The Capitals’ Underperforming January: What Went Wrong in Washington?

The Capitals saved their season with an 11-2-2 in December.

They’ve risked it again by going 5-7-1 so far in January.

Where did the slip occur?

in a word, all over.

Offensively, the Caps are down nearly a goal per game compared to December. The most important reason: They lead fewer passes into the slot and take fewer shots from the slot and the inner slot. They also generate one less forecheck chance per contest. in summary, They’re not fighting their way inside the offensive zone as effectively as they were a month ago.

Caps’ offensive metrics per game

statistics December (Rank) January (Rank)


4.00 (3rd)

2.62 (27th)

Expected Goals

3.32 (4th)

2.68 (22nd)

OZ ownership

6:59 (12th)

7:16 (7th)

slot shots

15.7 (4th)

13.4 (17th)

Inner slot recordings

8.1 (3.)

6.3 (20th)

slot passes

16.8 (4th)

15.7 (9th)

rush chances

6.1 (14th)

5.8 (16th)

cycle chances

9.6 (22nd)

9.5 (17th)

foresee opportunities

2.6 (8th)

1.5 (29th)

rebound chances

1.8 (13th)

1.8 (20th)

Through the games on Sunday

Washington topped its expected goal count in December by .68 per game, but is right near its expected goal count in January.

Coach Peter Laviolette recently said getting inside and getting around the net had been a focus.

“We talked about just trying to get closer to that (blue) colour, doing something a little bit more, getting a little bit tighter, positioning a little bit better, maybe working a little bit harder to find the track Deliver the puck, a little more traffic, a little more second effort once the puck’s been delivered,” Laviolette said of the team’s skate briefing last Thursday before morning.

“It’s a fine line,” he added. “I don’t feel like we’re doing much differently from December to January, but the targets have been a little harder to achieve this month. So (it is) what can we do in this area to get a little bit better?

In the Caps’ most recent loss, a miss-plagued 5-1 setback in Toronto, the Maple Leafs held their own without Auston Matthews in a crucial second half inside, forging a 9-4 lead on shots from the slot and scoring four goals. The Caps saw a 0-1 lead turn into a 1-4 deficit.

After the game, Anthony Mantha complained about another concern: the lack of traffic in front of Leafs goalie Ilya Samsonov.

“We have good shots but no traffic in front of the goalie,” said Mantha. “It makes it easy for him. We need to bring bodies and get those second and third chances to maybe go in and maybe the games will turn around if we do that.

The rise in the rating over the past month, fueled by contributions from secondary sources, has also come back down to earth. Consider:

  • Erik Gustafsson has one goal and four points in January after scoring six goals and 14 points in December.
  • Lars Eller is yet to score a point this month after registering four goals and three assists last month.
  • Conor Sheary had four goals and 15 points in December but has one goal and four points in January.
  • Nic Dowd scored six goals last month but has missed seven games this month, including the last six through injury.
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov has accumulated assists but no goals this month and has scored six goals this season.

“It’s up and down,” Laviolette said of Kuznetsov’s shooting rate, which is a career-low at 5 percent. “There are years when it’s over. He generates chances, I think he looks good and they don’t let up.

Overall, the Caps shooting rate has fallen from 11.8 percent last month (fourth in the NHL) to 8 percent this month (29th).

“It’s the same as a team,” Laviolette said. “This month we just have to get a little bit better, keep pushing, try not to get frustrated. When we didn’t get chances, when we didn’t get opportunities, when we didn’t get the shots and the zone time, you step back and say, “OK, what are we doing wrong?” We’re in there, so it’s like, ‘What can we do to get a little bit better once we’re in there?’”

When it comes to the offensive, the power play has also been running much colder recently. In December, it ranked 11th with 25 percent. In January, it sits 24th at 15.6 percent after surviving a six-game drought. John Carlson’s absence probably had a chilling effect; he has been sidelined since December 23.

“That’s a big part of it,” Laviolette said of the unit’s missing quarterback.

“(Other) guys come in and out of the lineup, even on short notice,” Laviolette added. “Nick (Backstrom) out. Tom (Wilson) out. TJ (Oshie) out. guys coming back. Everyone is dealing with it, so we have to keep trying to bring that together.

The Caps, who allow almost one more goal per game compared to December, are also doing well in some areas on the defensive.

Caps per game defensive metrics

statistics December (Rank) January (Rank)

goals against

2.20 (2nd)

3.15 (19th)

Expected goals

2:31 (2nd)

2.63 (7th)

OZ possession against

6:30 (12th)

5:41 (4th)

Slot shots against

12.3 (12th)

12.6 (10th)

Slot goes against

14.5 (16th)

13:1 (6th)

Inside slit shoots against it

5.4 (4th)

6.3 (13.)

Rush chances against it

5.4 (10th)

6.3 (24th)

Forecheck odds against

1.4 (2nd)

2.2 (12.)

Rebound chances against it

0.7 (1st)

1.4 (6th)

The most notable drop-offs on defense are shots from the inside slot and scoring chances allowed from the rush.

In recent games, Laviolette and Player noted, atypical mistakes in defense have proved costly.

“Out of position, wrong assignment, and it got us,” Laviolette said of the multiple collapses in the second period in Toronto. “It’s not that we were held at our end and couldn’t get out, it’s just that when we made a mistake it was a big mistake and it created a dangerous situation.”

Nicklas Backstrom added: “Some games were good, some not so good. This is obviously an area that we need to streamline a bit.”

The final area that Sportlogiq’s data highlights for relapse is goalkeeping. Darcy Kuemper has started 11 out of 13 games this month. He’s also been drawn in two of the last four (in Las Vegas and Toronto), each time after giving up the fourth goal of the game in the second half as Laviolette tried to get everyone’s attention.

Caps goalie metrics

statistics December (Rank) January (Rank)

Save on computer %

.928 (2nd)

0.896 (24th)

Slot save %

.880 (3rd)

.821 (20th)

Inner slot save %

.813 (7th)

.753 (23rd)

Goals saved over expected per 60

0.33 (4th)

-0.37 (24th)

Putting it all together, the Caps are in a precarious position before they get an 11-day break thanks to the All-Star hiatus and their bye week. As of Monday afternoon, they were in the first wildcard spot, but Pittsburgh and Buffalo were close behind with games in hand.

“The tables are getting tight this time of year and you want to climb as much as possible,” Sheary said. “Our biggest rise this season was when we had 11 wins in the last month. We have to come back to that.”

In fact, it’s been more than a month since the Caps managed to string back-to-back wins.

“If you want to make the playoffs,” Backstrom said, “you’ve got to add up a few wins — winning streaks, that’s what you need. It’s too close in the overall standings and the teams are catching up.”

—All chart data provided by Sportlogiq

(Photo: Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)


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