Early Issues Plaguing Washington Capitals and How They Can Fix Them

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Early Issues Plaguing Washington Capitals and How They Can Fix Them
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The Washington Capitals have gotten off to a very slow start this season, dropping their first two games to the Tamp Bay Lightning and the Winnipeg Jets.

Tuesday night’s home opener was the first home opener the Caps have lost in 10 years, but there were obvious reasons why the game resulted in a loss.

In both games, the team seemed flat and was out-played by the opposition, most notably the Jets, who were playing their third game in four days Tuesday night.

Many fans will look directly at new head coach Adam Oates, although the new coaching style is one of the many reasons why the Caps have gotten off to such a slow start.

For starters, it seems as if after scoring a goal, Washington becomes complacent and slacks off after getting on the board. For example, in the first period against the Lightning on Saturday night, Joel Ward scored a tying goal halfway through the period. After that, the Caps gave up four unanswered goals to the Lightning, most notably a goal 44 seconds after Ward’s goal.

The story was the same against the Jets. Matt Hendricks opened up the scoring in the first period, and the Caps were going hard to the net and were getting quality scoring opportunities. A few minutes after Hendricks’ goal, the Caps weren’t attacking the net like they were before, and they seemed complacent with the one-goal lead. They would go on to give up four unanswered goals, not scoring again until Troy Brouwer scored on a power play with a minute-and-a-half left in the third period.

If the Caps want to improve their record, they’re going to need to not be OK with a one-goal lead and start thinking about another goal immediately after they score the first one.

Greg Fiume/Getty Images
Washington captain Alex Ovechkin has to make his presence felt on the ice more than he has thus far this season if the Caps want to get their first win of the season.

It seems as if the lack of scoring thus far has had to do with the lack of scoring from Washington’s biggest stars, namely Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom.

Through two games, Green doesn’t have a single point, Ovechkin has one (assisting Hendricks’ goal Tuesday night) and Backstrom has two after assisting on both goals against the Jets.

All three players, whether it be during full strength or the power play, need to step up their play and be more of a presence on the ice if they don’t want to extend this losing streak anymore.

This might be a symptom of missing practice time due to the lockout and the players still getting adjusted to Oates’ new system and playing style, but the Caps’ big names need to show up either way and work to create scoring chances in any way they can.

The lack of scoring opportunities has really shown up on the power play, and while the Caps can’t stop teams on the power play, they can’t score on it, either.

Washington’s power-play lines are 2-for-8 so far on power-play chances. When Washington is in control of the power play in the opponent’s zone, it seems as if they want to be patient, but they are almost too patient. They do a good job of cycling the puck, but when it comes to shots, they generally aren't quality shots, often hitting off of opposing defensemen, allowing for an easy clear for the other team.

The Caps can’t sit back during the power play, and although it is important to be patient with the extra man, they shouldn’t hesitate to collapse the net and wait for a puck to squirt through the goaltender and into the net.

Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
John Carlson and the rest of the Caps penalty-killing unit will have to improve if the team is going to win more games.

Again, this might improve over time as the team gets a better idea of Oates’ playing style, but for now, they need to generate more energy, especially on the power play.

The penalty kill isn’t holding up its end of the bargain, either. Washington is only stopping opponents on the power play 50 percent of the time, giving up two against the Jets and three against the Lightning.

During penalty killing, it looks as if the skaters are looking to block pucks with their skates and are hesitant to get their sticks in the way, highlighted Tuesday night when a puck deflected off of John Carlson’s skate into the net. The penalty killers are able to get into position, but it doesn’t seem like they move much after that. They have to be willing to get in the way of pucks.

Defensemen also seem to have a tendency to stand sideways while defending during the penalty kill. Instead, they should be facing the shooter head-on, ready to block the puck.

On Andrew Ladd’s goal Tuesday during the first period, he was left wide open in front of the net, leaving goalie Braden Holtby defenseless and giving Ladd a prime scoring opportunity. The Caps need to move around more during their penalty kill and be in better positions when they’re a man down.

These things may get solved as the team gets more practice time together with the new coach and more games under their belt, but that’s not a guarantee. Washington needs to find a way to capitalize on scoring chances when they have them and follow in Hendricks’ footsteps and show some energy and fire when they are on the ice.

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