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How Capitals Got Back To ‘Playing Our Style Of Hockey Again’ In Dallas



Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom

The Washington Capitals faced one of their most difficult tests over the month of January, which was anything but smooth sailing. But, heading into January, the team is feeling confident that they are ready to get back on the right track after a strong night in Dallas.

Over the course of the month, Washington saw inconsistencies at both ends of the ice. The Capitals struggled in the neutral zone, the defense played loose at times, and the offense also saw a decline in scoring at 5-on-5, while special teams continued to struggle. However, a 5-0 win on Friday could prove to be a pivotal turning point as they seek a fresh start in February.

“It felt good to be playing our style of hockey again and create that many chances and capitalize on them,” Connor McMichael said after the victory.

Nicklas Backstrom, who has been vital since making his full-time return to the lineup, added that a big part of returning to form was playing a team game and putting up a collective effort.

“I feel like the last couple of games hasn’t been ourself… all four lines were hungry out there,” Backstrom said. “We wanted the puck, we wanted to create.”

READ MORE ON WHN: Takeaways As Rejuvenated Capitals Dominate Stars

Over the month of January, the Capitals had the fourth-lowest goals-for per 60 minutes (2.38) in the league, despite averaging 30.43 scoring chances per 60 minutes (14th). The man advantage was operating at just 15.2 percent, and the team earned just 10 of 24 possible points (.417). It also hasn’t helped to see players like T.J. Oshie and Nick Jensen go on the IR, while also losing Dmitry Orlov (suspension), John Carlson and Conor Sheary (COVID-19) over the course of the month.

Washington saw not only a lack of secondary scoring for the most part but also couldn’t get many second chances or generate a lot of high-danger chances. While the team didn’t give up too much, they also didn’t have a lot go their way, and witnessed a lot of tough “puck luck.”

“It started to go our way [against Dallas],” McMichael pointed out.

The Capitals were 2-for-2 on the power play against Braden Holtby and the Stars, and the team piled on the pressure in the offensive zone and controlled the tempo on the forecheck. And, thanks to speed, patience and smart passing and plays, Washington was able to score five goals for the first time since Dec. 29, 2021.

“We talked about moving the puck quick that’s something we’ve been struggling with lately,” Backstrom noted.

“I thought we were a little bit better at managing the puck through the neutral zone,” head coach Peter Laviolette added. “Once we got possession, I thought we were able to establish a little bit of an identity in there. It’s tough when you’re in your zone playing defense and just kind of get ground down a little bit. It was good to make the right decisions to get it there and then to keep it there.”

WHN FEATURES: Holtby, Capitals Make Most Out Of Reunion In Dallas

And perhaps most importantly, the Capitals got a much stronger performance at the backcheck and saw players step up big time in their own end. Washington’s penalty kill started to get back on track with key blocks and good reads, while the play has also gotten tighter and more aggressive. Getting the first goal has also proven to be a difference-maker, as the Capitals didn’t fall into a habit of chasing the game.

The team has also seen Vitek Vanecek elevate his game. Over his last six starts, Vanecek has posted a .941 save percentage and a 1.67 GAA, as well as two shutouts.

“What we [needed] to control is the defense part of it. Vitek made big saves when we needed him to make big saves. Offensively we were able to capitalize,” Laviolette said of the Stars game.

“We haven’t had the lead [in January], just playing catch up and playing from behind and we haven’t been able to get out and get the first goal or build on the first called. It’s nice to just roll the lines over.”

Washington will enter the month of February with 10 games now on the slate with players no longer heading to the Olympics. In that span, the Capitals will hope to turn the tide, while also getting out of Wild Card territory and back to the top of the standings. They are currently four points out of the top spot in the Metro.

“Everyone was part of this win,” he added later on. “I mean, to start off with two power-play goals was also big. I mean, it was great for us. Hopefully, we can build off this.”

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