Three Segments of 22 GamesPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
Washington is now 66 games into the 2011-12 NHL season with just 16 contests remaining. The Caps are two points behind eighth-place Winnipeg for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and they own a game in hand on the Jets as well. The Capitals are four points behind Florida for the top spot in the Southeast Division. If we look at the past 66 games as three segments of 22 contests, we can see clearly that the last 22 are where Washington has fallen off in virtually every aspect of its game. Bruce Boudreau was the Capitals’ head coach for the first 22 games of the season, a stretch during which Washington compiled a 12-9-1 record. The Caps won seven straight games to start the season; it was the following 5-9-1 stretch that led to Boudreau’s dismissal. Washington scored 69 goals and surrendered 72 in its first 22 games, averaging 3.14 goals for and 3.27 goals against during that span. The Caps were 14-for-86 (16.3%) on the power play and 64-for-80 (80%) on the penalty kill. Dale Hunter took over behind the Washington bench at the beginning of the next 22-game segment. Hunter’s Caps compiled an identical 12-9-1 record in those games. They scored 55 goals while allowing only 53, an average of 2.5 goals per game and 2.41 goals against. The power play was a real strength, going 14-for-59 (23.7%), even though the team didn’t draw nearly as many extra-man opportunities. The penalty kill improved, too, going 62-for-75 (82.7%). These last 22 games have been the ones that have hurt the Caps. Had they been able to replicate the 12-9-1 mark of each of the first two 22-game segments, the Capitals would have 75 points and they’d be in first place in the Southeast Division right now, a single point ahead of the Florida Panthers. With one game remaining against the Panthers on home ice on April 5, the Caps would control their own destiny as far as the division title was concerned. Instead, the Caps have flailed their way to an 8-10-4 record over the last 22 games, and they’ve won just four of their last 11 on home ice (4-5-2). Washington has scored 50 goals while surrendering 61 goals; they’re averaging 2.27 goals per game while surrendering an average of 2.77 per contest. The power play is moribund at 6-for-62 (9.7%) and the penalty kill has dipped to 58-for-72 (80.6%). Worse, the Caps’ power play unit has surrendered nearly as many shorthanded goals (five) as it has scored in that span (six). Instead of owning their divisional title destiny, the Caps are in a dogfight for the final Eastern Conference playoff berth. Washington is four points from the top of the Southeast and six points from the basement. The Caps are two points from eighth, and they’re also two points from 11th. A mere eight points separates seven clubs from eighth to 14th place in the Eastern Conference. Teams like Carolina, Tampa Bay and Buffalo had been given up for dead a month or more ago, but those clubs have benefited from hot surges from their best players and flatline stretches from the Capitals and other teams in front of them. The Hurricanes’ Eric Staal, the Lightning’s Steven Stamkos and the Sabres’ Ryan Miller have virtually willed their respective teams back into the race, although it will likely prove to be too little, too late. A similar surge from Caps captain Alex Ovechkin and players like Alexander Semin, Mike Green and any one of the Capitals’ goaltenders could go a long way toward pushing the team into the top eight in the standings. “It would help a ton,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “Every year that I’ve been here at least they seem to go through a spell where they are just lights out and everything they touch just turns to gold. A lot of guys have had really good moments this year, but I don’t think we’ve had that one solid chunk of it. “That could turn things around for us in a second because those guys play a lot and we rely on them a lot. You’d like for that to happen, but it’s hard to do. They get played so hard. The pressure is on for them. All we need is for them to do their best. They take up so much of the other team’s attention that it leaves other guys open. You want to score the goals, but sometimes it’s going to help us out that they just do their thing and then dish it out and we’re going to get the goals from someone else.” One guy the Caps likely won’t be able to rely upon is Nicklas Backstrom. The Caps’ star pivot is sidelined with a concussion and with each passing day it seems more likely that he’s finished for this season. Washington has won just 11 of 28 games (11-13-4) since his injury. “Ovi is our No. 1 guy, everybody knows,” says Alzner. “He scores; he’s a powerhouse. But Nicky is the guy who is the gears of the team. He not only scores, but he makes everybody else score. He is so good in the [defensive] zone, too, at just getting out of the zone and calming things down. On the power play, everything works off him. “That’s a major piece. That’s like having your chain missing from your bike. He is a guy that you need to have and the team works a lot around him. When he’s not here, that’s one of the results you see. You have a lot of ups and downs. You don’t have that go-to guy that we like to have.”
This seems rather hard to believe, but here it is. Beginning with a 4-1 win over the New York Rangers at Verizon Center on Dec. 28 and extending through a 3-2 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 9, the Washington Capitals went 20 straight games without firing more shots than their opponents.