As the New Year approaches, now is the perfect time for the Washington Capitals to finalize their resolutions for 2022. Although many may have trouble sticking to their goals, head coach Peter Laviolette’s Capitals will enter January with a bounce in their step. Washington leads the Metropolitan Division after 32 games and is on course to finish the season strongly.
However, there are areas of concern the Capitals must address if they are to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders in 2022. Principle among them is fixing the team’s flatlining power play, which fell to new depths in Wednesday night’s 5-3 win over the Nashville Predators. Resolving Washington’s long-standing goalie controversy should also be high on Laviolette’s hit list for the New Year, as well as being more effective in overtime.
Capitals Resolution #1: Fix the Power Play
The Capitals are the third least effective team on the power play in the NHL, worse than the Arizona Coyotes, New York Islanders, and Seattle Kraken. The only franchises with a worse record than Washington (14.6%) are the New Jersey Devils (13.8%) and Montreal Canadiens (12%).
After the Caps’ barn-burning 5-3 win over the Preds, Washington’s conversion rate hit a new low. Laviolette’s club has converted one one power play in their last 25 attempts, and that’s with one of the greatest goal-scorers of all time on the team.
In fact, the Capitals’ power play isn’t just defective. It’s boring. Although injuries have disrupted Laviolette’s plans, Wednesday’s win saw Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Alex Ovechkin, and John Carlson hit the ice together for the first time this season, but watching Washington fumble the bag time after time on the power play this season has been a chore.
It’s not a new problem. The Capitals’ power-play woes have rumbled on for several seasons now, with no signs of improving. At its core, the power play is too slow and too predictable. That’s partly because Ovechkin is so wedded to his office that penalty killers know what’s coming next, but it’s also due to Washington’s zone entry struggles. The Caps spend too much power-play time trying to get into the offensive zone – and not enough time trying to light the lamp.
Fixing his team’s power play should be top of Laviolette’s New Year’s resolutions for 2022.
Capitals Resolution #2: End the Goalie Controversy
Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov trade places on Washington’s goalie depth chart on a fortnightly basis, and it needs to stop. Both netminders are in their mid-20s, and it’s time for one of them to put together an extended run that ends the Capitals’ controversy between the pipes.
Let’s start with the 6-foot-3 Samsonov. The 24-year-old Russian has 12 wins in 17 appearances in 2021-22, with a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.66 and a .907 save percentage (SV%). Vanecek, who stands at 6-foot-2 and hails from Czechia, has won on just six of his 16 appearances but is outperforming Samsonov in GAA (2.51) and SV% (.910).
However, as THWs Carl Knauf noted earlier this month, Washington’s rotation system is working. The Caps win more games than they lose after switching netminders, and Samsonov bounces back strongly after a period on the bench. That said, there’s still a need for consistency, which Vanecek and Samsonov have yet to grasp. If one of Washington’s goalies takes a big step in their development in 2022, it’ll take a weight off Laviolette’s shoulders.
Capitals Resolution #3: Stop Losing in Overtime
The Capitals’ overtime record is bleak. They are still winless in the extra frame this season (but have won twice in the shootout), and they look uninspired at three-on-three. After the Caps’ collapse versus the Florida Panthers in November, Laviolette voiced his frustration at the team’s inability to control play in the tie-breaker.
“We got to overtime and never really got possession of the puck,” Laviolette said after the game. “It’s frustrating to not get the second point.”
On that occasion, Wilson was stuck on the ice for nearly two minutes and saw the game-winner deflect into the net off his stick. But it wasn’t an isolated incident; the Capitals are often snowed-in during overtime and rarely utilize their top-end talent effectively. However, their OT form could turn now that Backstrom is back. He is one of the NHL’s most consistent forwards and has the kind of veteran playmaking experience that could be the difference.
Either way, the Capitals should make fixing their three-on-three play a priority in the year ahead.
Capitals Resolution #4: Stay Healthy
Although there’s only so much Laviolette and his coaching staff can do to prevent the Caps from catching COVID-19 or getting injured, they should hope for a healthier year in 2022. Granted, their American Hockey League (AHL) call-ups have performed well this season, but that doesn’t negate the fact that the Capitals are stronger with Backstrom, Oshie, and Anthony Mantha in the lineup.
Only Ovechkin, John Carlson, Dimitri Orlov, and Carl Hagelin have played every game this season, and Laviolette has had to constantly shuffle his lines as players drift in and out of the roster. With the power of sports science behind them, the Caps should aim for fewer preventable injuries in the coming year.
Washington’s 2021 Wrapped
With one game left this year, now is the perfect time to reflect on the Capitals’ performance in 2021. They close out the calendar year with a 55-21-12 regular-season record, enough to finish with the sixth-best record in the NHL. If results go their way between now and New Year’s Day, they could vault the Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights to secure fourth.
All in all, it’s been a good year for the Capitals, and 2022 will be even better if Laviolette and co. stick to their New Year’s resolutions.
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.