Last season, the Caps claimed the Presidents’ Trophy with a franchise record 56 wins.
This season, Barry Trotz and Co. have once again put themselves in position to finish atop the league standings.
But there’s one big difference between the squads—at least in Trotz’s estimation. What is it? Trotz says it’s the players’ increased attentiveness to detail in the defensive zone.
“Last year, we had a lot more cheat in our game,” the veteran head coach said. “We’d still win the game, but we would have a little cheat in our game. Last night’s game [against the Hurricanes], instead of being 5-0 it was 5-3.”
“We were thinking that because we cheat in certain areas that we’d get more offense,” Trotz added. Instead, “we’re finding out that if we don’t cheat that we’re going to have even more offense than if we were cheating.”
And, boy, have the Caps had more offense, especially as of late.
Since Jan. 1, in fact, Washington leads the league in several key statistical categories.
They’re No. 1 in wins (16), standings points (33), goal differential (+46) and power play goals (16). They’ve also shut out six opponents, including back-to-back 5-0 wins over the Kings and ‘Canes.
When Trotz uses the word “cheat”, one thing he’s referring to is forwards heading north before the puck is secured in the defensive zone. It can lead to a quick transition to offense. But it’s also risky; if the puck is not secured, it can create a prime scoring chance against.
“Be on the right side of the puck,” Trotz said. “Our game is about instinct. If [a teammate] has full control [of the puck] then you can stretch the zone and look for seams where we can get you the puck. But if the puck is in doubt, let’s make sure we’re on the right side of the puck. Let’s err on the side of caution. If you’re trying to force things or trying to cheat on the wrong side of the puck, then you have the puck less. We want the puck. When we don’t have it, let’s do the right thing to get it back.”
Although Trotz has preached D-zone detail all season, he said the team’s recent surge has reinforced the message in the dressing room.
“Having those reps [and] understanding the connection between playing a real good 200-foot game with detail allows you to get more offense and have the puck more,” he said. “And when we have the puck, we’re a happy group and we seem to be able to show off what we can do and use our skill set.”
“So,” Trotz added, “the repetition of doing it right and getting results has been the major [reason] we’ve been more consistent.”
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