With a 22-6-2 record and 46 points, the Washington Capitals have the team’s best start in franchise history. With the Capitals most recent victory over the Ottawa Senators, they have now won 13 of their last 17 home games. Even with this excellent record and great start to the 2016 season, coach Barry Trotz says, “We have a lot of things to work on our game. I think we’ve relied a little too much on Braden [Holtby] lately.”
With the season’s mid-point three weeks away, the Capitals are evaluating their strengths and weaknesses so they can implement changes that will carry them successfully into the post season. What’s encouraging is that all four lines are scoring points. For example in the Capitals game against the Senators on Wednesday, 12/16, Michael Latta, fourth line forward scored in the first period. “I was really happy for Latta. I’ve been on him a little bit to keep moving [his] feet moving and to take the glide out of [his] game,” Trotz said. Apparently, the strategy worked because Latta earned his second multi-point game of his career.
Another advantage that the Capitals leverage in their back pocket is superstar goalie Braden Holtby who recently resigned with the Capitals for a 5 year, $31.5M deal. While many saw his most recently contract as folly, it is certainly paying off for the Captials. Against the Senators, Holtby successfully blocked 26 of 27 shots and earned his thirteenth consecutive win of the season – the longest streak for a goaltender in the NHL.
While the team’s progress is encouraging, Trotz says, “We can tighten up a few things… The good thing is that we’re finding ways to win, be it good goaltending, a good penalty kill, or a good power play, or someone having a big night, and right now we’re getting contributions from everyone from the first to the fourth line.” While the Capitals started the season significantly limiting the number of shots on goals opponents made, that number has grown over the past weeks, in fact, in the Capitals v. Penguins game last week Holtby made a season high 44 saves, far exceeding his average of 23 .
What seems to be most striking is the balance and maturity that the Capitals have developed just over the past 12 months. For example, last year, the controversial matching penalty levied against Tom Wilson against the Senators would have distracted the Capitals. Trotz said, “last year we would’ve been focused on screaming at the refs, and [tonight] our focus wasn’t on that. Our focus was ‘we’ve got to kill this penalty off’ and that’s a sign of maturity and that’s a sign of good leadership.
While the Capitals are playing great hockey, there are many improvements to implement in the second half of the season so that they can seamlessly transition from regular season to successful playoff quality play.
By Stephanie Judge