believing that his actual talent level is there. Sometimes you find diamonds in the rough but I think Holtby is just going through a hot strike similar to what Michal Neuvirth went through in November. He was a big reason why the team’s save percentage at even strength this month was .939 Hey, if one of the goalies can get hot in the playoffs and only yield 1.73 goals per game then I won’t complain.

The trades George McPhee made at the deadline provided instant results, which is very good. Dennis Wideman was playing over 20 minutes every night and there were many where he skated the most minutes on the team. He played on the powerplay and penalty kill and ended the month with one goal, six assists and a robust corsi rating of 35. Unfortunately, he ended the month on the DL after suffering hematoma in his leg. He will be missed. Jason Arnott’s presence was also felt immediately as he had 6 points in 9 games with the team and is already rubbing off a good influence on his new teammates.

In terms of injuries, the Caps were still battling them in March and some of them occurred at the worst time. There was the aforementioned injury to Wideman which is a huge blow. Mike Green also missed the entire month and so did Tom Poti. Arnott and Ovechkin were also out for a few games to rest lingering injuries and Nicklas Backstrom also had to miss five games with a hand injury. Eric Fehr also went back to his second home on the IR briefly after sustaining another injury.  Oh, and Varlamov only played in two games in March, too. It does speak a lot about the depth this team has that they can still win despite injuries. The fact that we can rely on guys like Scott Hannan, John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Jeff Schultz to step it up when key players get hurt is a big thing. However, a whole new burden will be faced upon them in April with Wideman gone. We’ll see how we can get through that. Hopefully at least through the first round.

Special teams were a mixed bag as usual this month. I have read some stats saying that we have one of the best PP’s in the league at generating shots (which is really what matters. We’ve fell victim to low shooting percentages this season.) and we generated 48 shots on 38 PP attempts this month. That equals to about 1.26 shots per attempts. Yeah…..not too good.  However, a success rate of 15.8% is a little better than recent months from what I remember. The penalty kill was outstanding with a success rate of 90.8% and only allowing 5 goals.

This strong month allowed the Caps to gain first place in the Southeast back, clinch a playoff spot and they are now looking to get to 1st place in the Eastern Conference. They’ve been trading places with the Flyers the past few days. The one-goal victories and high save percentages make me believe that there’s a lot of luck involved with our success but we were getting largely unlucky during December and some of January so maybe it’s time things went our way? Let’s hope we can carry this into April and the playoffs when it really matters now.

Player Performances:

Top Performers:

Mike Knuble: 11 points and he’s reached the 20 goal plateau for the 8th year in a row. He’s always been one to start slow out of the gates and then finish strong and that’s exactly what he’s doing this season. An interesting note is that his shooting percentage is a lot lower than his career average despite him crashing the net like our fanbase encourages. Maybe his luck’s going in the right direction at the right time? I sure hope so!

Braden Holtby: .962 even strength save percentage including two shutouts and outstanding performances against Tampa Bay and Carolina. I expect him to finish the year in Hershey and continue his quest for the Calden Cup but we might have an interesting situation on our hands when Varlamov becomes a restricted free agent at the end of the year. Keep in mind that him, Neuvirth and Holtby are all around the same age.

Alex Ovechkin: Led the team in points with 13 despite missing three games. That’s good enough for me to put him in this category. Was also second on the team in hits.

Alexander Semin: Okay, it was tough for me to put him in here. He was tied with Knuble for the leader in goals (5) but he also took seven penalties. Seven. Still, it’s hard to complain when he’s producing offensively (11 points on the month) and it looks like he might get to 30 goals on the season. However, I still think this describes him best. ESPECIALLY if he pulls another disappearing act in the playoffs.

John Carlson: 10 points, had the highest Fenwick rating on the team, blocked 30 shots and led defensemen with 34 shots on goal. All while taking on the hardest competition. I still wonder why I don’t hear his name in Calder discussions yet Cam Fowler’s name comes up all the time… (I’m not saying that he should win but he deserves some consideration). A nice rebound month for Carlson, anyway.

Dennis Wideman: See above.

Brooks Laich: Only three goals but he had 10 points on the month and was one of the better fore-checkers on the team so that earns him a positive vote from me. He also did a fine job at centering the second and third lines while Arnott was out which explains those seven assists.

Under Acheivers

Matt Bradley: Held off the scoresheet completely this month, was a -3 and his Corsi numbers are even worse. He did lead the team in hits so at least he’s being somewhat useful but I have to think that he might be a candidate to be scratched once a few other players get healthy.

Marco Sturm: I was willing to give him a pass early on because he was creating scoring chances but lately, it’s becoming more and more obvious why the Kings put him on waivers. It’s hard to believe that he keeps getting top 6 minutes on a lot of nights. 1 goal and 5 points in 15 games.

Jeff Schultz: Only 17 blocked shots, had a negative corsi and fenwick rating and made some very ill-advised turnovers in March. Maybe playing with Scott Hannan again will help him out a little? He did score a nice goal against NJ, though.

Tyler Sloan: How someone manages to have a Corsi and Fenwick rating in the -30’s despite only playing in FOUR GAMES is just astounding.

Other Performances:
Michal Neuvirth: Weak end of the month prevents him from being a top performer but he still had a strong .929 save percentage at even strength in March.

Nicklas Backstrom: Looked like he had found his edge but was sidelined with a hand injury that kept him out of five games. Finished the month with only 7 points but still had a good face-off efficiency rate of 56.7%.

Marcus Johansson: 4 goals and 8 points is a solid month for MoJo but the bad Corsi numbers despite getting offensive zone starts keeps him from being a top performer. That and his brutal face off percentage of 42.7%. He has a chance at finishing the year with at least 30 points, which is a decent rookie season, imo.

Jason Arnott: If only we didn’t have to rest him for a few games… He has been exactly what this team has needed. Veteran leadership and some strong offensive numbers to give us a real second line center for the first time in awhile.

Eric Fehr: Scored two goals in his first game back, then kind of disappeared and got hurt again. Welp!

Karl Alzner: Led the team with 34 blocked shots, had a solid corsi and fenwick ratings along with two assists. About what you can ask of him. He was also on ice for only 8 of 26 goals this month.

Scott Hannan: About the same as Alzner only he scored a goal too. Maybe he should shoot the puck more?

Semyon Varlamov: Looked good against Carolina, not so good against Ottawa but he let in goals that absolutely need to be stopped in both games. He only played in two so I think it might be best to let him play out the rest of the season and then have Bruce make the decision on who to start based off that. I’ll have more on that in a later post, though.

Boyd Gordon: 2 goals but he had some bad corsi and fenwick numbers which is expected when you play in a defensive role like him. He also had a strong face-off percentage. Basically making us forget that David Steckel ever existed because Gordo does the same thing only for a lot less money.

Jason Chimera: It’s a shame that the goals haven’t come to him because he had a stretch of good games to end the month but only ended up with one goal. Oddly enough, it was against his former team.


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