Three Areas Of Improvement Necessary For The Washington Capitals In The 2023-24 Season

The Washington Capitals missed the playoffs for the first time since 2014. Despite lots of speculation about major changes and getting fresh young legs, the core has remained very much intact to this point. There are lots of things that this team needs to clean up in order to get back in the postseason, but here are three key points. 

Stay Healthy

The Capitals were one of the most banged-up teams in the NHL this past season. It was not just about the kind of injury, but who was getting injured. Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson did not start the season due to hip resurfacing surgery and ACL surgery respectively. They did not rejoin the team until January.

John Carlson missed pretty much the entire second half of the season after taking a puck to the face against the Winnipeg Jets in December. His injury was when things started to go downhill. The offense was not clicking and the power play struggled.


Offense without Carlson:

T.J. Oshie was someone who could not stay healthy for prolonged periods. These are all very important players from a team standpoint and an organizational standpoint. Even Alex Ovechkin missed time.


Offense without Oshie:

Expecting everyone to remain healthy for the majority of the season is a big ask. However, the Capitals can certainly improve significantly in man-games lost by reducing the injuries sustained to more of an average level.

Improve Pace Of Play

The successful teams in the NHL have systems that target fast players. The Capitals were bullied by young teams like the New Jersey Devils because of how quickly they move the puck in all three zones. 

Head coach Spencer Carbery emphasized two key points in his introductory press conference: pace and connectedness. Pace does not necessarily mean speed according to Carbery. He means the pace at which everyone is moving up and down the ice with the puck and without the puck. 

“A lot of people equate pace with speed and, for me, pace is a little bit different than just straight players that can skate fast and play quick. Pace, for me, is you can show that with the puck and without: Our puck pressure, our neutral zone, our D-zone puck pressure, our forecheck,” Carbery said. “Then with the puck, we will talk constantly about our pace and playing at a higher pace and getting up the ice with and without the puck and putting pressure where we don’t have it, let’s get back with it, getting on the attack, pace-wise.”

Washington has to do a better job of moving the puck quickly in the offensive zone and there needs to be more overall movement. That is what makes teams like New Jersey and the Edmonton Oilers successful. There was not enough north-south hockey under Peter Laviolette.

Getting young blood into the lineup will also help.

Reduce High-Quality Chances Against

Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren had to bail out the Caps’ defense numerous times down the stretch. The Capitals gave up a total of 596 high-danger chances, which was 23 chances below the league average of 619. 

Washington gave up a total of 261 goals and 65 of those were in the high-quality area, which was four below the league average of 69.

If you watched any games down the stretch, you don’t need a chart to tell you how many times the goalies were left out to dry. There was too much traffic in front of the net and not a lot of defensive zone structure. The Capitals added veteran defenseman Joel Edmundson to try and help with that structure, while also bringing experience to a younger d-core.

It might be tough for the Capitals to get back into the playoffs with how good the Metropolitan Division is. The Devils are going to be back, and the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes are dangerous as well. Washington is going to have to get out to a better start if it wants a chance to even be on the bubble. 

By Jacob Cheris

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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6 Responses to Three Areas Of Improvement Necessary For The Washington Capitals In The 2023-24 Season

  1. Stephen says:

    I agree with Jon. It wasn’t either of the Caps goalies that should bear the brunt of their bad record last year. Losing Carlson hurt their chances big time, but his injury was a fluke–he’s usually more durable. Fans really want to see Oshie, Wilson, and Backstrom in the lineup, but in the back of all our minds is can they stay healthy. It was hard last year when few of the young players stepped up. Maybe some of the Hershey Bears will step in and step up this season.

    • hockeydruid says:

      Not all fans want Backy back. His speed last season especially at the end of the season was not anywhere near what it was. A younger player would be just as good and the sooner he gets in there the better. Wilson hopefully will be taking names and kicking arse and scoring goals this season especially since he will be a UFA after the season and looking for tha, probably, last big contract. I think he could get a big contract here but on the market after seeing what players signed for Wilson may be disappointed. As for Oshie, I fear that as his age and injury history opponents will pound him until he breaks again. So it goes in the world of pucks and sticks!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hopefully new coaches will implement a D system that works for an old team with a lot of inexperience on the blue line. Last coach tried square peg in a round hole.

  3. Prevent Defense says:

    Concur with Stephen – Combination of healthy core players plus Hershey-ites “stepping up.” There’s more: Head Coach non-leadership was a MASSIVE factor in the Caps’ ugly slide downward

    YES: The Caps total team output plummeted with the injury to John Carlson
    HOWEVER: The Caps’ decline started earlier, IMMEDIATELY after Wilson and Backstrom were simultaneously thrust back into the lineup on their VERY first healthy day. The Caps were really humming in late November and December. “Things” were working. Then “Things” were not.

    I accuse Pete Lavi of having insufficient intestine to hold Backstrom out for at least another month, “healthy” or not. He could have “eased” Wilson back into the lineup as well. But Pete mumbled something about Backstrom being ” …. a core player and soul of the team.” Plenty of commenters here evaluated Backstrom’s 2023 performance as insufficient.

    Lavi was irresolute – He refused to LEAD and make a REALLY HARD decision. The team responded appropriately. Improved Coaching Guts and Intelligence will help this season.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I think Caps needed to address D and not F. Just like last year, and they still didn’t do it. Even if they needed to trade Orlov, they should have given him the same contract as Cames amd cleared cap. Last year Carolina scored 266 and gave up 213 goals. Caps scored 255 and gave up 265. The difference is much bigger on D, evem though most injures were at F.

  5. dwgie26 says:

    These are all great points in the article.

    Health first and foremost. If Backstrom, Wilson, Oshie, and JC74 are healthy for majority (if not all) of season, we are a different team. As Stephen said, its just hard to see a healthy roster after the last three season.

    I would state the second key more broadly in that our systems must be more effective. Power Play was terrible. Defense was bad (which made goaltending look bad). Our transitions and puck possession were bad. All of these things are products of the system. Love the coaching staff on paper, and all of the systems will be revamped. Can the players digest and execute them.

    Third, we need scoring from all 4 lines. It doesn’t need to be even of course, but if our second and third lines can create chances and score it frees up the first line.

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