These 4 unsung Caps skaters will be key to playoff success originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
As the Washington Capitals gear up for their 14th playoff appearance in the last 15 years, certain players will naturally have a spotlight focused on them throughout the postseason. It makes sense why opposing teams would aim most of their attention on Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and a few others.
Those are simply the team’s best players and thus Washington’s foes must dedicate their practice time to limiting their effectiveness. But time and time again, history has shown that the ‘other guys’ make just as much of a difference come playoff time as the household names.
It’s not uncommon for players who are on one-year deals or have frequented the minor leagues to show out in the postseason and bring their team glory in a Rudy-esque moment. Does Devante Smith-Pelly in 2018 ring a bell?
If the Capitals are to make a real splash in the postseason this year, the ‘other guys’ will need to do just that. Goaltending is far and away the biggest concern for Washington as they near the playoffs, as shaky play in net could spell doom for an otherwise stacked team. But aside from goalies, who could end up being the unsung hero for the Capitals in the playoffs?
Here are four candidates:
When the opposing team inevitably attempts to minimize Tom Wilson’s output, Hathaway is the guy to pick up the pieces for the Capitals. Need him to supply a bone-crunching hit or drop the gloves? He’ll do it. Need someone to crash the net and screen the goalie during zone time? He’ll do it. Need someone to steal the puck in the neutral zone and spring an odd-man rush? Hathaway is your guy.
In his seventh year in the pros, Hathaway is the exact type of player all 32 NHL teams want. Already this season, he’s topped his career-bests in goals, assists, points, +/-, and shots. A high-energy bruiser, Hathaway has done it on both sides of the puck for the Capitals and should continue to do so come playoff time. He already previewed it for us vs. Colorado on Monday:
Orlov, much like Hathaway, is also having arguably the best season of his career. His career-high 34 points on the campaign are good enough for sixth on the team, complemented with 12 goals and a +24.
While John Carlson usually gets most of the credit for being Washington’s best offensive defenseman, it’s Orlov who has been one of the Caps’ best overall players as he makes very few defensive errors and has proven to be a key piece on special teams. He’s not shy to push the puck up the ice in five-on-five play, which could prove to be valuable in the faster-paced and more physical realm of the playoffs.
There were certainly doubts about how effective Mantha would be after he underwent shoulder surgery in November. Not only has he bounced back swimmingly from his absence, but he’s also exceeded every expectation set for him by miles. He’s tallied nine goals and 12 assists in 31 appearances on the season, most recently scoring twice in less than a minute in Washington’s 8-4 win in Montreal last week.
Here’s another stat Caps fans will love: Among all players (aside from the recently-acquired Johan Larsson), Washington has their best record on the season when Mantha is on the ice with a .726 PTS%. Simply put, when the big forward plays, the Capitals tend to win.
A sparkplug whose forechecking abilities and nose for the puck have lifted the Capitals to several wins this season, Sheary’s contributions can’t be understated. Playing everywhere from the top line with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov to the fourth line with Dowd and Hathaway, Sheary has been excellent wherever Peter Laviolette has placed him.
Full strength, power play, penalty kill—it doesn’t matter; Sheary has stepped in and stepped up for Washington, making him a crucial element of their offense with the team’s fourth-most goals with 17. His versatility will be a key component of the Capitals’ potential postseason success.