The Washington Capitals’ latest defeat came with an air of inevitability. Peter Laviolette’s team had plenty of opportunities to break Robin Lehner’s shutout, including almost two minutes at five-on-three. Still, they simply couldn’t find a way to light the lamp against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Washington, who lost 1-0 to Vegas on Monday, are now 3-5-2 to start 2022, with their season record dipping to 23-11-9. The Caps’ recent form has also seen them drop to fourth in the Metropolitan Division, just five points up the road from the second wildcard spot.
Bereft of ideas in the offensive zone, Washington will aim to end their January blues on Wednesday against the visiting San Jose Sharks. A period of soul searching will drag on in the meantime.
“We just got to get that confidence back, we’ve got to start scoring goals, getting secondary scoring, our power play has got to get going,” Conor Sheary said post-game. “When all those things click, we’re a dangerous team. It seems right now [that] it’s not going that way. I think we’ll find it; I think we all have confidence in that. Hopefully, next game is when it starts.”
Here are the three main takeaways from Washington’s 1-0 loss to the Golden Knights:
The Capitals’ Power Play Stinks
Washington’s misfiring power play was tolerable when the team was winning; it isn’t on their current skid. It’s with great regularity that the team’s predictability on the man-advantage is lamented – but, after five power plays passed them by on Monday, it’s a point worth repeating.
The Capitals have converted just 10.7% of their power plays in January, placing them ahead of only the Seattle Kraken, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Arizona Coyotes. They’re 30th in the NHL on the season, languishing at the base of the standings with a 14.2% clip.
Despite creating a couple of high-quality chances and landing eight shots on Lehner, Washington just couldn’t put the puck in the net (unlike Vegas).
“That seems like the theme a little bit, good looks and no goal,” Tom Wilson told reporters. “At the end of the day, one of us just has to put it in the net. That’s our job; that’s why we’re out there. We’ve been generating a lot of good looks on the power play, they’re just not going in, so we’ve got to find a way to bear down and put it in the back of the net.”
The Capitals’ ineffectiveness on the power play is now costing them points – making Laviolette’s reluctance to introduce wholesale changes to his units all the more perplexing. Blaine Forsythe, the assistant coach responsible for overseeing the team’s power-play setup, must also take a significant portion of the blame.
As it stands, there is no end in sight for the Caps’ power-play woes.
The Capitals’ Offense Has Dried Up
Per Natural Stat Trick, Washington’s underlying numbers aren’t that bad. They rank 11th in the NHL for shot attempt percentage (52.54%), 15th in expected goals percentage (52.27%), and 10th in shots for percentage (52.27%).
In other words, the Capitals are producing decent offense, but they’ve lost their scoring touch. The team has shot at 6.61% in January, placing them 25th in the NHL. Those numbers played out on the ice versus the Golden Knights, with Washington outshooting the visiting side 34-29 on route to defeat.
However, the Caps believe their fortunes will turn.
“We’re pretty confident with whatever group we’re going out on the ice with,” Wilson said, “we’ve just got to find a way to get back to generating a little more offensively.”
Laviolette agreed: “If we were getting outplayed, if we were playing poorly if we weren’t ready, those are things that you worry about maybe a lull or things that you’re concerned about. I think if the guys stay with it on the power play, I think if they stay with it 5-on-5, eventually goals will drop.”
Against Vegas, they came close to breaking the shutout a couple of times. In the second period, Nic Dowd almost gave Washington the lead in the opening frame, while Lars Eller struck the bar (via Lehner’s stick).
That said, general manager Brian MacLellan will be mulling over his options before the trade deadline. There are plenty of rental options on the block worth considering if he wants to add scoring depth, including Phil Kessel and Claude Giroux.
Vitek Vanecek Makes Statement Performance
Ilya Samsonov is on the verge of losing the battle for control of Washington’s crease to Vitek Vanecek, who appears to be in Laviolette’s good book at the moment. The Capitals’ goaltending controversy is well-known at this point, with MacLellan likely to deal one of his pending restricted free agents before the deadline.
As a result, Vanecek’s impressive performance against the Golden Knights is a big deal. He ended Monday night with a .966 save percentage (SV%), stopping 28 of the 29 shots he faced and playing a key role in keeping the game close in periods one and two.
Although the 26-year-old might’ve dealt with Vegas’ goal better on another night, his fluffed blocker save handed Michael Amadio a virtual tap-in, he certainly wasn’t to blame for Washington’s loss.
Is an end to the great Samsonov-Vanecek debate in sight? MacLellan and Laviolette will hope so.
Laviolette: ‘Everybody Hates Losing’
Washington hasn’t won back-to-back games since the turn of the year, increasing the pressure on Laviolette to put an end to his team’s slump. However, the 57-year-old’s disappointment is clear to see.
“We were trying to work out of this month; we’re still trying to work out of this month and get back to at least .500,” Laviolette said on Monday. “That’s kind of the plan that we have inside the room. So, tonight’s a little bit of a setback, but there’s still a chance to get out of it and not have it be a losing month.”
“We’ve got some work to do in a couple of games here, but I think we’re trying not to get frustrated. Everybody hates losing. Nobody likes the scoreboard and the way it looks right now, and that’s what’s lousy about it. But I think if the guys continue to work and to do the right things, eventually they’ll get rewarded.”
The Capitals return to the ice on Wednesday versus the Sharks, who will try to compound Washington’s downturn as they target a wild card spot in the Western Conference.
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Luke is an award-winning freelance sports journalist from London, England. In addition to his work on the Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators for THW, he covers the Elite Ice Hockey League for British Ice Hockey and world soccer for numerous publications, including on Substack. To stay up to date with his content, follow @LukeJames_32 on Twitter.