After Early-Season Struggles, Capitals Look to Clear Out Traffic in Front of Net

Entering Monday, the Washington Capitals find themselves at the bottom of the NHL in regards to goal differential, having allowed 12 more goals than they have scored. 

Most of those goals against are coming from right in front of the net. Of the Capitals' league-leading 33 goals against, 17 of them have been scored within 20 feet of the goal, which is the distance between the goal line and the faceoff dots inside each attacking zone. Only four have been officially classified as tip-ins or deflections, but that does not include shots that have squeaked through heavy traffic and found their way past both Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby.

"I think teams are making a point to make sure that that one guy is planted directly in front of the net, whether it’s 5-on-5 or 5-on-4 as well," forward Troy Brouwer said Monday. "You got to try and be able to move them out of the way."

Noticing the trend, the Capitals worked on clearing out space in the slot during Monday's practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. The forwards set up shop in front of the net and it was the defensemen's responsibility to box them out, not unlike two basketball players fighting for position in the paint.

"[Just trying to] battle in front to make sure that the guy doesn’t get a good look," Brouwer said, explaining the drill. "He’s not in the position that he wants to be and he can’t get a touch on the puck for a tip. But you just got to be intense in front of the net, making sure that you know where you are because when there’s two guys battling in front of the net, there’s more of a screen than just one guy, so you got to be conscious of that as well."

Meanwhile, on the defensive end, defenseman Karl Alzner conceded that dirty goals in front of the net are going to happen because power forwards are so skilled at tipping shots. Yet, the way to prevent such goals is by getting in front of the initial shots from the point. 

"A lot of D are either scoring or the direct result of goals against us," Alzner said. "The only way to stop that is by blocking them at the top or not allowing them to even have time to shoot. Clearing the front, you can only do some much. Guys are big and strong. The way to defend it is not letting them have a clear shot."

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