Capitals Didn’t Lose All Momentum During Pause

Well, the pause wasn’t as detrimental for some teams as it was dramatically assumed to be. The NHL returned to action after an extended break and the Washington Capitals picked up where they left off, earning points in their last three contests. The team defeated the Nashville Predators 5-3 on Dec. 29, then took care of the Detroit Red Wings 3-1 on Dec. 31, but dropped their first game of 2022 to New Jersey on Sunday, 4-3 in overtime.

Related: 3 Takeaways From Capitals’ 4-3 Overtime Loss to Devils – 1/2/22

The pause was for safety, which is ultimately what is important. The question upon return was whether the time off would have hindered their momentum or given their aging stars a little extra rest. The answer leaned toward the latter.

Capitals Return From Pause With 3-Game Point Streak

Before the Nashville game, it wasn’t looking good for Washington. Six players were added to COIVD protocols, leaving the defense depleted. They did, however, get back Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and T.J. Oshie, and the fanbase graciously accepted the return.

Offense Stays the Course

All the aforementioned three registered a point against the Predators, and Kuznetsov added two and Backstrom one against the Red Wings. Unfortunately, both Backstrom and Oshie had to sit out Sunday’s matchup with New Jersey, and Kuznetsov posted a minus-3 rating in what was a flawed team performance veiled by a rally to save a point.

Alex Ovechkin continued his stellar play, recording three more points (2 goals, 1 assist) during the stretch which raised his season total to 50. Against Detroit, he set the record for the most power-play goals in history with his 275th.

This level of production from the top-six talent wasn’t surprising but was still reassuring. On the other hand, it was the play of John Carlson that really propelled the Capitals during the team’s return because, well, he had to step up.

Defense Finds Ways to Remain Solid

Carlson recorded four points (1 goal, 3 assists) against Nashville, one assist against Detroit, and added another goal against the Devils. He had a plus-5 rating and averaged 24:35 of ice time during the three-game stretch, which was the most on the team.

John Carlson Washington Capitals
John Carlson, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The big return was that of Michal Kempny. The veteran defenseman struggled during the preseason after coming off years of injuries but was recalled from the Hershey Bears, Washington’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, out of urgency. Dennis Cholowski, Martin Fehervary, Nick Jensen, and Justin Schultz were all in protocols.

Kempny responded well. He was asked to take on a lot of ice time right from the start, averaging 19:44 for the three games. He registered an assist against Nashville, but his performance regressed a tad during both the Detroit and New Jersey games, posting a combined minus-2 rating. That can be somewhat excusable considering his journey back to NHL play.

Two defensemen also made their debuts for the Capitals. Alex Alexeyev and Lucas Johansen both played solidly in their respective appearances. Alexeyev, who was bound to make his debut this season at some point, skated for 10:35 against the Predators, and Johansen recorded an assist in 12:18 of ice time versus the Red Wings.

Both Jensen and Schultz returned to the lineup against the Devils. With such uncertainty leading up to the Nashville game, Washington being able to earn five points and only give up 2.33 goals per game, which was less than their season average of 2.55, was a pleasant surprise.

Capitals Moving Forward

As of Tuesday, Washington is tied with the New York Rangers for most points in the NHL with 48. That, however, will certainly change because the Capitals don’t play again until Friday due to their game versus Montreal scheduled for Tuesday being postponed. Washington then has brutal back-to-back road games with St. Louis and Minnesota, two of the Western Conference’s top-five teams.

Related: Wild’s Struggles Continue, as They Fall to Blues in Winter Classic

The Capitals are 10-3-3 away from Capital One Arena this season. After a good return from the break, the team essentially just needs to keep the ship steady considering it’s been wobbling since October. The offense has been its usual self, but must be wary of burning out toward the season’s end. The defense has been somewhat of a surprise, but if they’re able to stay consistent, with a strangely inconsistent lineup, the team will be set up for a long playoff run, especially if Kempny can prove he’s the player he once was. One thing is certain through the uncertainty though: a veteran star is stepping up when needed during these unpredictable situations.

There are certain aspects they need to fix, such as power-play production and finishing games, but head coach Peter Laviolette has adjusted well to any injury or illness that his roster has suffered, and has given his rookies a steady dose of experience without overworking the young core into regression.

This has been the case for all NHL franchises this season, as well as the league office’s approach to making sure 2021-22 happens in full and the players and personnel are safe and healthy. Sticks crossed it remains that way for all.

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