This season for the Washington Capitals has been a weird one that’s also been frustrating at the same time. Currently 28-18-9 with 65 points and sitting in fourth in the Metropolitan Division and in the second Wild Card spot, the Capitals see themselves in a very vicarious position. But how did the get to where they are now?
In October the Caps would go 5-0-3 for 13 points to start the season, and then in November we would see the Caps go 9-4-2 for 20 points. From December through February the Caps would go 6-2-2 (14 points), 4-6-2 (10 points), and 4-6-0 (8 points) respectively. The Capitals have been on a downward slide for the past three months and we all want to know why. So let’s take a look at a few factors that could be the culprit(s).
Hopping into one glaring problem has been between the pipes. Since departing with Braden Holtby after the 2019-20 season the Caps made it known that Ilya Samsonov was going to be the guy. The Caps would sign New York Rangers legend Henrik Lundqvist for the 2020-21 season, but due to a heart condition that required surgery Lundqvist would never suit up for the Capitals thus thrusting Vitek Vanecek into the picture. Some poor decisions and two stints on the COVID-19 Protocols list would take Samsonov out of the picture for a good amount of the COVID shortened season, and Vanecek would carry the bulk of the load with veteran Craig Anderson backing him up. Vanecek proved himself as a capable NHL goaltender that season, but a fluke injury in the first game of the playoffs would take him out of action for the remainder of the 2021 playoffs.
Come the start of the 2021-22 season Vanecek was given the opportunity to pick back up where he left off, but at the same time Samsonov, now signed to a one year “prove it” contract, would also get some of the workload. This season so far the Capitals have used four goaltenders. Pheonix Copley (0-1-0, .878 SV%, 3.11 GAA), Zach Fucale (1-1-1, .925 SV%, 1.75 GAA, 1 SO), Vanecek (10-7-5, .915 SV%, 2.36 GAA, 2 SO), and Samsonov (17-9-3, .901 SV%, 2.93 GAA, 3 SO).
Looking at Samsonov and Vanecek specifically, Samsonov has gotten more games (32 played-28 starts), partially because Vanecek missed all of February due to an injury suffered against Pittsburgh on Feb. 1st, but also because the Capitals really want him to be a number one goaltender and are paying him such with his “prove it” one year deal. It’s not panning out that way. Samsonov has been very all over the place with his play, and more recently, has been looking very lackluster and listless. Samsonov’s .901 save percentage with a 2.93 goals against average is also not very appealing either.
For Vanecek he has been more consistent with his play in my opinion, and has had better rebound control and seems to have more control over his game. His .915 save percentage and 2.36 goals against average is more respectable, and should be the Capitals number one netminder moving forward. However, with that said, the Caps do need to get a veteran goaltender that can share some of the load. Goalies like Martin Jones (PHI), Marc-Andre Fleury (CHI), Joonas Korpisalo (CLB), and Jonathan Quick (LA) have been floated around, and maybe with the exception of Quick, are solid options for the Caps to go pick up.
Let’s get this out of the way because I’ve already talked enough about this in the Caps Weeklys every Sunday, but the powerplay sucks, and it sucks bad. Currently sitting tied for 27th (with LA) with a paltry 16.4% success rate, the Caps have shown some improvement the last few games, which is good on paper, but what we’re seeing is really bad. The powerplay has been very stoic and static with their movements. Teams are able to defend against the Caps powerplay with no resistance from the Caps, and that all needs to change. The Caps needs to mix up their setup and get the opposing teams penalty killers scrambling. The more movement happening, the more chaos that will be created. The more chaos that is created the better the opportunities there will be get get quality scoring chances. At the end of the day though, it all falls on Blaine Forsythe. If he doesn’t want to change things up, then that’s on him and the failure of the powerplay is solely on him. The players are executing his system, and it’s not working anymore.
Now this is an interesting one here for me, and something I’ve been pondering over the weekend, but I needed the Caps to finish the month of February to take a look at the team for the last few months, and honestly I’m disappointed. Going from 20 standing points in November to 14 in December, followed by 10 in January and 8 in February tells me something is wrong. But what is wrong and how do we fix it? And what does Laviolette have to do with this? That’s the question I’m asking myself and everything to me honestly leads to the idea that maybe the team has tuned him out already. Which in all honesty would be rather surprising given how Laviolette is in the second year of his three year contract. On most teams he’s coached it’s usually after year three with the club where these sort of issues begin to arise for him. So it’s especially particular that this is happening now, that is of course if the team is tuning him out.
I know there is fan frustrations with Laviolette with decisions regarding Connor McMichael’s playing time, the powerplay (I mean, he is Forsythe’s boss so he has to take some blame for it), and the lackluster overall play by the team. Some of this frustration is warranted. Other frustration, not so much. Being at more games this season than I have in the past few seasons, I’ve been able to really see the team play and what I saw at the beginning of the season from October through December was great to decent hockey, but since then it’s been rough to watch. I’ll be at the games against Seattle (3/5) and St. Louis (3/22) with the hopes that the Caps are getting themselves back in gear as we are now two months away from the playoffs, and 20 days away from the trade deadline.
In the mean time, Laviolette and his staff need to do something to get the Caps to buy back into the system because if they don’t it’s a first round bouncing from the playoffs or worse, not making the playoffs at all.
*Feature Photo courtesy of USA Today.
TXHT may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through Cool Hockey ads/links in this article.