While the Capitals still sit atop the Metropolitan Division, the Flyers are quickly closing in, just one point behind them after last night's 5-2 win.
Why are the Caps slumping? Many have pointed the finger at netminder Braden Holtby, whose season save percentage of .896 is well below his career average of .916.
Holtby is averaging just above three goals against per game. The playoffs are right around the corner and the Caps seemingly don't have their game together. What gives?
Alan May says it's not Holtby or backup goalie Ilya Samsonov. It's the defense.
"It’s hard for me not to just look at the statistics of Braden Holtby and say he’s having a down year," The Sports Junkies' John Paul Flaim said to May on Thursday.
"Well if you go back right now JP and look at all the goals against, tell me that those aren’t poor defensive plays," May said. "And that’s the problem right now. And I’m gonna defend him [Holtby] and I’m gonna defend Samsonov, because why does Samsonov get those losses in the month of February? Because there were way too many chances."
Samsonov's five starts for the Caps in February resulted in five losses. But May said it's not all on him, either.
"So if you go back and look at those goals and if you go back and look at the game where Samsonov got lit up for five goals in about 25 minutes or whatever it was a couple weeks back against the Flyers, tell me that it wasn’t outnumbered situations," May said. "Drastically outnumbered situations."
Those dangerous situations are created by poor defense, allowing breakaways, backdoor passes, direct passes and one-timers, May said.
"Braden Holtby has had over 50 breakaways against this season," May said. "There’s no way. That’s probably 3 to 4 times what he’s had in the past. So it’s not on these two goaltenders."
The bottom line? The Caps need to fix their defense. Fast.
"You could take any goaltender in the league, you could take any goaltender that’s at the top of the save percentage charts, the goals against charts and they’d be in the same situation in my opinion," May said.
The Caps' issues mirror that of their President's Cup-less 2018 season, when they went on to win their first-ever Stanley Cup.
"I think this team has to get back to what they did the year they won the Cup," May said. "They were a nightmare that year, defensively in my opinion. What they were doing, the way they were playing, I didn’t like their D-Zone coverage, I didn’t like the fact of how many odd-man rushes they gave up, and they locked it down at the end of the year about the second week of March I would say that all of a sudden, they figured out how they had to play and they started playing a more defensive brand of hockey and not taking chances and just waiting for the chances to come to them."
The Caps have won a Cup before with that "defensive brand of hockey," and they've played that way recently. But there's no consistency to their game.
"We saw that against Pittsburgh a couple Sundays back, the Caps played that exact style: pucks in deep, play the puck corner to corner, if you can’t get to it, back off, and let the other team try to skate through 5 guys, not through 2 guys, and until they do that, I think you’re going to have a woefully inconsistent team on the scoreboard," May said.
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