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NHL Power Rankings: Just a slump or is it time to panic?

NHL Power Rankings: Just a slump or is it time to panic?

At the end of November in 2015, the Caps were enjoying a five-game winning streak and everything looked like it was going their way. That hasn't been the case this season as Washington is now sputtering with a three-game losing streak.

Is it time to panic? Are the Caps not as good as we thought they were?

It's too soon to tell. Every team in the NHL goes through slumps in a long 82-game season. Let's not forget, everyone was ready to panic in October after seeing Washington lose two consecutive games in regulation, but the team responded with five straight wins.

SEE THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

This slump, however, is more troubling given that it came against the Maple Leafs, Islanders and Lightning, all teams who have struggled of late. The Caps have also managed just three goals in those three games.

Given the roster this team has, it's not time to do anything rash. Offense has been the biggest problem and this team is loaded with offensive talent. They will get time to play this out.

But Barry Trotz and Brian MacLellan also can't allow this to continue much longer. Jakub Vrana and Paul Carey are already getting playing time after getting called up from Hershey. If Washington doesn't turn things around soon, more changes will be coming.

Where do the Caps stand now with their latest slump? Find out here in his week's NHL Power Rankings.

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Lumberjack Caps enjoy off day...throwing axes

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@ForgedAxeWhis

Lumberjack Caps enjoy off day...throwing axes

The reigning Stanley Cup champions seemingly have boat loads of team fun while on the road. 

A day after cruising past the Vancouver Canucks (5-2, win) at their place, the team enjoyed a little friendly competition inside an...axe throwing arena. 

Forged Axe Throwing is an indoor facility in the countryside of Whistler, British Columbia. 

Dressed as lumberjacks, the Caps dove right into their team-building activity. 

Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom went head-to-head for Swedish bragging rights. 

To no one's surprise, Alex Ovechkin is as much of a goal-scorer as he is an axe-thrower. 

But it was T.J. Oshie who walked away with the Forged Axe Throwing title on this day. 

Needless to say, Tuesday wasn't your average off day for a National Hockey League team. But as reigning champs, everyday is atypical. 

 

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Braden Holtby reveals the real reason for his struggles last season

Braden Holtby reveals the real reason for his struggles last season

Last season was by far Braden Holtby’s worst in the NHL.

With a .907 save percentage and 2.99 GAA, Holtby was not even considered the starter for the Capitals heading into the playoffs. While his overall numbers were low, things really spiraled at the start of February.

From February 2 to March 6, Holtby managed a save percentage of only .878 and gave up a whopping 4.32 GAA. It was the worst stretch of his professional career.

There have been many theories as to the cause of Holtby’s struggles. From 2012-13 through last season, only one goalie played in more games than Holtby’s 340. After Philipp Grubauer took over, Holtby thrived in the postseason.

But neither goalie coach Scott Murray or Braden Holtby believe the issue was fatigue.

“You don't want to overuse a No. 1 guy, but [Holtby’s] a guy that has proven he can play some games and be productive,” Murray said.

The real issue, in Holtby’s mind, was the changing culture of the NHL and its focus on offense.

“It's a skill-based league now, not a toughness based league,” Holtby told NBC Sports Washington. “I see that in the league trying to take players out that play a physical game. It's hard. It's strange for us that grew up kind of loving that game because of the toughness and the heart that it took and different ways to win games. It's hard to see that kind of softness come through. That's one of those things I struggled with last year and I think you grow up and try and just ignore it and control your own game.”

It’s no secret that the NHL is trying to increase scoring with changes such as making goalie pads and pants smaller and referees calling games tighter leading to more penalties and less physical play. The league’s efforts seem to be working - in the 2017-18 season, the average goals scored per team jumped up by 10 percent.

Here are the average goals per game per team in the NHL from the 2010-11 season through 2016-17:

2010-11: 2.79
2011-12: 2.73
2012-13: 2.72
2013-14: 2.74
2014-15: 2.73
2015-16: 2.71
2016-17: 2.77

In every season during that stretch, the average fell between 2.71-2.79. In the 2017-18 season, however, that average jumped up all the way up to 2.97.

Successful NHL goalies are expected to have a save percentage over .910 and a GAA below 2.50. But what happens when that standard changes? For Holtby, he struggled to evaluate his own performance. He felt he was playing well, but the numbers told a different story.

“That was one of the real challenges last year, especially through the first four months or so,” Holtby said. “We try to evaluate it every game the same based on every play and not how the game is and it felt that, both [Murray], [goaltending director Mitch Korn] and I felt that I was playing better than I had years passed and the numbers just weren't obviously showing that and it became frustrating and that started to creep in my game. That's kind of a main reason why you saw the drop off in February.”

If the issue was not fatigue, however, then why was time off the solution?

According to Murray, it wasn’t.

“It's always good to have rest, but I think more importantly he had to reinvent himself a little bit and reestablish his foundation that got him here in the first place which is a blue-collar attitude,” Murray said. “I'm going to work and I'm going to stick to what I'm good at, my habits and make sure they're good and let some of the outside stuff go. I think that was just as important as rest, kind of that reset button and understanding who he was and what got him there and getting back to that.”

It’s an important lesson that Holtby will have to remember for this season as scoring has jumped up yet again even over last season. In the first month of play, the average number of goals per game per team has climbed to 3.10. Should that trend stick, it will be the first time the average has gone over 3.00 since 2005-06.

“You know there's going to be more goals, more chances,” Holtby said. “Just focus on every play and just leave out the rest because those are things you just can't control. That's just life.”

 

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