With one month and 16 games left in the regular season, the Capitals are well on their way to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With a 49-13-4 record good for 102 points, they have built a sizable lead over the rest of the pack. The Capitals are in place to finish the regular season as the NHL’s best team.
The Washington Capitals are visiting the West Coast this week. On Monday night, the Capitals defeated the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 in the shootout, which ended the Ducks 11-game win streak. It was a fast skating game, with plenty of hitting and some great goaltending on both sides. This game had the intensity of a playoff game, and it could be a possible preview of things to come.
While the Capitals have had a remarkable record-breaking season, they have still shown some bad habits. So what can the Capitals do down the stretch to improve their overall game? How can the Capitals better prepare themselves for the Stanley Cup Playoffs? How can they ensure their regular season success carries over into the postseason?
1. COME OUT OF THE GATE FLYING
The Capitals are ranked 17th in the NHL with 1st period goals forced with 48. They have scored 73 goals in the 2nd period, which is ranked 2nd among NHL teams. In the third period, they have scored 84 goals, which is ranked 1st among NHL teams.
It seems that the Capitals score twice the amount of goals in the 2nd and 3rd periods compared to the 1st period. This is a direct correlation to the Capitals giving up the first goal in many games this season.
The Capitals also lead all NHL clubs with 25 victories in 1-goal games. The Caps have shown the ability to come back late in games, but they have also shown that they are regular slow starters.
The slow starts cannot happen in the playoffs. In the playoffs, it is tougher to come back from early deficits. Early deficits need to be addressed, and the locker room needs to be more focused early in games. The Capitals gave up the first goal in Anaheim, 1 minute into the game. Focus on the game has to begin on the very first shift.
2. FIX THE POWERPLAY
In the 5 games to begin March, the Capitals went 0 for 4 against Anaheim, 0 for 3 against Boston, 1 for 2 against the NY Rangers, 1 for 4 against Toronto, and 1 for 3 against Pittsburgh. That is 3 for 16 for the month, or about 19% effective.
The Capitals powerplay has been a bright spot for most of the season, but has slipped from the top spot to 3rd overall in the NHL. The Caps are now 23.3% effective on the powerplay.
Analyzing the Capitals powerplay, the Capitals try to get Ovechkin’s shot in the slot open. Most of the opposing teams are aware of Ovechkin’s quick shot on the ice, so naturally, their penalty killers cheat over to his side of the ice.
The Capitals powerplay could open up a little bit of more room with more of the Capitals shooting regularly on it. Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson do not shoot very often, as they are both the passers and playmakers on the top unit. With a little bit more shooting coming from Ovechkin’s opposite wing, the Capitals will become more unpredictable with their powerplay, which should open up more passing lanes.
3. NO EXCUSES, PLAY LIKE A CHAMPION
There is nothing wrong with playing with extra some attitude and swagger on the ice. Hockey is a physical and mental game. The Capitals are a winning-team, with players that carry winning mentalities and resumes.
In the playoffs, a club has to be mentally tougher than their opponent in order to win games. The Capitals need to bring this toughness and attitude to the ice. They need to use previous playoff failures as motivation and the locker room needs to be afraid of losing.
4. STICK TO THE SCRIPT
Barry Trotz will make sure that the Capitals put in the best positions to succeed. There is a lot of meaning with the phrase “Stick to the Script.”
What lies beneath “Stick to the Script” is that the Capitals need to execute. The Capitals each individually need to do their jobs. The players need to play for the guy next to them on the bench. The script or blueprint for the Capitals will eventually lead them to do great things in the months ahead.
5. 60 MINUTE EFFORT
All of the players on the roster need to buy in once the playoffs begin. The Capitals have shown that they can compete and beat the best teams in the NHL. Once the playoffs begin, there is no looking back to the past.
The Capitals need to play their game for 60 minutes. If they can accomplish this, they will win many games in the playoffs. There are not many teams in the NHL that have the depth that the Capitals do at every position on the ice.
If there is no 60 minute effort, there will be no playoff success. Buy in, believe, and carry the winning mentality all the way to June.
By George Foussekis