The first 11 days of November brought along a five-game homestand for a Capitals team that played an extremely inconsistent first month of the season.
After losing back to back games to start the month, Washington rattled off back to back wins for the first time this season.
In those back to back wins, the Capitals defeated one of brightest stars of the NHL in Connor McDavid and their arch-rival Pittsburgh Penguins. Continuing the back to back trend, the third and fourth games of the homestand featured 2018 Eastern Conference Playoff rematches against the Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets.
After trading away last year’s backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer during the off-season; Washington entered this season in search of a new backup goalie.
Enter Pheonix Copley. Copley earned his first NHL win in Calgary against the Flames at the end of October. He followed it up with a his first home win against McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. In his three starts this season, Copley has showed improvement and the ability to be a strong backup going forward.
Starting goaltender Braden Holtby recorded 41 saves in his best performance of the season against the Penguins. Holtby followed his 41 save performance with 34 saves against the Blue Jackets just two nights later. In the two games against last year’s playoff foes, Holtby stopped 75 of the 78 shots he faced; the only three goals allowed were on opponents’ power plays.
Speaking of the Caps’ penalty kill unit, they can’t get a stop. More importantly, they can’t get a stop in close games. In their past three games, Washington has given up five goals; four of them have been on man-disadvantages.
Coming into this season, head coach Todd Reirden knew finding the perfect penalty killing unit was at the top of his priority list, especially with the loss of now Vancouver Canucks center Jay Beagle.
At the time of publishing, the Capitals own the fifth-worse PK unit in the NHL; only five percentage points away from the last spot in the league. With defensive injuries to veteran Brooks Orpik and Associate Captain John Carlson; Reirden has some work to do to find the right solution while Tom Wilson finishes his suspension.
“Right now, we just can’t seem to kill a penalty, in a tight game, that hurts.”
-Capitals Defenseman Matt Niskanen on the recent PK struggles
As for the other special teams unit; the Capitals have consistently owned the best power play unit in the league over the past five years. Not only has their PP unit been at the top of the league, their success rate hasn’t even come close to the next best team. Over the past two weeks, the Capitals power play success has dropped over six percentage points. So much so that they are currently second in the league behind the Winnipeg Jets.
Washington’s power play unit has had multiple two man advantages over the past week and failed to cash in. Those multiple man advantages all came in situations where the Caps absolutely needed a goal to tie or win a game late in regulation.
WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO
While the inconsistencies in the Caps’ game won’t be an overnight or immediate fix, there is hope that the defending champs will get it in gear sooner rather than later.
Norris Trophy hopeful John Carlson is currently listed as “day-to-day” with a lower body injury. He missed Friday night’s loss to the Blue Jackets, but returned to practice Saturday. Expectations are that he will return to the lineup Sunday against the Arizona Coyotes. The Caps’ could ill-afford to play without his production for too long. He is tied for second on the team with 18 points, and more importantly the point-man on the Capitals’ potent power play unit.
Sticking with returns, the one Caps fans have been waiting on and possibly need the most isn’t too far away. First line forward Tom Wilson will return to the lineup no later than November 21st against the Chicago Blackhawks. Wilson is currently awaiting his fate after appealing his 20 game suspension to an independent arbitrator in October. The arbitrator’s decision is expected to be handed down sometime this week. Whether Wilson ends up serving all 20 games or receives a reduction in his punishment, he will be back in the line up within the next 11 days.