On its face, the Washington Capitals are currently mired in their worst funk of the season.
They have lost four straight (0-2-2) and seven of nine (2-4-3), a nearly three-week skid that has dropped them into third place in the Metropolitan Division and could drop them even lower with no games scheduled until Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Yet their recent performances and the underlying numbers suggest that perhaps the Capitals are not playing as poorly as their recent travails would seem to indicate.
In a 2-1 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Dec. 29, the Capitals matched a season high with 50 shots on goal. In a 5-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Saturday, they set a franchise record by allowing the fewest-ever shots in a road game (11), but became the first team since the NHL began tracking shots in 1973-74 to allow five goals on fewer than 12 shots.
"I'm not disappointed in the way we've played," forward Troy Brouwer said. "I mean, the Buffalo game I feel we deserved to win. The Ottawa game, it was a little bit [of a] tougher game, could have gone either way. And then the other night against Minnesota, we give up 11 shots. They get a lucky goal that bounces over [Braden] Holtby in the slot, two were screened, we feel like we deserved a little bit better fate in that game, especially when you do such a good job and only give up 11 shots."
As the Capitals attempt to wrap their collective heads around their recent woes, it has been difficult to reconcile the overall play with the results.
"There's not a lot of areas that we really have a lot of concern for," Brouwer said. "Our [defensive] zone needs to tighten up a little bit, our penalty kill obviously needs to be a lot better, but for the most part, I feel we're playing fairly good games. We're just not getting the outcomes."
As Brouwer alluded to, the Capitals have been felled by inattention to detail. Lackadaisical play in the defensive zone, unnecessary penalties and quick-reponse goals against (all of which have been problems throughout the season) combined with a lackluster penalty kill that has allowed 10 power-play goals over the past nine games have served to undermine any sort of positive effort.
Coach Adam Oates, as is his wont, has spent a lot of time accentuating the positives in video sessions. He wants his players to develop a renewed focus in order to drag themselves out of their doldrums.
"We’re doing good things every game, but we’re also making mistakes in every game," he said. "[Assistant coach Calle Johansson] reminded me yesterday, actually we came in and we were talking, ‘Oatesy don’t micromanage. It’s still the fundamentals. Don’t look for one little mistake.’ … Every game has so many mistakes in it and we’re trying to nit pick we’ve got to correct fundamental stuff for sure, but there hasn’t been one major area that’s been a breakdown that’s shot us in the foot a lot. Other than the penalties probably."
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