Over the last few games, the saying for the Washington Capitals is “finding ways to win”. Tuesday’s 3-0 shutout against the Vegas Golden Knights was the epitome of that phrase. The defending Stanley Cup champions were the best team in the NHL coming into the matchup and the Caps were coming off two gutsy wins.
“To find ways to win, good teams do that. And that’s what we continue to do against a really good team that is arguably the most experienced at coming back, winning games, tight games, we find a way to win,” Capitals head coach Spencer Carbery said. “Who’s better than the Stanley Cup champions, right? That has just played two months of those types of games, so our guys deserve a lot of credit for finding a way to grind [it] out.”
Washington is now 7-1-1 in its last nine contests and has won three straight games. The Capitals also passed the Carolina Hurricanes for second place in the Metropolitan Division.
Here are four things that stood out.
Chucky’s Got That Dawg In Him
No player was more consistent for all 60 minutes than Charlie Lindgren. Lindgren was the sole reason the Caps came away with two points against the defending champs. He had 35 saves and earned his third shutout of his career and first as a Capital. Fans started cheering his name towards the end of the game when things were getting tight.
“Just fantastic all night,” Carbery said. “Go down the list of the breakaways, all the different saves in tight, some rebounds. He had it all. … All sorts of different stops, the difference in the game.”
“The more I play the better I feel,” Lindgren said. “It’s a testament, it’s a product of what I’ve been doing in practice. I think I’ve been working on details with [goaltending coach Scott Murray] and making sure I come to the rink every day with a purpose and with the mindset to try to get better. I think my practices really set me up for the games.”
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) November 15, 2023
Now begs the question as to whether Carbery will ride Lindgren for more games. He came up with more big saves than Darcy Kuemper has as of late.
“He’s earning the opportunity to get into the net and he’s playing at a real high level,” Carbery said. “This is an 82-game schedule and we’re going to need a bunch of different goaltenders, and so if that means Chucky goes a bunch in a row or however that shakes out. I don’t put too much stock in it. I do know [that] Chucky is earning opportunities with his play and he’s playing at an elite level right now.”
Too Many Odd-Man Rushes and High Danger Chances
While it was great to see Lindgren perform at an elite level, the Caps had a tough time defending the rush. The Golden Knights burned the Capitals numerous times in transition because of their speed, which made it easy for their forwards to sneak behind the Caps’ defense.
Washington gave up a total of six high-danger chances in the first period alone, two of those being breakaway chances. They already had a 1-0 lead, and it could have easily been erased had it not been for Lindgren’s acrobatics.
— Capitals Replays (@capsreplays) November 15, 2023
“We’re putting our goaltender in some really really difficult situations and difficult spots because of puck management because of our lack of ability to stay in the offensive zone, keep a puck alive,” Carbery said.
The Capitals had 14 giveaways in the game and gave up a total of 15 high danger scoring chances at even-strength. The last time the Caps gave up 15 high-danger opportunities was back on Oct. 21 against the Montreal Canadiens. Meanwhile, it is one chance short of their season high of 16 back on Oct. 25 against the New Jersey Devils.
On the positive side, there is no question that the Caps are playing much better defensively. They were very good with their sticks and did a decent job of keeping the Golden Knights to the perimeter.
“At the beginning of the year, a few of the games where we outplayed the teams and we just couldn’t score and we ended up finding a way to lose those games,” Strome said. “Now it’s kind of a little bit of the opposite where now we’re getting maybe out chanced or outshot a little bit, but I feel like our defensive structure is pretty good.”
Shot Blocking Machines
The Capitals once again put on a shot-blocking clinic. After recording a season-high 32 blocks against the New York Islanders, the Capitals blocked 18 shots. However, they were at critical junctures of the game.
No block was talked about more than Matthew Phillips’ block with 22 seconds left in the third period. He sold out his body to stop Ben Hutton’s slap shot from the point. The Capitals’ bench stood up and cheered for the 5-foot-8 forward.
“When I see my guys selling out, giving it their all, I better be doing the same because it’s motivating, it’s inspiring, it’s why team sports are so fun because you got guys to the left and right here that you know you’re going to battle with,” Lindgren said. “We were the better team tonight against Vegas coming on top against a really, really, really good hockey team.”
Rasmus Sandin led the team with three blocks.
Power Play Powerless
The Capitals officially have the NHL’s worst power play. After going 0-for-3 on the man-advantage against Vegas, Washington has failed to connect on 19 straight power play attempts over the last seven games.
Carbery and his staff decided to shake up the five-man units coming into Tuesday’s affair. Matthew Phillips replaced T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson replaced Strome on the first unit.
On the Caps first power play of the game, they only had two shots on goal. They had a very difficult time getting into the offensive zone and getting to the interior.
The home team had another chance at the end of the second period and only mustered one shot.
Washington had a golden opportunity to end the long drought when it was given a five-minute power play after Paul Cotter was ejected for a hit to the head on Evgeny Kuznetsov.
For the first three and a half minutes of that man-advantage, the Capitals struggled to get into the offensive zone and set up their formation. One of their best chances came from Connor McMichael showing off his stickhandling skills but couldn’t get the puck past Logan Thompson.
— Capitals Replays (@capsreplays) November 15, 2023
But overall, it was the same story. Not enough movement and too predictable.
The Capitals are now dead last in the league on the power play at 7.3%.
Notable Numbers and Observations
- Lucas Johansen was outstanding. Outside of stopping the three-on-one, there were other plays that he made that were excellent. Early in the game he forced Jack Eichel to the boards and came up with the puck. He had 17:51 of ice time.
- The penalty kill was once again perfect going 2-for-2.
- Connor McMichael continues to impress and is getting more and more confident with the plays he is making.
- Washington had 18 hits compared to Vegas’s 9
- The Caps struggled in the faceoff dot going 30.9% as a team. Vegas was 69.1%
- The Capitals scored the game’s first goal in five straight games.
The Capitals will continue their homestand on Saturday, Nov. 18 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
By Jacob Cheris