There have been many constants for the Washington Capitals this season, but perhaps no issue comes up more often than being outshot by the opponent. Being sloppy in the neutral zone is another issue, but that’s another post for another day (see Adam’s piece tomorrow about the team’s greatest offender).
On Wednesday night against the Florida Panthers, that unhealthy trait reared its ugly head in a 4-2 loss that dropped the Caps out of playoff positioning and the Southeast Division lead — at least for a few days.
Shot-wise, the Capitals started with one of better periods of the season. Washington racked up 11 shots in the first period and after the first period flurry the Caps fell behind in shots on goal 23 to 17 in the second and third. It might not seem like a big deal that the Caps fell behind in shots, but when you look at where the shots came from the issue comes into focus.
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Washington isn’t just being outshot, they’re not shooting from the best possible angles. They’re also letting teams walk all over them in the defensive zone. The Caps let the Panthers have their way in the low slot, while they only ventured there themselves occasionally.
The Panthers took nearly half their shots from below the face-off circles. Two of Florida’s goals come from below the face-off dots and another is dead-center below the blue line where a deflection or screen would be at its maximum effectiveness. Only when the game turned into a scramble to comeback from 2-1, the Caps began to create shots from below the circles on a consistent basis.
There is a school of thought that throwing a puck on net is better than not shooting at all, but a team can’t be given the leisure of not defending their upper and lower slot. Being outshot has been devastating to the Capitals this season, but going along with it is poor shot selection.
It’s an issue that might be fixed by Alex Ovechkin, who returns from his three-game suspension on Saturday, and a healthy Nicklas Backstrom – whenever that happens. But with the standings so tight and each game meaning a jump to third place or ninth place, losses due to the lack of shots and poor shot choice can’t continue if the Caps hope to make the playoffs.