During the first seven weeks of this season, Barry Trotz often lamented the fact that the Capitals were unable to get all facets of their game going at the same time.
But now, with his team riding a four-game winning streak, including 60-minute efforts against Buffalo and Vancouver, there have been subtle signs that things are finally coming together for last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winner.
“That’s a good way to describe it—more in concert,” Trotz said after Monday's practice. “I would say that we’re trending that way. More pieces are falling into place.”
“Contribution through the lineup is starting to spread out a little bit,” he added, “not only in five-on-five play but in specific areas, be it special teams, three-on-three, all those special situations.”
Indeed, important contributions are starting to come from different sources. Consider:
- The power play has scored four times during the winning streak (11 opportunities). It's also scored at least one goal in seven of the past 10 games and 10 times in the past 12 contests. If you just look at that 12-game segment, the power play has the eighth best success rate in the NHL during that span (at 21.7-percent). Last season, the unit was ranked 5th (at 21.9-percent).
- The penalty kill has also steady improved its ranking. In fact, after snuffing out 14 of 16 short-handed opportunities during the winning streak, the unit has improved to 11th overall at 83.3-percent. A year ago, the penalty kill was ranked second at 85.2-percent.
- Just as critical as the improving special teams, the Caps are now getting points from some key players who had been ice cold to start the year. John Carlson ended his season-long goal drought against the Sabres and now has four points in four games (goal, three assists). Evgeny Kuznetsov, meantime, has five points (all assists) during the winning streak, while Justin Williams has four points, including three goals, over the past four games.
- The Caps have been strong defensively and in goal all season, but even those areas have been a bit better in recent games. Including the shootout loss in Tampa, the Caps have yielded only seven goals in the past five games, including Braden Holtby's 20-save shutout against the Canucks.
Winger T.J. Oshie agreed that the Caps' play across the board is on the upswing. He also says the collective confidence within the dressing room is growing as a result.
“Our five-on-five game we’re starting to play more direct,” Oshie said. “We’re getting more pucks in deep and with our speed, our work ethic and our talent following that, it presents a lot of O-zone time. Special teams has kind of got to our standard of play. Obviously, the PP, it was struggling for a while there. But we’re getting more shots, we’re getting more goals, we’re not missing the net as much. Our PK, I don’t think it was doing terrible; I think we were doing good. But from the standard we set last year, I think we’ve gotten back to that. It’s made some huge, huge stops, especially [against Vancouver] when we had a lot of penalty kills.”
Defenseman Karl Alzner said he’s isn’t sure what precipitated the turnaround, but he’s sure of this much: there are unmistaken signs that the Caps’ mojo is back. Or, at the very least, on its way.
“The exact reason, I don’t know,” Alzner said. “But we’re playing with more urgency, but under-control urgency. …Every team goes through their low point. Hopefully, that was ours that we just had and we don’t have anything like that again, and somebody else goes through it in January or February and we’ll make up some ground.”
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