The Capitals were a team trending int he wrong direction when the coronavirus forced the NHL to pause its season, at least that's how most people viewed them in March. Evgeny Kuznetsov, however, has a different perspective.
After dominating the NHL for the first three months of the season, Washington limped its way from December to March. Here's a comparison:
From Oct. 2 to Dec. 22: 26-6-5, 57 points (1st in the NHL), .770 points percentage (1st), 3.54 goals per game (1st), 2.76 goals against per game (8th), 21.8-percent power play (10th), 85.7-percent penalty kill (2nd)
From Dec. 23 to March 12: 15-14-3, 33 points (tied for 22nd), .516 points percentage (21st), 3.28 goals per game (8th), 3.44 goals against per game (29th), 17.0-percent power play (24th), 78.7-percent penalty kill (19th)
From the outside looking in, it would seem the Caps were struggling. Kuznetsov, however, disputes that.
"I don't think we struggling end of year," Kuznetsov said. "We just, we kind of have that gap where we've pretty much made the playoff already and it's not easy to be in the first place for 82 games. Sometimes you're going to go down. I don't think we struggling, we just lose the game a little bit and then some teams was battling for the playoff. Sometimes it's pretty normal when you have to give up a few games like that."
Let's be fair. Clearly, Kuznetsov is not speaking of the last three months of the season, but the more recent play leading up to the pause. He clearly views the last few games before the pause as its own slump brought on by complacency and a red-hot Philadelphia Flyers team that looked poised to overtake Washington in the Metropolitan Division standings.
This certainly has happened to teams, especially in the January and February months before teams hit the home stretch of the season. In that sense, there is some validity to what he was saying.
The problem is that this wasn't just a recent slump, it was a long stretch of the season.
From Dec. 23 to March 12, the Caps played in 33 games. That's more than a third of the season. Also, it's a three-month slump in which the Caps were getting progressively worse.
Here are the stats from Feb. 1 to March 12: 6-8-3, 15 points (tied for 29th), .441 points percentage (27th), 2.88 goals per game (15th), 3.53 goals against per game (31st, dead last), power play 15.6-percent (22nd), 78.3-percent penalty kill (21st).
Not only are those bad, but they are largely worse than the overall stats from the Dec. 23 to March 12 range showing the team was continuing to decline.
A frustrating aspect of the 2019-20 season for fans was the lack of urgency the team seemed to display even when it struggled from December to March. Kuznetsov's explanation could certainly help explain why that was. After building a healthy cushion in the standings by late December, the Caps took their foot off the gas
Could that be a plausible explanation for a three-month mid-season slump? It sure seems like Kuznetsov thought the team was only playing poorly recently when the break hit as opposed to all the way back in December.
So was the problem a three-month slide in which the team seemingly could not recover from or complacency brought on by their lead in the standings and the team was not able to "flip the switch" when the Flyers began to come on strong?
Either way, it sure seems like the pause to the season came at the right time for Washington.
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