After a 26-6-5 start to the season where it looked like they were going to run away with their fourth Presidents’ Trophy in the decade as they held a five-point lead for first place in the NHL, the Washington Capitals have gone 14-14-2 and are tied with the Carolina Hurricanes for 20th in the NHL with a .500 points percentage over that span. What has gone wrong? NoVa Caps takes a look.
During their extended slump, the Capitals have a -8 goal differential after posting a +31 goal differential in the first two and a half months of the season. While their average of 3.27 goals-per-game average is tied with for ninth in the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche, their average of 3.53 goals-against per game is tied with the Detroit Red Wings, who are last in the NHL by 23 points and have a -121 goal differential this season. Their average of 3.27 goals-per-game is respectable but they led the NHL with an average of 3.54 goals-per-game on the morning of December 23 and their average of 2.76 goals-against per game was eighth.
Despite leading the league in power-play ice time (211:37), the man advantage has gone into a power outage in the past few months. The unit started the season with a 21.8% efficiency, tenth in the league. In the past 30 games, it has clicked at a 17.3% efficiency, which is 24th in the league. Though, if it makes Capitals fans any better, that’s .2% better than the Tampa Bay Lightning, the league’s highest-scoring team. The penalty kill has also dipped to a 79% efficiency, which is a bit below the league average, after sitting second in the NHL with an 85.7% killing rate, behind only the San Jose Sharks (88.1%). They have also allowed a lot of shorthanded goals as their nine shorthanded goals against are tied with the Calgary Flames for the fifth-most in the NHL overall this season.
While the success in the past 30 games has not been as good as their first 37, the Capitals’ average of 32.7 shots-per-game is tied with the Chicago Blackhawks for seventh in the NHL, up from their average of 31.4 shots-per-game through December 22 which was slightly below the league average, while their average of 29.9 shots-against per game is eighth, which is down from their average of 30.6 through the first 37 games.
Since December 23, the Blackhawks (.567), who’s 70 points are the eighth-fewest in the league; New Jersey Devils (.597), who are last in the Metropolitan Division with 64 points; and Minnesota Wild (.600), who were expected by many to be in contention for a lottery pick this summer, all have better points percentages than the Capitals.
In fact, the Capitals ‘.400 points percentage since February 1 is tied with the Vancouver Canucks for the third-worst in the NHL and they have only five wins in that stretch, which is tied for the second-fewest, only two ahead of the Red Wings.
The team has allowed at least three goals in 10 straight games, giving up 36 over that stretch and in 15 of their last 17, where they have allowed 64.
Something that has been trending much longer than three months has been the Capitals’ struggles within their own division. They are 9-13-1 against Metropolitan Division and have been outscored by a total of 71-65.
Another recurring problem is penalties. The Capitals’ 679 penalty minutes this season are the fourth-most in the NHL. Over the past three games, the team has taken 15 penalties — including seven against the Rangers — and have allowed five power-play goals. During their slump, they have taken the second-most penalties in the league, 19 behind the New York Rangers. Though, their 150 penalties drawn are the third-most (Boston Bruins: 168, Rangers: 151).
The Capitals have only nine wins after scoring first since December 9, which is tied for the third-fewest in the NHL, but they have only scored first 14 times and have gone 9-3-2 in those instances. Their .643 winning percentage when scoring first in that span is slightly below the league average. Only the Ottawa Senators (25) have given up the game’s first goal more than the Capitals, who have done so 22 times. At the same time, they are 11th in the NHL with a .409 points percentage in that span when doing so.
According to the team’s senior writer, Mike Vogel, over the Capitals‘ first 44 games of this, defense averaged 2.61 points per game, team’s highest rate since 1992-93 season (3.14). In 21 games since then, they’ve averaged 1.39 points per game, a huge dip and team’s lowest since 2003-04 (1.40).
While the Capitals certainly have the talent to turn it around and claim their fifth consecutive Metropolitan Division title, fans have been waiting for Washington to turn the corner for three months. On December 27, they had a 10-point lead for first place in the Metropolitan Division and now they share that spot with the Philadelphia Flyers with the Pittsburgh Penguins only three points behind. With only 15 games remaining in the regular season, the patience level has to be low. The good news is that the Capitals have flipped the switch before as they went 12-3-0 in their final 15 games of the 2017-18 season before going on to win their first Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history. They have the talent, but the players (and coaches) need to step up or it could be a very long summer in Washington.
By Harrison Brown