Capitals’ Underperformance on Florida Road Trip Continues Recent Trends

Hockey and Florida don’t traditionally pair as well as, say, a cabernet sauvignon and ribeye, but two of the best teams in the NHL call the Sunshine State home. The Washington Capitals faced off against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, on Monday and followed it up with a trip to Fort Lauderdale last night against one of the league’s best teams, the Florida Panthers. Washington dropped both games but was able to salvage a point against Florida in an overtime loss.

Connor McMichael Washington Capitals
Connor McMichael, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

It was already a tough early-season stretch, and with Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and Nic Dowd all on the injured reserve list made it that much more difficult. There are some positives and negatives to take away from the trip, which usually is the case for most vacationers in Florida.

Capitals Can’t Complete Comebacks in Sunshine State

On Monday, the Capitals dropped a close game against the Lightning, losing 3-2. Last night, Washington lost to Florida 5-4 in overtime. Not coincidently, both Florida teams rank first and third in the Atlantic, the Panthers (19 points) distancing themselves substantially from the rest of the division early on.

Nov. 1- Tampa Bay 3, Washington 2

The Capitals struck first on Brett Leason’s first NHL goal. Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli, and Brayden Point scored for Tampa Bay, later followed by a Conor Sheary tally that proved to be too little too late for Washington.

This game marked the second match on the season between the two Eastern Conference powerhouses, the Lightning stealing a victory in overtime on Oct. 16 in D.C. Monday’s loss was also Washington’s first in regulation.

Head coach Peter Laviolette had to rely on his youth due to his depleted roster. Connor McMichael, Aliaksei Protas, and Leason all saw minutes. As noted, Leason scored, but McMichael was held in check for most of the contest, and Protas had the massive task of replacing Dowd. The experiment didn’t work out; Protas skated for just 3:53 and his bad positioning after a face-off loss in the Capitals’ zone led to Killorn’s goal. He was re-assigned to the Hershey Bears on Thursday, Washington’s American Hockey League affiliate and Dowd was activated from injured reserve.

In a strange, unfortunate turn of events, Protas has now been recalled again by Washington today due to Anthony Mantha’s trip to the injured reserve list. The hits keep coming for the Capitals.

However, Washington still kept it close even without three of their key players. One thing to monitor is the Capitals ability to put the puck in the net. Tampa Bay uncharacteristically ranks as the 10th highest in goals-against per game (3.10). Washington has only scored three against the Lightning in two games.

Nov. 4- Florida 5, Washington 4 (OT)

The contest against the Panthers had similar results but a different path to getting there, and luckily the Capitals were able to salvage a point. Florida was completely dismantling Washington early on, but the Capitals battled back from a three-goal deficit and forced overtime only to lose—again.

Washington has not won an overtime game yet this season (0-4), and after losing three of their last four games, they are now 5-1-4 (14 points), which is good for third in the Metropolitan.

Dowd was in the lineup against Florida, and both McMichael and Leason stayed on the roster for the rest of the Sunshine State trip. McMichael scored his first goal of the season, as did Tom Wilson, and Alex Ovechkin continued his hot start to the season, recording a three-point night (one goal, two assists).

Related: Alex Ovechkin’s October Gives Him Strong Start in Goal Scoring Race

The good news for Washington is that they created a lot of shots, 42, which led to four goals. In comparison to the game against the Lightning, they generated 33 shots. They also upped their physicality, connecting on 36 hits in contrast to being out-hit on Monday by Tampa Bay. Yet, the penalty kill is still struggling. They gave up a power-play goal in each game, and they rank 23rd in the league in penalty kill percentage at 75.9%. The team has given up a goal while shorthanded in seven of their first 10 games.

The Pros and Cons

The Capitals at least proved they were able to come back on good teams, and in different ways. They’re able to adapt to the style of play of any opponent and stay in the game. They have five losses on the season by a combined goal differential of five. They aren’t being blown out and they’re surviving as the team battles injuries to key players—and the youth is developing at the same time.

On the other hand, the overtime issue needs to be fixed, as does the penalty kill. Though the Capitals have good young netminders, they are still both inexperienced in a sense. Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek each have been pulled from a game this year, and their save percentages are .893 and .902, respectively.

Another thing to consider is that of Washington’s five wins, only two teams are over .500, the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. The Devils are currently at the bottom of the Metropolitan standings, which just shows how tough the division is going to be throughout the year. Their win against the Colorado Avalanche was good, but Nathan MacKinnon wasn’t on the ice.

If healthy, the Capitals are a contender. Right now, they are underperforming in key facets of a game that could really burden them later on in the season. It’s early, so they have time to fix those bad trends.