Having given up four or more goals in its last four games, the Washington Capitals’ latest performance has been a slump compared to what they had seen earlier this month.
With the most recent 5-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on the road, the Capitals are now on a four-game losing streak. Although hopes for another Presidents’ Trophy have been high for several months, the Capitals are now face legitimate contention from other teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Columbus Blue Jackets — both of whom are neck-in-neck with Washington for most points in the league.
Clearly, Washington’s latest performance has been uncharacteristic compared to what they managed throughout January and February — which was truly the high point of the Caps’ season. Immediately prior to the four-game skid, Washington had set a new franchise record for the longest winning streak at home with 15 games.
As defenseman John Carlson told Associated Press reporter Greg Beacham, “you get slapped in the the face a lot throughout the year.” Clearly, the Caps are running into one of these moments.
So what exactly has been contributing to the slump?
Ovechkin’s Scoring Drought
Offensively, Washington’s latest performance has been at its lowest point since the 2006-07 season. Although the Caps did come out with wins against New Jersey and Philadelphia, in their last six games, the team only had two goals at the most. The last time that the Caps had two or fewer goals in six consecutive matches was from Nov. 15-25 in 2006. This marks a significant drop from January and February, where Washington’s average goals per game were on occasion as high as four or five.
As the face of the Capitals, Alex Ovechkin’s performance easily stands out from the rest of the team’s players. Clearly, he has been going through a scoring drought recently — having managed only two assists in the last five games. Having been the NHL scoring leader six times in his 13-year NHL career, Ovechkin definitely hasn’t been living up to his expectations lately. If he doesn’t somehow rejuvenate his scoring prowess, the 2016-17 season may very well go down as the worst one in his career — he currently has 27 goals and 29 assists.
The Capitals’ struggles in the net have been even more noticeable in recent games. Defensively, Washington has averaged 24 shots against so far this month — by comparison, the team had as many as 27 back in February. Yet, the Caps have been allowing more goals than ever lately. That being said, it’s fair to say that Braden Holtby — who made the All-Star selection this year — hasn’t quite been in his best form lately. This month, his save percentage has been 0.885, which is significantly lower than the 0.926 he’s managed the entire season.
Kevin Shattenkirk’s two-game suspension is also likely to put more stress on the goalkeeping in the upcoming games. Shattenkirk — whom Washington acquired from St Louis last month — is currently serving a suspension for charging Anaheim’s Kevin Gravel during the Caps’ last game against the Ducks. Having been an important addition to Washington’s blue line at the time of his trade, Shattenkirk’s absence will likely have some impact.
Andre Burakovsky’s Absence
Burakovsky’s absence is another reason as to why the Caps haven’t had the momentum they had two months ago. The left winger on the Eller line, Burakovsky recorded 11 goals and 18 assists in 52 games before being sidelined with a hand injury on Feb. 9, which happened when he blocked a shot against the Detroit Red Wings. He has since missed 13 games, but is on track to making a steady recovery. Although Jakub Vrana has been performing decently in Burakovsky’s place, it’s clear that the Capitals will need the latter back in the lineup soon.
The Capitals’ recent slump may not be the end of the world, but with only a month remaining before the playoffs, Washington will need to find a solution quickly, or the season will likely end in disappointment.
I am a Vancouver-based sports journalist currently reporting for The Ubyssey, the campus newspaper of the University of British Columbia. Sports I have covered before include hockey, basketball, football, baseball, volleyball, rugby, field hockey, swimming and track and field.