Believe it or not, summer is winding down and it is time to think about the 2021-22 season. Andrew Gillis and JJ Regan will discuss the biggest questions surrounding the Caps heading into the new season.
Today's topic: What do the Capitals need to improve on the most from last season?
Andrew: Improved offensive metrics from the entire lineup. Stick with me, I’ve got reasons here.
The Capitals lost defensive stalwart Brenden Dillon in the salary cap crunch, but they were still strong as a team at slowing down opposing offenses. I don't expect that to change much this season.
I am also a believer in the tandem of Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov in net. I think Samsonov can continue to improve as a goalie and put up decent numbers, which for a Capitals team that can prevent shots and score with the best of the league, that’s good enough.
But at five-on-five, they were slightly above average in terms of puck possession metrics, which has never mattered much to the Capitals since their scoring talent is as good, or better, than anyone in the league in the Alex Ovechkin era. Still, problems might be on the horizon. Or, worse yet, here already.
Yes, they were third in the league in goals a season ago, but that had a lot to do with their second-best shooting percentage of 11.41 percent. The Capitals’ top three goal-scorers last season (Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom) will be 36, 33 and 34 on Opening Night. The drop-off, eventually, could be coming.
In order for the Capitals to mitigate that, they’ve got to tilt the ice more than they did a season ago to keep the pressure off some aging veterans and their younger goaltending pair. That means the third line of Conor Sheary, Lars Eller and Daniel Sprong will have to have a strong season, and Anthony Mantha and Tom Wilson will need to take another step forward.
If they can do that, I think they'll be just fine.
JJ: The biggest issue the Caps had last year was durability. They dealt with injuries all season long up and down the lineup and the team completely ran out of gas in the playoffs.
When your entire top unit power play is out of a game just a few games from the start of the playoffs, that's a bad sign.
With a normal summer to train plus a regular-season schedule that is not quite as condensed and closer to what the players are used to, this should not be quite as big of an issue in 2021-22. If you want a specific area in which the team itself needs to improve, then I look at goaltending. It was far too inconsistent last year.
Vitek Vanecek went had a .908 save percentage with a 2.69 GAA while Ilya Samsonov had a .902 save percentage with a 2.69 GAA. On most nights, both netminders were good enough, but rarely did either netminder really steal a game. To advance in the playoffs, you need a netminder who can steal a few saves and a few games. Samsonov elevated his game in the three postseason games in which we saw him, but you want to see both goalies be able to play at a high level more consistently than last season.
What was the big conversation heading into the 2021 trade deadline? It was if the Caps would get a goalie to bolster a tandem that did not appear strong enough for a contending squad. If the Caps are facing the same questions at the 2022 trade deadline, then it means another inconsistent performance between the pipes for two goalies reaching an age where you can no longer just write them off as young goalies anymore. It's time to perform.