Due to the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Canadian-United States border being closed until further notice, the NHL has proposed new, temporary divisions for the 2020-21 season based on the regional locations of teams.
With those new divisions, the Capitals find themselves in the most difficult division in hockey. The proposed divisional realignment adds familiar Metropolitan Division foes in the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, and Pittsburgh Penguins, along with new divisional foes in the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres.
In this post, we’ll take a look at the new proposed divisional opponents, and their results against the Capitals in the 2019-20 regular season.
Here’s an overall look at how the new divisional opponents fared against the Capitals this past season (statistics courtesy of Natural Stat Trick):
Overall, in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 regular season, the Capitals had a paltry 11-10-2 record against proposed divisional foes for the 2020-21 regular season.
There’s a common thread between the teams that had more success against the Capitals, which was converting on high danger chances during 5-on-5 play. This is something the Capitals have historically struggled with over the past few seasons, and is something that surely will need to be shored up this season.
The shortened season may put the Capitals at a disadvantage with adjustments to newly hired head coach Peter Laviolette’s system. Since Laviolette retained assistant coaches Blaine Forsythe and Scott Arniel, there will be some continuity, but expectations are that there will be departures from Todd Reirden’s system that didn’t perform at an elite level, consistently.
There are a few key performance areas that the Capitals need to improve on in the 2021 NHL season. These include:
- scoring chances against save percentage (25th in the NHL)
- high danger chances for (15th in the NHL)
- high danger goals against (8th worst in the NHL), and
- overall save percentage at 5-on-5 play (24th in the NHL)
Clearly, the acquisition of more NHL quality defensemen in Justin Schultz, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Brenden Dillon, and Paul LaDue will help shore-up the depth needed down the stretch on the blue line.
Also, bringing in veteran goaltender Henrik Lundqvist certainly helps push Ilya Samsonov’s growth. The strategy from Brian MacLellan this off-season seemed to be retooling the team from the net out, and with the glaring deficiencies in more defensive centric metrics, those moves make sense. With some cap uncertainty, even with Michal Kempny likely heading to long term injury reserve, MacLellan may not be done making trades.
Overall, the Capitals need to look for strong goaltending performances from Henrik Lundqvist and Ilya Samsonov in an offense-heavy division. Depending on how the playoffs are structured this season, there will likely be a bloodbath for playoff spots in this division.
One potential format is the top four teams from each division making the playoffs, and having a division-only playoff for the first two rounds, with each division’s winner moving on to play in the “conference finals”.
The Capitals will need to be much improved from the team that showed up in the “bubble” in the post-season and after the first week of December 2019 in order to make it to the playoffs with tough division matchups in front of them.
By Justin Trudel