“I don’t like to read about hot goaltenders being the reason for our loss. Never have. If you are a good team, it is more about you than them. Our best players didn’t play as well as their best players. Period. Our best players are not in form right now. It shows on our power play. It shows 5 on 5.”
“Our team is getting opportunities to score and we aren’t finishing. We had many good chances last night. We didn’t finish. And we can’t expect our penalty kill to be perfect every night. We had a bad night on special teams last night and the results show it. The best way to have a great penalty kill? Don’t get penalized. Don’t be in the box at the end of a very good first period. That hurt.”
“We aren’t a very good team right now. We have a lot of work to do in practice. We have to heal up as we seem to lose a player in every game to injury that jumbles up the lines.”
“We are what our record says we are and right now, we are just an average NHL team.”
Those were the words of Capitals majority Ted Leonsis on his personal blog earlier today. After a home-and-home sweep at the hands of a rejuvenated Boston Bruins team, searching for the right words to describe the Caps’ effort through seven games was proving hard to come by. But Leonsis said it better than I or anyone else could have. So far this season, the Washington Capitals are average.
Washington was average once (even worse actually), but through a timely fire sale, careful drafting and prospect development, the cellar-dwelling Capitals became one of the two winningest teams in the NHL since 2008-09 (San Jose). Days of mediocrity are long gone. That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been areas that still need vast improvement, especially goaltending and defense. But surprisingly enough, said areas have been very strong so far this season. The Capitals are giving up 2.57 GA/G, 14th in the league, while Michal Neuvirth boasts a 2.45 GAA (18th in the NHL) and .921 SV% (17th). The defense’s statistics are a bit deceiving; while only three of the eight defensemen who’ve suited up this season have a positive +/-, the effort is clearly being seen and it is evident that improvement is inevitable. And of course, the penalty kill, despite giving up three power play goals last night, has already set franchise records and sits at 8th with an 89.7% success rate.
As Leonsis mentioned, the problem is not taking advantage of scoring chances. The Capitals’ shooting percentage through seven games is a lowly 8.5% (to put it into perspective, last year’s highest-scoring team had a shooting percentage of about 12%). Washington fired 75 shots on Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas in two games and scored twice. Albeit, Thomas played extremely well, but to paraphrase Leonsis, “hot goaltenders are not an excuse.” The Caps had Thomas scrambling all week long, but either shot wide or right where Thomas could reach out and make a play. Marcus Johansson found a way to solve Thomas en route to scoring his first career NHL goal, but Thomas made one mistake in his errant clearing attempt that Jason Chimera picked off and scored on. Those mistakes only manifest themselves every so often and the Capitals cannot afford to hope that more bad passes will come their way.
A team as offensively dangerous as the Capitals should have no problem scoring. This team is no different than the one that scored 313 goals last season, had 10 double-digit goal scorers and a league-best 25.1% power play. At the current rate, this year’s team is on pace to score only 222 goals this season. Much is made about how the Capitals’ scoring finesse is what makes them and ultimately keeps them successful, but if they can’t score, what is there to fall back on?
The Capitals are currently 4-3-0. That record could easily be 1-5-1. Washington has yet to put on a complete 60-minute performance, not even in the New Jersey game where they scored seven goals and chased Martin Brodeur in the third period. Overtime squeakers and two-goal comebacks are exciting, but they don’t win Stanley Cups. The Capitals should consider themselves lucky that they are not worse off in the standings because they are certainly playing like they should be,
“I hope it serves as a wake up call…Effort really matters in professional sports. Focus really matters. The goals will come.”
Leonsis knows his team can and will rally. The effort hasn’t been there yet, but there is still several months left in the season to turn things around. Like Leonsis, those watching this team hope the season thus far (and last season’s playoff collapse) serves as a wake up call. Otherwise, this season could be the biggest disappointment in team history.