NHL on NBC: Cause for concern with Capitals’ recent slide?

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

SEAN: Beating a good Calgary team to stop their seven-game skid was a good start to putting a tough end to January in the rear-view mirror. If this Capitals team hadn’t won the Stanley Cup last June, think of how much concern there might be. But they’re the defending champions, and every team is going to have swoons at some point in the season. The bye week/All-Star break couldn’t have come for a better time for them.

And while one win doesn’t turn a slide around entirely, you’d like to see better goaltending the rest of the way. Braden Holtby and Pheonix Copley have posted sub .900 even strength save percentages since Jan. 1. That could see an uptick over with their first six games out of the break at home and with the remaining five games coming against teams going through their own struggles.

Concern? These next few weeks could show a better picture, especially as they try and chase the red-hot New York Islanders, who have taken over control of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

JAMES: On one hand, I’m not concerned about the Capitals making the playoffs.

But when it comes to hanging with the  best of the best? That’s when I start to worry.

This is a team that has some red flags from a wide variety of possession standpoints. While Washington checks the major “blueprint” boxes – not one, but two great centers, superhuman sniper, top defenseman, proven goalie – I wonder if they’d get exposed against one of the Atlantic powerhouses.

Pro tip: make sure you stay in the Metro bracket, Caps.

ADAM: I’m not going to be too concerned here.

I think it is entirely possible that the Capitals were probably not as good as their record was before this recent slide. I also know for a fact they are not as bad as they looked on their recent slide. Balance it all out and their overall record for the season is probably about exactly right where it should be — a team in contention for the division title but maybe not, at this point, one of the NHL’s elites. Is that something to be terribly concerned about? I’m just not there yet. The talent is still there and, ultimately, that is what wins.

Braden Holtby still has a higher level he can get to (and he showed in the playoffs a year ago he can get there at any time, even if his regular season is not great) and if/when that happens that is going to mask a lot of the flaws that seem to exist right now.
The Capitals have been so good and so dominant during the regular season for so long that when a team like this hits a lull it is easy to overreact and think there is something broken. But if I had to wager I would say by the end of this season they are back in the triple-digits for points, probably in first or second place in the Metropolitan Division, and a strong contender to win the Eastern Conference again.

JOEY: I’m not too worried about the way the Capitals have been playing of late. Braden Holtby has been struggling, which isn’t new. As dominant as he’s been at times, we’ve seen him go through difficult periods over the years. Last season was just one example of that. Holtby was so bad that he nearly lost the starting job to Philip Grubauer only to gain it back in the playoffs.

Evgeni Kuznetsov is coming off a stretch that saw him pick up four points in 10 games, but over his last three contests he’s already accumulated five points. There’s no way his production was going to keep dipping, either. The same goes for Nicklas Backstrom. He had two points in eight games and he’s already six points in his last four outings.

This team is still really good. It’s important that the hockey world doesn’t forget that.

SCOTT: The Capitals lost seven of their first 12 games last season and went on to win the Stanley Cup. That’s not giving them a pass for losing seven straight prior to Friday night’s win, but I think when you lose seven straight, things become a little overblown than they need to be. At the end of the day, they’re two points back of top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

With that being said, there were a few red flags during that seven-game losing streak. Blown leads instead of having a killer instinct, poor play from Braden Holtby at times, and a large reliance on Alex Ovechkin to do a lot of the heavy lifting (Evgeny Kuznetsov had two goals during the skid; secondary scoring wasn’t coming). Nicklas Backstrom cooled off for a bit during that streak, too.

In the end, I think Washington is as well-equipped as any to deal with adversity. There are a lot of battle-hardened guys on that team who have dealt with losing in the past. It was important to end the losing streak. Now it’s important to re-group down the stretch.

John Forslund, Mike Milbury, and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass analyst) will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Kathryn Tappen will host studio coverage alongside Eddie Olczyk and Keith Jones.