Capitals Must Find Complete Game as Difficult Schedule Looms

A win is a win, even if it’s a non-impressive win. Earning the points wasn’t the worry in the Washington Capitals 3-2 overtime victory over the Ottawa Senators Saturday night; the way it was accomplished created more uncertainty than confidence.

Yet, not to sound repetitive, a win is a win. The issues were veiled by the magic that rests on Alex Ovechkin’s shoulders and the team’s second consecutive overtime victory. Things are trending upward, but other aspects of the game still need to be solved. Squeaking out a comeback win against the lowly Senators promoted both uncertainty and confidence–not to sound repetitive… again.

Capitals Inching Closer to Panic Mode

Ottawa is 30th in the NHL in points (25). Entering the third period on Saturday evening, they led the Capitals 2-0. Washington failed to capitalize on the only two power plays gifted to them which has been an issue for the team this season. Also, Vitek Vanecek, who has started four of Washington’s last five games, seemingly has the nod from head coach Peter Laviolette to take the reins in the crease. He has been average.

Vitek Vanecek Washington Capitals
Vitek Vanecek, Washington Capitals (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

On the other stick, the youth’s opportunities have fluctuated, which is better than staying the same, and the team is finishing games. Also, Nicklas Backstrom appears to be finding his skates.

Related: Capitals’ Mixed Results After Injury-Filled First Half

Unfortunately, the Capitals haven’t had the strongest of schedules this month. Of the nine games they’ve played in January, only one of their opponents, St. Louis, has been in the top 10 for points in the NHL. They get one of the west’s best in Vegas tonight at Capital One Arena, so the solutions to their issues better be proven or found before the puck drops.

The Bad

The Capitals stayed out of the penalty box for the most part against the Senators, and outshot, out hit, and outperformed Ottawa in the faceoff circle on Saturday. It still took a rally and overtime to win the game.

Ovechkin scored both goals in regulation and Backstrom added the winner in the extra period. The veterans are continually being used at a high rate, and the offensive rookies who suited up, Brett Leason, Connor McMichael, and Aliaksei Protas, only skated for 5:50, 7:34, and 9:28, respectively.

Washington’s power play woes continue, failing to tally a score on the man-advantage yet again. So far in January, the Capitals have a horrid 13% power-play success rate, which is good for 28th in the league. That’s still less than their season average of 14.8%, so things aren’t improving.

Also, as the pressure mounts to acquire a veteran netminder at the trade deadline, Vanecek’s performance has been good, but it remains to be clear if it’s good enough. Throughout his last four starts, he’s tied for second in the NHL for wins with three, but his .919 save percentage (SV%) is 23rd and his 2.24 goals-against average (GAA) is 19th. The latter two statistics have strengthened his season averages to a .909 SV% and a 2.54 GAA, but that still leaves him at 47th and 28th, respectively, in the league.

Related: Capitals’ Trade Priorities Change as Offensive Dip Continues

Trade rumors regarding Ilya Samsonov have now surfaced due to the young goalie’s inconsistencies and Vanecek earning most of the starts lately. If the team can move a valuable piece such as Samsonov, then it changes the narrative of trade deadline deals, especially considering he and Vanecek are restricted free agents this summer and Washington is likely not retaining both goalies.

The Good

Winning their last two extra-period outings has been huge for the Capitals. Prior to the team’s overtime win against Winnipeg on Jan. 18, they were 2-9 in games not decided in regulation. Yes, they received their participation point, but the bigger picture that was mounting was the aging roster’s lack of stamina to finish a game.

Goal scoring has also helped Washington. During their rough 2-3-2 start to 2022, they averaged 2.17 goals per game which was 26th in the league during that span. They’ve upped that average to 3.33 since and are 2-1 in their last three contests. Probably not a coincidence.

Upcoming Schedule

The good, however, doesn’t outweigh the bad at the moment. But it’s yet to be considered ugly. That’s right. Washington’s main problem right now is putting a complete game together. They are actually good in all areas of the game, just not at the same time it seems.

The next two weeks will be crucial for the Capitals. After Vegas, they finish the week with San Jose and Dallas, and next week they play Pittsburgh and Edmonton–all teams sitting comfortably over .500. At the beginning of 2022, they were tied for the best record in the league. Now, they’re sitting in the first wild card position. Boston, who has beaten Washington twice in a week and a half, holds the second wild card spot.

Due to past deals falling short, Washington fans are skeptical of any impending moves–which is a panic in itself. The trade deadline is March 21, so there is time to evaluate the goalie situation, fix the power play, and develop the youth more. Urgency is relative, however, and changes need to happen now before it’s too late and the panic is allowed to settle in.

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