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.
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