Since the clock struck 12 on New Year’s Day, the Washington Capitals have not played their best hockey. The team has lost five of its last six games, being outscored 22 to 13 during that span. The team has sunk to fourth place in the Metropolitan Division.
Finding answers for what’s wrong, however, has been elusive. Conor Sheary pointed to the team’s “attention to detail”, but Nic Dowd suggested it was deeper than that.
“We’re losing games in all types of styles rights now,” Nic Dowd remarked last week. “I’m not going to say it’s one thing or another. We’re up and down. We’re losing in overtime.”
Tuesday, after the Capitals’ morning skate, The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir asked Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette about what he thought the state of the team was.
“Well, some of the games I don’t like the way we played,” Laviolette said. “I thought we dipped in our play from the first game of the back-to-back. I thought we played a really strong game and then not as strong. I didn’t think it was horrible, but it was a 50/50 game and when you don’t outplay somebody or play better than somebody, you run the risk of losing the game. So it’s a one-goal hockey game. There’s a couple games in there I don’t like. There’s a couple games where I thought we played really well like the Minnesota game and didn’t get the result we were looking for. But, you can go back, I don’t think it’s one brush sweeps it all where we’re lousy in all the games. But, we definitely could have played better last game. So if you don’t do that, you have to find that consistency or your record shows a little inconsistent as well.”
Capitals Radio’s Ben Raby pressed Laviolette on what the team’s problems were.
“There’s nothing for me that’s been a real common thread,” Laviolette responded. “We haven’t talked about penalties the entire year. So that was the question that came out of postgame right away – the penalties. They cost us. They did! So we address it and we try to get better at it, but it’s not the reason we lost the Minnesota game. The reason why we lost the Minnesota game wasn’t the reason why we lost the St. Louis game. There’s not a common thread, but there’s definitely room for improvement. There’s definitely room for us to be better. There’s no excuses. We definitely could have played better last game. Because we didn’t, we run the risk of a 50/50 game going their way and it did.”
Capitals’ writer Mike Vogel wondered if the players were struggling through the “dog days of the season” after not playing full 82-game campaigns for the last two years.
“I don’t think that that’s an issue right now,” Laviolette said. “Like I said, there’s been games where I thought we’ve played really well. If we’re in the dog days, then we’ve played a pretty good game in the dog days in Long Island. The last game we played is just areas where we could have been better. We’re not making any excuses. We needed to play a better game last game. It didn’t happen and we’ll look to do it tonight.”
Like every NHL team, the Capitals have seen players come in and out of the lineup due to COVID protocol. But there are also problems specific to the Capitals. They’ve struggled with injury. The Capitals’ power play is now one of the league’s worst (27th, 15.8%). The team’s five-on-five play, which was lights out to start the season, remains fundamentally sound but has become unlucky.
The first graph shows the Capitals’ shot attempts over a 10-game sample while the second shows their expected goals. Both graphs illustrate that the Capitals’ underlying play overall has been good, but the margin between winning and losing has been smaller.
The Capitals will look to get back to their winning ways against the Winnipeg Jets at Capital One Arena tonight at 7 PM.
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