We’re just about to the quarter pole for the season, having passed the 20-game mark. So, it’s time for a look at the first two ten-game installments for the Caps. The Capitals are a team that can cause more than a bit of head scratching. Fans who have observed the team closely over the first 20 games would say that they are an inconsistent team, given to superior performances on some nights (games against San Jose, Boston, and Philadelphia come to mind). On other nights, they win by just getting by (games against Atlanta, Florida, the Islanders). Then there are those nights when you’d like to swap out the Caps for Hershey even up (losses to the Islanders, the Flyers, and Columbus).
But when all is said and done, the Caps have been a pretty consistent team over ten-game stretches so far. They went 6-2-2 in their first ten games, 6-2-2 in their second ten. They scored 36 goals in their first ten games, 37 in their second ten. They outshot their opponents by 20 shots over their first ten games, they outshot them by 21 in their second ten.
If there is an important difference in the ten-game splits for the Caps, it is special teams. In the first ten games the Caps connected on eight of 48 power play opportunities – 16.7 percent. But while they have had many fewer chances on the man advantage in the second ten games, they have been much more efficient, connecting on 12 of 34 chances – 35.3 percent.
The improvement on the power play has, however, been largely given away by virtue of a poorer penalty kill. Again, the Caps benefitted from allowing fewer power plays to the opposition (49 in the first ten, 34 in the second ten), but they allowed more goals in the second ten games (10) than they did in the first ten (8). The result was that the Caps’ penalty killing percentage dropped from a respectable 83.7 percent in the first ten games to 70.6 percent in the second ten.
Looking at their first 20 games this year compared to last year, the Caps are a more formidable offensive team – more goals, more efficient power play. But what is disturbing is the lack of improvement on defense over this time last year. The Caps are marginally better in terms of allowing goals (down a tenth of a goal a game), but their penalty killing is down from what was a mark below the penalty killing equivalent of the “Mendoza Line” after last year’s first 20 games. On the good side, though, the Caps are allowing more than a full shorthanded chance fewer per game this year over last.
On a team-wide basis, you might say the Caps are who we thought they were – an offensively gifted team that has defensive issues, specifically with respect to playing with fewer than five skaters. Of the 61 goals surrendered by the Caps, 23 of them have come with the Caps playing with fewer than five skaters (the Caps have allowed the most 4-on-4 goals in the league – five).
We came at the defensive issues from another direction in another post. But however you slice it, the Caps cannot be called, by any measure, a good defensive team. The numbers simply do not bear that out. But it isn’t as if they can’t be. Holding Boston and San Jose to a goal apiece, the Flyers to a pair, and the Red Wings to three in their own building show that the Caps can play defense when properly motivated. But waiting on the spring for proper motivation on a more consistent basis is playing with fire. It’s one thing to muster up a defensive effort for a game every week or two. It is quite another to do it every other night for two months in the spring. Whether the Caps can find that motivation on a more regular basis will be something that bears watching as the season moves into its third ten-game segment.
We'll look at the players later.