Outplayed, Outhustled, Outworked: Caps Fall In Chicago
By Stephen London
Before their March 18 game against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Washington Capitals were sitting in the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, three points ahead of the ninth-place Buffalo Sabres. The Ottawa Senators inhabit the seventh spot of the conference, with a comfortable six points between them and the Capitals.
The Capitals fell to division rival Winnipeg, 3-2, March 16. In order for the Capitals to make it through the next couple of games while still hanging on to the eighth and final playoff spot, they had to beat the Blackhawks, or at least force them into overtime, in a hostile environment. But because of defensive miscues, the Capitals started off on the wrong foot and were not able to battle back, finishing last night's game with a 5-2 loss.
The Capitals have a serious problem letting in early goals. During the course of the season, the Capitals have been outscored during the first period, 64-48. The second period also follows the same trend, with the Capitals' opponents collectively outscoring them, 74-60. The only period the Capitals have been able to outscore their opponents is the third (76-61), but by that time, it usually was already too late.
The Capitals' trends on the road are also alarming. At home, the Capitals have a decent goal differential, with 102 goals scored for and 86 goals scored against. But on the road, the Capitals have given up 116 goals and have scored only 86.
If the Capitals make the playoffs, they will not go far if these trends continue. Momentum determines playoff games, more than regular-season ones. If the Capitals go down early on the road during the playoffs, they will not be able to battle back as easily as they have been during the regular season.
During the last 12 games, the Capitals have converted only two power play opportunities into goals, out of 24 possible opportunities. During the last six games, the Capitals have killed only 13 penalties, while letting four goals in of the 17 total power-play chances. It is clear that special teams need work, but the penalty kill has been coming along of late. The power play, on the other hand, is ranked 28th (12.7 percent) out of 30 total teams while they are on the road.
The Capitals face the Detroit Red Wings March 19 for their second game in just as many days. The Red Wings have outscored their opponent at home, 122-61, doubling their opposition's number of goals. This is a Red Wings team that set an NHL record for a home win streak with 23.
Look for head coach Dale Hunter to start goaltender Braden Holtby, whom the Capitals recently called up because of Tomas Vokoun's lower-body injury. This would be Holtby's second start of the season. The first start was one to forget for the 22-year-old goaltender, as he let in five goals during a loss to the San Jose Sharks.
March 19, 2012