Puck Daddy Bag of Mail: What have the Caps done differently this time around?

Puck Daddy

Could this be it?

Just hours after this article goes live on the worldwide web, the Stanley Cup Final could come to an end. And with that, the hockey season ends.

But hey, there’s still at least 60 more minutes of hockey left, so let’s savor it while we can. We won’t all be back here again until mid-September! So hey, you’ve got Cup Final questions? I’ve got answers to those questions, folks!

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Let’s go:

Graham asks: “Why were people getting on the Caps for “humiliating” Vegas and “running up the score?”

Because hockey people are the worst!

The only justification I can find for that talk, within my own understanding of the sport, is that Vegas was getting awful pissed off about getting fed its lunch so consistently throughout the game. You know Ryan Reaves wanted to murder Tom Wilson at some point and the broader the score margin, the more likely that was to happen. That was a chippy third period in no small part because Vegas knew the game was over after the first and wanted to do a little message-sending.

If you’re Washington, it is perhaps arguable that you do not want that message sent to you.

But yeah I mean if you’re arguing it because Vegas doesn’t “deserve” to lose like that or something, you’re a dope. Vegas and every other team in the world deserves to lose by however much they lose by. This is how the sport works. This is how all sports work. Especially professional sports! These guys are millionaire elite athletes. Who cares.

Grunfeld asks: “How much do you think Holtby’s rest all season is helping him now?”

Am I allowed to say, “I don’t think it’s a thing at all?”

Holtby’s problem in the playoffs has arguably been “workload” maybe once ever. And even then, it was one or two bad series so I’m not sitting here going “Holtby taking eight extra games off in January really turned this around for the Caps.”

Braden Holtby has been a beast for the Caps. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)
Braden Holtby has been a beast for the Caps. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

The guy has basically deserved to get this deep (well, maybe not “one win away from a Final” deep) for six or seven years. He finally does it, but it’s probably not because Barry Trotz stopped using him for a little while.

Donald asks: “What has Ovie figured out or put together this time around? Is the pure goal scorer doing more?”

I’m gonna say the same thing about Ovechkin that I just said about Holtby: People want to put post-facto explanations on performance they otherwise don’t want to wrap their heads around.

When Holtby and Ovechkin were losing in the second round every single year because no one else on the team could put the puck in the ocean from the end of a pier, they weren’t at fault. They’re playing great now, to be sure, but do you think Ovechkin at 33 years old was like, “Well, what if I tried backchecking this year?”

There is truly nothing in the numbers to suggest Ovechkin is doing all that much differently. I mentioned this a few weeks ago but not-playing him 24 minutes a night or whatever is probably helping keep the goals against down, if you think Ovechkin is a huge defensive liability.

But the other thing that’s really important to keep in mind here is that this year and last are really the only two times Washington had two real scoring lines. The emergence of Kuznetsov this year as an elite offensive talent (rather than simply being a player with elite skill) is why that line looks so good now. Hope this helps.

Scott asks: “Why is it a “veteran move” when a player skates slower to get an icing called? Do they not call icing until NHL? Seemed to remember doing that when I was 12 years old.”

I can’t find the tweet now but someone on Twitter wondered aloud why it’s incumbent upon the attacking team to hustle to catch up with an iced puck at all. There’s no incentive for it.

I’d never thought about it that way, but yeah it really doesn’t make any sense, so when players do that in an effort to run a few extra seconds off the clock while simultaneously getting a faceoff in the attacking end again. To your point, it’s not some genius move, it’s the only reasonable thing to do.

This is another reason why I think automatic icing is good, but whatever.

Brendan asks: “Which is sweeter: Washington winning in 5 in Vegas to put a great end to the “Vegas is very good actually” talk, or Vegas winning in 7 to keep the Washington curse alive?”

Definitely the second one. If the Caps somehow blow this lead, I might never stop laughing. To get so far, to basically have everyone in hockey call this series over after the Game 4 blowout, and then to fall apart like this? That would be unreal.

I think there’s really not much of a chance of that actually happening, but if it did, boy oh boy.

Bobby asks: “What figure formerly affiliated with the Caps over the past 10 years is most apoplectic watching this run?”

Bruce Boudreau, no question.

His Caps teams were so so so so so much better than this one and he couldn’t get them anywhere close to getting over the hump. Meanwhile, he’s suffered the same fates in Anaheim (which by the way has only gotten worse since he was fired) and Minnesota (which by the way is not really suited to deep playoff runs) that he always did in Washington.

Not that I particularly think he has a lot of blame to bear for almost all of those losses — he’s one of the best coaches alive — but how does this not drive you bonkers?

Chris asks: “Does Vegas sign Carlson in the offseason?”

Well they certainly have the money and the need. Nate Schmidt getting a little bit exposed in this series was, perhaps, to be expected, because he’s just a good No. 2 guy, not a No. 1.

I’m not super convinced that John Carlson is going to have the kind of revelatory run with whatever team gives him $60 million this summer that most might think based on his level of performance this season. Anywhere he goes probably won’t put him in a position to rack up 43 of his 87 points between the regular season and playoffs on the power play, right?

I mean, you’d be nuts to think a 28-year-old defender who just shattered his personal single-season points record is going to keep that up for, what, three more years, let alone seven.

Which is why I like the Erik Karlsson-Bobby Ryan trade for Vegas a lot more than throwing John Carlson this kind of money. On the other hand, Vegas is certainly getting in a lot of “seen him good” time in this Cup Final, so I bet they’re interested.

Mike asks: “Conn Smythe winner?”

Technically it should go to Kuznetsov because he has just been phenomenal throughout the playoffs, then elevated his game in the Cup Final. He’s got points in 12 of his last 13 games in this postseason, and the one he didn’t score in was the one where he got hurt.

Going into the Cup Final he had an impressive 11-13-24 in 19 games. In the Cup Final, he’s already up to 1-6-7 in just four games.

Kuznetsov is one of only five guys in the cap era to clear 30 points in a postseason. Only he, Sid Crosby and Evgeni Malkin — both in 2008-09 — are north of 31 as well. The two guys tied at 30 are 2009-10 Dany Briere and 2015-16 Logan Couture.

You can also argue Holtby and I’m very much for it. He’s been phenomenal and there’s the storyline element of “he didn’t even get a start until Game 3 of the first round.”

But morally, you gotta give it to Ovechkin, right? He’s been really great too, and my man is having the time of his life!

Any of those three guys are perfectly acceptable, especially now that Fleury has completely folded in on himself. But c’mon, it’s Ovechkin’s, right?

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

All stats via Corsica unless noted otherwise. Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.

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