Don’t look now, but the Capitals might finally be seeing one of the biggest problems they have faced this season begin to fade away in the rearview mirror.
Just one month ago, Washington’s special teams were arguably the biggest reason they struggled to tread water in the Metropolitan Division. Thursday’s dominant 4-0 win over Carolina— helped by two power play goals — brought to light the fact that the Capitals have been rapidly improving on the man advantage, and considerably so.
Not for nothing, the Caps’ penalty kill also shut down all three of Carolina’s power-play opportunities. The Hurricanes are the NHL's sixth-best PP unit.
“It was nice to see the penalty kill step up the way it did against a real good power play,” Washington head coach Peter Laviolette said. “I thought we had good pressure, we made good reads, we blocked a lot of shots out there tonight. All the things that you need to do for a penalty kill to be successful, I thought it was really good.”
Washington has visibly seen somewhat of a rebirth on special teams. Yes, it still sits at 26th in the NHL with a 12.9% net power play. What’s deceiving about that number is just how good the Capitals have been on special teams over the last month. The win over Carolina was the first game in which the Caps had scored two PPGs since a 5-0 win over Dallas on Jan. 28.
Since that win over the Stars in late January, Washington ranks fifth in the league with a 26.8% success rate on the power play, per SportRadar. They’ve scored at least one power play goal in nine of the 12 games over that span, but what might be most interesting is that the Capitals have been starting to pick it up on both sides of their special teams.
Over that same span, they’re ninth in the NHL with a 106.3 PP% plus PK% (essentially combining power play and penalty kill efficiency). They’re also sixth in the league with a +3 power play goal differential. Blocking shots has been a crucial aspect of that success.
“They helped me today a lot with blocking shots, so we battled hard today and it was a good game,” said goalie Vitek Vanecek, who posted his fifth career shutout on Thursday. “The guys helped me a lot, they blocked shots in the first, second and third periods. The second period was huge, they blocked from the slot a lot.”
Just a couple months ago, coaches and players alike lamented Washington’s lack of energy on special teams. Laviolette said in early January that the Capitals have still “got a lot of work to do.” Nicklas Backstrom echoed that notion by saying the power play was a bit too passive and that “a little too much keeping it to the outside” was killing momentum.
Two months later, it looks as though the Capitals are finally starting to claw their way out of the dreaded special teams rut. They’ll need to keep it going in order to gain ground on the rest of the Metro division.