Capitals weekly roundup: Wakey wakey Washington

By Zach Rice

After a relaxing week off, the Caps struggled to wake up, and three out of five games this week. On the bright side, the week ended off on two high notes, and hopefully the Caps can forget about the lackluster performances in their first three games.

The flaming hot Rangers took advantage of a Caps team that couldn’t get the puck in the back of the net. Igor Shesterkin, who is on pace for the best season by a goalie all time, showed why, by conceding just one goal on 37 shots. He was on fire. Meanwhile in goal for the Caps, Ilya Samsonov struggled greatly and allowed four goals on 21 shots. It’s almost like that’s becoming a theme, isn’t it?

For the second game in a row, the Caps only put one goal on the board and were outmatched goalie-wise against the Flyers. Samsonov had a solid game, allowing two goals on 22 shots, but a sparkling performance from Flyers goaltender Carter Hart dominated the game. Hart gave up one goal on 28 attempts, preventing the Caps from getting anything done offensively in the 2–1 loss. 

Following a 10-goal-game, the Toronto Maple Leafs came to Washington and scored five more, earning them a 5–3 victory. Samsonov’s struggles continued as he gave up three goals in the first period and was pulled from net. Vitek Vanecek came to the rescue in his first game back from the injured list. Vanecek was a brick wall in net to help the Caps tie the game up at three goals a piece in the third. Unfortunately, a goal with under four minutes left and then a game-sealing empty-netter stunned Caps fans, who thought they were about to win one of their best games of the year. Although the Caps lost, the final two periods looked promising for their upcoming games.

Finally, the Caps got in the win column after nearly two weeks. First and foremost, what a performance by Vanecek. The dominant 36-save-shutout was just what the Caps needed in a time of uncertainty at the goalie position. The offense was much smoother, and the Caps were able to put up four goals against the second best team in the NHL, the Carolina Hurricanes. The Caps left the arena to a standing ovation from Caps fans grateful for a win that never seemed as if it would come. This win looks like it’ll be enough to turn the tides in Washington.

Most recently, the Caps put up a dominant performance against the Seattle Kraken winning 5–2 after historically struggling against west coast teams. Vitek Vanecek played out of his mind again, stopping 29 of 31 shots faced. Captain Alex Ovechkin scored in his second game in a row, totaling 34 on the season, and three different Caps players had multi-point performances. 

Here are three takeaways from a promising week of Caps hockey:

Play the Hot Goalie

If the Caps aren’t going to pursue a veteran goalie in the upcoming weeks before the trade deadline, then they need to manage their goalies better. Samsonov and Vanecek have both gone through ups and downs all season. Right now, Samsonov is playing like he should be in Hershey, and Vanecek has rebounded from his injury like an All-Star. Peter Laviolette needs to ride out Vanecek unless he slows down because right now, Samsonov isn’t performing well enough to deserve playing time.

The Caps need to get healthy

The Caps struggles can’t fully be blamed on injuries, but injuries have certainly been a factor. Joe Snively and Carl Hagelin were both recently placed on injured reserve. Thankfully, the Caps recently got back Connor Sheary and Justin Schultz. As long as the Caps can stay mostly healthy and play good enough hockey to remain in the wildcard spot, they have the potential to make a run in the playoffs.

Defense has been atrocious

Even though Ilya Samsonov hasn’t been at the top of his game, the Caps defense hasn’t been helping him out. In the earlier games this week against the Maple Leafs, Flyers and Rangers, lazy defense allowed for the opposing teams to cruise into the zone and effortlessly fire shots on goal. Caps defenseman John Carlson has been especially slow; it’s like he’s skating in mud. Thankfully, having Justin Schultz back will provide some aid to the struggling defense. 

Hot Take: Change up the power play

The Capitals have been one of the worst power play teams all year, so it’s about time for something to change. The 1–3–1 Washington has run for years has been inefficient, so it’s time to change Ovechkin’s role. A player like Ovi, who can chill in “the office” and score almost at will when he touches the puck, but it’s about time he gets moving. Him standing in one spot simply isn’t working and is pretty defendable. It’s time for players to get moving throughout the zone on the power play.