Slumping Caps need to turn possession into goals

AP
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The Washington Capitals definitely haven’t lacked for shots in their last three games.

But they have lacked goals, which is why they lost all three — 4-2 to Toronto (35 shots), 3-0 to the Islanders (38 shots), and 2-1 in a shootout to Tampa Bay (35 shots).

And so the Caps have been left searching for solutions.

“I think we need to be a little more gritty, go in front of the net instead of all three guys trying to cycle the puck all the time,” veteran center Nicklas Backstrom said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “I mean, we need a least one guy in front of the net. Shots, rebounds—that’s the kind of goals that goes in these days. We have to be able to go in front of the net and go to the dirty areas and create second chances.”

He may be right.

Or, maybe it’s just been bad luck.

Either way, the Capitals have once again been a dominant five-on-five possession team this season, with a score-adjusted Corsi that ranks second to only Boston. But a quarter of the way through the schedule, they only have the NHL’s 19th-best offense (2.52 goals per game).

Last season, when they romped to the Presidents’ Trophy, the offense ranked second (3.02).

It hasn’t helped that Washington’s power play hasn’t been near as dangerous, with only 11 goals through 23 games. Last season, the PP had 19 goals by the 23-game mark. 

Individually, the laggards include Evgeny Kuznetsov, with just three goals; Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, and Justin Williams, with only two each; and John Carlson, with none.

For the record, Alex Ovechkin has 12, so it’s not on him.

Thanks to solid team defense and goaltending, the Caps have still managed a pretty impressive record (13-7-3).

But in case you haven’t noticed, the Metropolitan Division is starting to emerge as the new power grouping in the NHL, with the Columbus Blue Jackets suddenly a threat to take one of the three automatic playoff spots.

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The Capitals host Jack Eichel and the Sabres tonight. A loss to Buffalo, combined with a Boston win over Florida, and the Caps would actually find themselves outside the playoff picture.

True, Washington would still hold games in hand on most of its competition, so it’s no time to panic.

But it’s a wake-up call all the same. There’s a lot more competition in the Eastern Conference these days. Nothing is guaranteed.