The bye week is a good opportunity to evaluate what happened over the course of the first half of the season and start to look forward. Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan answer the biggest questions surrounding the team at the bye.
Today's topic: Where do the Caps most need to improve in the second half of the season?
El-Bashir: The area where the Caps must improve, without a doubt, is special teams.
Let’s start with the talent-laden power play unit. After a protracted dry spell in mid-December (one goal in nine games), Alex Ovechkin and Co. have shown some signs of life lately. In fact, they produced five goals in the seven games preceding the bye week. Still, the unit ranks just 14th at 19.6-percent. Whether it’s overpassing, predictability or not getting enough production from the second unit, there’s simply too much talent there to rank near the middle the pack. The power play has also surrendered six shorthanded goals; only five teams have allowed more.
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The bigger concern, however, is the penalty kill. The unit appeared to have turned a corner in late November and early December when it gave up just one goal in 10 games. But it has struggled in 13 games since, surrendering 10 power play goals against (74.4-percent).
The penalty kill was particularly porous in the Caps’ last game before the bye, a 4-3 victory over the Hurricanes in Raleigh. Carolina’s power play struck twice, and afterward Coach Barry Trotz called the unit out.
“I think they maybe spent 10 seconds on the power play and got two goals,” Trotz said. “That’s an area where we’re going to need a little more commitment in some areas, a little more detail and get better.”
So far, the Metro-leading Caps have managed to overcome their inconsistent P.K. But in the playoffs, where special teams often play an outsized role in determining outcomes, they may not be so fortunate. Whether the problems are being caused by scheme, personnel or taking penalties in bunches, the team’s capable coaching staff has 37 regular season games left to sort things out.
Regan: There are two ways to approach this question. My biggest concern for the team is defensive depth, but the area in which the team most needs to improve is shooting.
The Caps have not one, but two rookies on the blue line in Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey. Barry Trotz has sheltered them well this season, but that becomes much harder to do in the playoffs when coaches can focus on one specific team.
Plus, we saw the trickle-down effect an injury to a player like Matt Niskanen can have. If they lose any of their top three defensemen, that means more minutes for two rookies, more minutes for a 37-year-old Brooks Orpik and no real replacement you can feel comfortable with plugging in for an extended period of time.
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But depth is an area the team can’t really improve on. You either have it or you don’t in which case you have to acquire it.
Something the team absolutely can and must improve on is getting shots on goal.
The Caps rank dead last in the NHL in shots per game with 29.0. Washington will not maintain its 3.04 goals per game (9th in the NHL), unless they get more shots.
Washington is not chasing games as much as the possession metrics (shot attempts) seem to indicate. They simply are not taking advantage of their opportunities. They overpass the puck often giving up open shots in favor of more difficult set-ups which often results in giving up possession
The Caps must absolutely learn from Lars Eller who is on a hot streak with five goals in seven games. His goals have been simple. He is not being too cute or getting fantastic setups, he’s just shooting. In games in which Eller scores, he averages 3.50 shots. When he doesn’t score, he averages only 1.61.
Say it with me now everyone: Shoot the puck!