Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
While the Washington Capitals have had a nice regular season so far as their 77 points are currently tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for third in the NHL this season, the Capitals have shown a weakness in one critical area. Unfortunately, that flaw is games against teams within their own division as they are 8-11-0 against the Metropolitan Division this season. That is not ideal considering they will likely have to get past two division teams to get to the Eastern Conference Final for the second time in three seasons. NoVa Caps looks at the Capitals’ numbers against their own division.
After a 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders at home on Monday night, the Capitals dropped their third straight game to a Metropolitan Division opponent. They faced Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in addition to the Islanders during their season-long four-game homestand and lost all three contests while allowing 16 goals. This came after the Capitals won three straight games against division foes.
The losses are not from a lack of effort, as they have averaged about 33.8 shots-per-game against their own division while holding their opponents to an average only 30.3 shots per game. Despite outshooting their opponents on most nights, they have been outscored by a combined 54-51 by the other seven Metropolitan Division teams. Though, getting outscored 12-5 in the past two games certainly skewed those numbers.
This comes a season after the Capitals swept three Metropolitan Division opponents (New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, and Carolina Hurricanes) and were dominant within their own bracket, going 19-8-2. This season, they have lost at least one game to each of the seven other teams in the division and are 3-3-1 against the three teams they swept in the regular season a year ago.
On special teams, the Capitals have scored on 14 of their 77 power-play opportunities for an efficiency of 18.2% while they have killed off 54 of 66 penalties for a penalty-killing efficiency of 81.8% against Metropolitan Division teams this season.
One factor behind the Capitals’ lack of success against the Metropolitan is goaltender Braden Holtby’s slump this year. Holtby, who has appeared in 12 of the Capitals’ 19 games against the Metropolitan Division, has an .868 save percentage and a 3.71 goals-against average against division competition. He is only 2-8-1 against the division and has not won a game against a team from the Metro since November 13, a 2-1 shootout win over the Flyers. Ilya Samsonov, meanwhile, is 7-2-0 with a .921 save percentage, a 2.36 goals-against average, and one shutout in 10 games vs. the Metro.
In 20 games against the Metropolitan Division, captain Alex Ovechkin has recorded 11 goals (his average of .538 goals-per-game vs. Metropolitan is the second-lowest against any division this season), 17 points (average of .85 points-per-game, second-lowest), and a -12 rating. He is no worse than a -1 against any other division.
Defenseman John Carlson has averaged more than a point-per-game against every other division besides the Metropolitan (who he averages .95 against) and his two goals are tied with the lowest he has recorded against any other division (Central, who he has played 13 fewer games against) while he has a plus rating against every other division. He is -5 vs. the Metropolitan Division.
Center Evgeny Kuznetsov has recorded seven goals, 11 points (average of .611 per game is lowest against any division), and a -10 rating (his lowest against any division). However, his seven goals against the Metropolitan is the most he has against a division this season.
Center Nicklas Backstrom has posted personal bests in goals (four), assists (16), and points (20) but worst in plus-minus (-7) in 19 games against the division while forward T.J. Oshie has a personal best with seven goals and his 11 points against the Metro are the second-most but his -4 rating against the division this season is the worst against any this season.
Forward Jakub Vrana’s six goals against the Metro this season is the second-most against any division but his 10 points are third while his -5 rating is the worst.
Forward Tom Wilson’s two goals, average of .368 points-per-game, and -12 rating vs. the Metro this season are all his personal worsts.
The Capitals are 14-2-0 against the Atlantic Division (.875 points percentage), 10-0-3 against the Pacific (.884), and 3-3-1 against the Central Division (.500). They have a .421 points percentage against the Metropolitan Division this season.
Below is a table of the Capitals’ performance against Metropolitan Division foes to date:
While the Capitals are finding plenty of success against the other three divisions and are still in a very good spot, they will need to start winning some games against division foes as they will have to spend a month playing against them if they hope to win the Stanley Cup this season. They have eight games remaining against their own division, including three against the Pittsburgh Penguins (who are second), two against the Rangers, and one each against the Flyers, Devils, and Blue Jackets. The good news is that the Capitals don’t have to play any Metropolitan teams for the next four games. However, if the Capitals want to be where they want to be at the end of the season, they must turn their play against the Metropolitan Division and fast.
By Harrison Brown