Nov 2, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer (20) blocks the shot of Arizona Coyotes defenseman Michael Stone (26) in front of Capitals goalie Justin Peters (35) in the second period at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Since the 2007-08 season when Alexander Ovechkin and then-head coach Bruce Boudreau brought the Washington Capitals back to prominence, one of the major knocks on the franchise had been its lack of strong, consistent defense.
Seven years and three head coaches later, that same issue is hurting the Capitals.
After starting the season 4-1-2, head coach Barry Trotz has watched his team drop four straight games, while allowing at least four goals in each game.
It’s the first time since November 2008 that the Capitals have allowed at least four goals in four straight regular season games, and the first time since March of 2007 that the Capitals have lost four games while giving up at least four goals in each.
Last night’s loss to the Arizona Coyotes may have been the worst of all the losses during the streak. The Coyotes came into the game with just three wins on the season and had been outscored 12-4 on its recent road trip.
But the Coyotes exploded in the Verizon Center for six goals, coming back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Capitals, 6-5.
After the game, Trotz held a closed-door meeting with the team.
“Sometimes I get the feeling we want to play as hard as we just need to, and that’s not how I operate,” Trotz told reporters. ”That’s not how you win in this league.”
So what’s been going wrong for the Capitals during their four-game skid?
To start, the play of the goaltenders hasn’t been superb. Both Braden Holtby and Justin Peters have started two games during the skid. Holtby has given up four goals in his two losses (a 4-3 loss at Tampa Bay and a 4-2 loss at home against Detroit). In those two games, he has a combined save percentage of just 0.8375.
Peters hasn’t fared much better. He started last night’s loss to Arizona and Washington’s 4-2 loss at Vancouver. In those two losses, he has a combined save percentage of 0.8545.
Washington’s goalies haven’t performed particularly well late in games during the skid, as both Holtby and Peters have a combined save percentage of just 0.774 in the third period.
Fourteen of the 18 goals allowed during the losing streak have come during the second and third periods (seven in each).
But goal-tending isn’t the only problem.
Nov 2, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) looks on as Arizona Coyotes right wing Shane Doan (19) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal in the third period at Verizon Center. The Coyotes won 6-5. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Washington has continued to make crucial mistakes that have led to goals for the opposition, including five power-play goals for the opposition during the skid.
It’s a trend that defenseman Brooks Orpik – who was a member of a stout Pittsburgh defense for nine seasons – has noticed.
"“The commitment level has to be a little better than it is now in a lot of different areas,” Orpik told reporters. “We have guys making mistakes that experienced guys shouldn’t make.”"
Those mistakes were all too beneficial for the Coyotes last night.
In the second period, Ovechkin committed a high-sticking penalty, and 21 seconds later, Shane Doane scored. In the third, rookie Andre Burakovsky allowed the puck to slide through his skates. The result: Sam Gagner notching one top shelf on Peters. Later in the period, Doane benefited from another Ovechkin mistake, as Ovechkin whiffed on a pass attempt in the defensive zone. Just five seconds later Doane scored again to put Arizona up 5-3.
In order for the Capitals to get back on track, it starts with defense.
While the goaltenders need to play better, they need help from their skaters. Less turnovers and silly penalties decrease the chances the opponent gets. Less chances can correlate to less goals.
It’s not science, and Trotz has to get his team to buckle down if he wants to bring Washington back to the postseason.