The Washington Capitals are now on a four-game losing streak on home ice following a herky-jerky affair with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The game appeared destined for overtime after Tom Wilson tied the game up at four goals apiece in the final minutes of the third period, but Ilya Samsonov gave up a juicy rebound in the slot resulting in a Boone Jenner goal with under a minute left in the third period.
The game can simply be defined as having aspects of the good, the bad, and the ugly. We’ll take a look at some stats for those three adjectives for the Capitals’ effort Tuesday night.
[If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our analytics glossary. Statistics used in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, NHL.com, and Hockey Reference.]
The Capitals really stepped on the gas in the third period, generating more high-danger chances and scoring chances during five-on-five play than the first two periods combined. Here’s a visualization of that:
The Capitals out-generated the Blue Jackets in scoring chances 14-5 in the third period, but were shockingly outscored during five-on-five play, 2-0. We’ll get into more of the details of that in the “ugly” section of this post, though.
Realistically, the Capitals just have to be better in the first two periods of the game. They are very successful when leading after the first period (14-4-1) and the second period (15-2-3). The issue is, with these types of performances, the Capitals are rarely leading after the first or second periods.
On the flip side, the Capitals are 3-3-5 when trailing after the first and 2-10-4 when trailing after the second. That last stat doesn’t necessarily count for Tuesday night’s tilt, since the Caps were leading after the first period and ended up tied after the second, but more often than not, these types of performances through the first two frames will result in losses.
The Capitals’ special teams units are struggling, and Tuesday night was no different. The Blue Jackets converted on two of their three power play opportunities. They entered tonight’s game with a power play effectiveness of 14.8%, which is 30th in the NHL.
Since January 1st, the Capitals’ penalty kill is operating at a 71.1% clip, which is 26th in the NHL during that timeframe. To add insult to injury, the Capitals’ power play in that same timeframe is 27th in the NHL at 15.8% effectiveness. For the season, the Capitals have a special teams index (STI), the combination of PK and PP percentages, of 94.3.
Special teams are of utmost importance for playoff success. Without an elite power play or penalty kill unit during the playoffs, teams rarely find success. Going back to the 2012-13 lockout, only one eventual Stanley Cup winning team did not have an STI greater than 100 going into the playoffs, and that was the 2013-14 Los Angeles Kings, who had an STI of 98.2. In the playoffs, their STI was boosted to 106.8. Here’s a look at all the Stanley Cup champions’ STI since the 2012 lockout:
Only two teams in these nine seasons had STIs lower than 100, the 2018-19 Blues and 2014-15 Blackhawks, but those two teams entered the playoffs with solid special teams units. They’re still an exception to the rule here, so we can really conclude that if the Capitals don’t figure it out on special teams, there’s not going to be much of a playoff run.
The Capitals can’t seem to get consistent output from their goaltending. Not only have four goaltenders seen the ice this season, but the starting goaltender has been removed from the game in the last three straight games.
Ilya Samsonov came in for relief and ended up giving up an extremely juicy rebound to Boone Jenner that ended up being a high-danger goal for. Samsonov saved five of six during five-on-five play in his short relief appearance.
Pheonix Copley got the start Tuesday night, and had an .867 save percentage during five-on-five play. He also gave up two medium-danger goals against during five-on-five play. Copley finished the night with a .789 save percentage for all game situations and gave up three medium-danger goals against and one low-danger goal against (which would be Trey Fix-Wolansky’s first career goal that trickled through Copley).
At this point, it’s Vitek Vanecek’s net to lose when he gets healthy. He’s sitting at 15th in the league in goals saved above average for goalies with greater than 1300 minutes in time on ice with 3.39.
The Capitals are sorely missing consistency in all aspects of their game. The goaltending is inconsistent, leaving many to ponder the trade possibilities that General Manager Brian MacLellan will likely consider as the trade deadline approaches. The power play and penalty kill have been brutal in the new year, with the power play seeing lows that haven’t been seen in the Ovechkin era.
Let’s hope we see more of the actual effort put on the ice in the third period tonight for each period the Capitals play in going forward. They ended up being outscored in the third period tonight, but the chances were being generated.
By Justin Trudel