The Washington Capitals have found themselves in an ill-timed slump. The calendar year 2022 has not been kind as they’ve gone just 8-11-2 in 21 games, most recently the losers of a 2-1 contest against lowly Philadelphia on Saturday.
Snagging wins against struggling teams like the Flyers were necessary in order to pull Washington out of their current slide. After giving up a goal just 11 seconds into the contest, the Caps were unable to generate enough offense to force the game to overtime. Both players and coaches now find themselves frustrated over the team’s lack of energy.
“We’ve not been good enough. That’s the bottom line,” head coach Peter Laviolette said postgame Saturday. “We’re capable of playing better in that first period, we didn’t. That has to be corrected.”
Slow starts have been one of many blights that have stifled the Capitals this season. It seems as though, as Andrew Gillis noted earlier, when one hole gets plugged within Washington’s gameplay, another one springs up. The window to make up ground in the division is closing fast.
But it was the slow start that largely doomed the Capitals in Philadelphia.
“It feels like the battle is even harder from the get-go, and I think it’s more of a mental thing starting down 1-0 that early,” John Carlson said. “We had 59 and a half minutes left to score one goal to even it up.”
T.J. Oshie supplied the only Capitals’ goal on the afternoon—a dazzling, if surprising, strike on the power play. Special teams have been Washington’s Achilles heel all season, as they sit 29th in the NHL in net power play percentage, 22nd in power play goals and have given up the league’s second-most shorthanded goals against.
Power play worries combined with shaky play from Ilya Samsonov and injuries to Vitek Vanecek see Washington hitting a nasty slump at an inopportune time. Four of the next six Caps opponents have a winning record, and the gap between Washington and Columbus (who sit just behind them in the Metropolitan) seems ever-shrinking as the Blue Jackets have gone 7-3 in their last ten games.
Consistency, both to start games and over weeklong stretches, has been absent over the last couple of months.
“When you dig yourself a hole like that, it’s hard to come back. It doesn’t matter how well you play the rest of the game,” Carl Hagelin said. “We gotta start finding our game…we can’t have one good game, one average game, one bad game, one good game. We gotta find that consistency. If we do that, we’ll be fine, but it’s time to find it.”
Breakdowns on both sides of the puck were evident against Philadelphia, a team Washington should’ve been able to handle. To jump back into the fray and gain ground on the top of the conference—rather than just tread water—the Capitals need to do something they haven’t done since November and string together three-plus wins at a time.
“We were chasing the game, which is where we’ve been for the last month and a half," Laviolette said, "We’re just chasing games."