The Caps are suddenly struggling to keep the puck out of their net originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
For much of the 2021-22 season, the Capitals have been one of the better defensive teams in the league. That certainly has not been the case of late. On Monday, Washington fell 7-3 to the Boston Bruins to drop their fourth game in a row. During that four-game stretch, the Caps have given up 18 goals.
"We were loose," head coach Peter Laviolette said of his team's game on Monday. "We gave up too much and we will have to talk about that."
Despite some inconsistent goaltending, Washington was giving up only 2.55 goals against per game, good for fifth in the NHL, prior to the new year. But since the calendar turned to 2022, the Caps have lost four straight and have given up 18 goals over that stretch for 4.50 goals against per game. Those four games alone have knocked the team down to 13th overall for the season.
So what happened to turn one of the top defenses into one of the most porous? There's no simple answer.
"We’re losing games in all types of styles right now," Nic Dowd said. "I’m not going to sit here and say ‘Oh, it’s one thing or whatever.’ We’re up, we’re down, we’re coming back, we’re losing in overtime.”
The goaltending was not strong on Monday as Zach Fucale was pulled after giving up four goals on 16 shots. Vitek Vanecek came on in relief and did not fare much better with three goals allowed on 15 shots.
While the Caps undoubtedly need better goaltending overall, the fact is the goaltending was struggling even before this current stretch, yet the defense was still playing well and limiting opponents' chances.
On Monday, it was Boston's power play that sparked the comeback. Washington was up 2-0, but back-to-back 5-on-3s and a double-minor in the first period were too much to overcome and Boston was able to tie it at 2 before the opening frame was even over.
The penalty kill, which started the season at 82.6%, has only managed 75% during the current losing streak.
But the biggest issue of late for the defense has not been the defense at all, but the offense.
Boston's first two goals of the night were on the power play, but their next five all came as the result of Capitals turnovers. Some came in the offensive zone, some in the neutral zone and some in the defensive zone. Washington tried to force the puck up ice and Boston made them pay.
"Forwards need to work back to help our defensemen out on breakouts," Conor Sheary said.
He added, "Those long passes often lead to turnovers and odd-man rushes. I think that’s where they got most of their offense tonight, I felt like they had five two-on-ones in that second period and they capitalized on a few of them."
Laviolette pointed out that the team actually played well defensively in Saturday's loss to Minnesota. That game came down to an own-goal, a late goal and a shootout goal. But in each of the other three losses, poor puck management really cost the Caps.
"We just have to play a faster game too," Laviolette said. "I thought we slowed it down in the neutral zone too much."
So while the defense has been a major issue during the team's four-game skid, they may actually need to fix the offense and the breakouts in order to fix the defense.
"It's not worrisome, but we're at the point of the season where that has to get fixed, right?" Dowd said. "We're a veteran team. It's not like we're a group of guys that do not know how to hold onto the lead. So we just need to get back to that."