Caps see room for improvement defensively after Anaheim game originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
A Capitals team always known for its offense has established itself as one of the better defensive teams in the NHL this season. Prior to Monday's game against the Anaheim Ducks, Washington ranked 4th in the NHL in goals against per game (2.44), 3rd in shots against per game (27.9) and 5th in 5-on-5 high danger goals allowed (21). The Ducks, however, put the defense to the test and the Caps did not like the results.
"A little sloppy, very open out there," Carl Hagelin said. "That is not the type of game we want to play."
The Caps ultimately got the win, but it was full of mistakes that have been uncharacteristic of this year's squad. A team that has managed to limit shots and keep most offense restricted to the perimeter allowed 34 shots on goal and 10 high-danger chances including seven in the second period alone.
"We gave up too much space," head coach Peter Laviolette said. "We gave up too many point-blank chances right in front of our own net."
The Ducks are a young, skilled team and they came at the Caps with a lot of speed. That appeared to give the defense fits throughout the game.
Two of Anaheim's three goals came on rush attacks. They were also able to cycle the puck effectively in the offensive zone as the Caps just could not seem to get a body on them.
"We are at our best when we are aggressive and not giving the other team any time in our zone and you can see they had a field day in there," Hagelin said. "We didn’t check enough, we weren’t close enough to them."
"They stretched the zone a lot and I think that kind of leads into that kind of feeling of the game where they're stretched out," John Carlson said. "It's tough for D to play rushes early like we like to and gap up early when they're hitting underneath speed or stretched out of the zone."
Anaheim's speed turned the game into more of a track meet with both teams trading rushes and offensive chances back and forth. That is generally not the way the Capitals like to play. They still have enough skill to survive games like that on occasion, but the fast pace of play neutralizes their physical style and they had a hard time adjusting on Monday.
It should be noted that Matt Irwin was in for just his second game of the season with Trevor van Riemsdyk in the NHL's COVID-19 protocol. Plus, over the course of an 82-game season, you are not always going to be able to impose your will and your style on a game night in and night out. Managing to get two points out of that game was a really big win for Washington.
But going forward, the team will need to adjust to make sure speed does not become the key to breaking down the defense.
"Tonight it was just a little bit off," Laviolette said. "We’ll get back on track. We got a good game coming up and that should dial us right in, just based on the opponent. We’re going to have to be sharp. We’re going to have to be tight defensively. We’ll look at it and we’ll try to get better from it."