The start of 2022 hasn’t been an ideal — let alone expected — road for the Washington Capitals. They have lost seven of their last 10 games and dropped down to a Wild Card spot as the race in the East gets tighter. Those losses don’t exactly have a “common thread,” as Peter Laviolette pointed out last week, but they do link back to inconsistency.
Washington has seen injuries and COVID lead to a number of players drawing in and out of the lineup over the course of the season, and seeing key players like T.J. Oshie and Nick Jensen sidelined again isn’t helping the situation.
Despite the struggles, the Capitals aren’t ready to throw in the towel. However, they know they have to figure things out as the playoff push begins.
“We’re not hitting the panic button,” Tom Wilson said on Monday. “We’re not like, ‘Oh, this is the end.’ We’re still a good hockey team. We still got a lot of good pieces. We’re still in a really good spot in the standings. That being said, we’ve got to turn it around, we’ve got to find our consistency. If you don’t find your consistency in that league, that’s when it becomes a problem.”
READ MORE ON WHN: Capitals Come Up Short In Shutout Loss To Vegas
Of late, Washington has struggled in several different aspects of their game. To open January, there were issues with neutral zone play, whether it be a lack of speed or being too loose or spread out across the ice.
“You have to play quicker, you know? You always, all five guys should be work together in the game and good communication,” Dmitry Orlov explained. “It’s going to help if some breaks happen. Play faster, especially when you play against young or fast team, you know? You cannot just wait and look what they gonna do because game is quick. Game is fast, and it can be unfortunate break happens. So you have to figure out.”
The power play has been an ongoing issue over the course of the season, as it continues to generate chances here and there but cannot execute. Washington’s man advantage went 0-for-5 in the 1-0 shutout loss on Monday and has failed to convert in its last 13 attempts over the last four games.
“We are getting some good looks, just not capitalizing. I think we might get a little frustrated from not scoring,” Justin Schultz noted. “We have the players to do it. We just have to stay with it and it will come.
“I think we are just getting a little frustrated when it is not going in for us. We are having some good looks. In this game, last game, I thought we were moving it well and just not going in. I think once we get a couple and get our confidence back, we will be fine. I’m not worried about the power play.”
And then, when it appeared that the power play was starting to break through, the penalty kill, which has been among the best in the league over the last few seasons, took a step back. After going six straight games with a perfect PK record, Washington has surrendered seven PPGs over the last seven games, though the last two games have been better.
“I feel like a lot of the goals that have gone in are highly preventable. Like we’re just doing things that are unnecessary and it ends up in the back of your net,” Wilson explained. “You know in a big game, last minute of the game, we need a little more desperation, we need to get that kill… I feel like when we’re in zone, our structure’s pretty good. We’re confident in our system, we’re confident in our group and guys being able to get it done. I just think those moments that we talked about on the other side of it, you need them on the kill as well, you need to be focused, you need to be dialed in. Can’t give those other really good players space or they’ll make you pay.”
NAHHH, NOT ON MCAVOY'S WATCH. 🎯 pic.twitter.com/CsB4vPQHWU
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 21, 2022
And most recently, one of the most prominent issues ahs been a lack of production at 5-on-5. The last few games have seen Washington fail to generate too much on net or open a lot of time and space to get those even-strength chances. Not only that, they need secondary scoring beyond the top-6. Over the last six games, the only players who are not top-6 forwards who have found twine are Orlov and Lars Eller. Besides them, it has been Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Aliaksei Protas.
“I don’t think we’re concerned at all. We obviously have to figure that out, we have to start stringing some wins together,” Conor Sheary said. “It’s a long season, it’s 80 games. You’re going to have lulls in your play and wins and losses. I think we’re a team that can get hot, we’re a team that can win seven, eight straight… We just got to get that confidence back, we’ve got to start scoring goals, getting secondary scoring, our power play has got to get going. When all those things click, we’re a dangerous team. It seems right now, it’s not going that way. I think we’ll find it, I think we all have confidence in that.”
On the brighter side, it appears that Vitek Vanecek is starting to get in a rhythm. Over his last five games, he has stopped 130 of 140 shots (.929 save percentage) and has a GAA of 2.00 and one shutout. He was outstanding against Vegas and said that he is feeling himself starting to get into a rhythm as he makes more consecutive starts. If he can keep that up, it’ll be a major solution, though the Capitals still need to evaluate their situation with both young goalies.
— NHL Česko (@NHLcz) January 16, 2022
Ultimately, for the Capitals to break out, there needs to be an upgrade in play, but they also can’t allow themselves to fall into negative thinking. Instead, there needs to be a focus on the game plan and continuing to do the little things correctly.
“I think you get frustrated when you’re not doing the right things, and defensively, you’re letting up 25 chances and only creating 10 chances. That’s when you get frustrated and angry, and I think it’s important to stay positive,” head coach Peter Laviolette explained. “We were trying to work out of this month. We’re still trying to work out of this month and get back to at least .500. That’s kind of the plan that we have inside of the room… there’s still a chance to get out of it and not have it be a losing month. So we’ve got some work to do in a couple games here.”
“Everybody hates losing. Nobody likes the scoreboard and the way it looks right now, so that’s what’s lousy about it. But I think if the guys continue to work and do the right things, eventually they’ll get rewarded.”
Wilson agreed, and said that for Washington, the best way out of the slump is through.
“We feel like we’ve been win, loss, win, loss, win, loss type thing, and that’s just not good enough for where we want to be,” Wilson explained. “Our expectation doesn’t change. We want to be at the top of our division, top of the league. I’m not going to say everyone in there is like concerned and panicking and all that. We’re going to address it. We’ve got to look at it in the face. It’s a reality, and we’ve got to band together and turn it around.”
The Capitals will get a chance to rebound on Wednesday when they play host to the San Jose Sharks.