Capitals know ‘everything has to be better' as skid continues


As Trevor van Riemsdyk and Nicklas Backstrom sat at the postgame press conference after Sunday’s 4-1 loss to the Senators, their sense of frustration was palpable.

The Capitals are now 6-9-2 since Jan. 1 and whatever the fixes are haven’t immediately presented themselves since the new year began.

Over the last few weeks, patience has grown to frustration and the loss to Ottawa ended a five-day stretch where Washington lost at home to Columbus and won ugly in Montreal. And a big part of that frustration, as evidenced by the loss Sunday, is that there’s no apparent fix at the moment.

“Last couple weeks here we haven’t played with that flow that we did earlier, like the mojo like we used to have here,” Backstrom said. “I feel like we are putting ourselves in bad spots, d-zone, neutral zone, we are not creating as much as we should. I just think that everything needs to be better. We got to, I don’t know what it is, I feel like we just got to relax and try to play our game here because that is not our game.”

As of 4 pm Sunday, the Capitals’ 14 points since Jan. 1 ranks 23rd in the NHL. Their five-on-five shot attempt percentage has dipped from 51.79% to 50.75% compared to 2021, as has their expected-goal percentage, from 52.54% to 49.08%. And, it’s not only the offense that has fallen off. 

The team’s goalies made 90.96% of saves through Dec. 31 and 89.36% of saves since the new year. When asked if the team needed more from goaltender Ilya Samsonov, coach Peter Laviolette remarked that it’s the entire team. 

“We need more from everybody,” Laviolette said. “I don’t think it’s fair to go to one guy when you’re looking to win hockey games. Everybody’s got to put their hands on the rope."

Those percentages might not seem drastic, but put together, it’s created a bad six or so weeks for a Capitals team that rolled through the first three months of the season despite a bevy of injuries up and down the lineup.

“It’s something that we really want to get sorted out, obviously,” van Riemsdyk said. “We’re working at it, to try to figure out what that is. We didn’t have the best start today. Felt like we were chasing it. In the second and third period, I thought we generated a little better. But it didn’t seem to go our way.”

There are easy excuses to make, of which the Capitals didn’t take any. Vitek Vanecek has been out with an upper-body injury in recent days, T.J. Oshie has been out of the lineup since Jan. 15 and has only played two games since Jan. 1. Anthony Mantha’s long absence from the top six has been felt more now as well with the team struggling offensively. But there weren't any of those comments from the Capitals on Sunday.

The special teams has also suffered in the new year, as the power play is at just 16.3% since Jan. 1 and the penalty kill is at 72.6%. Both rank 26th in the league in that timeframe. 

Backstrom remarked that he thought the man-advantage might be trying to do too much, which has only led to more problems as they look to fix it. 

“We are all competitive guys and especially on the power play, you want the power play to click because you know that can help win hockey games,” Backstrom said. “Gets a little frustrating, I think. And as you said too, we are squeezing the stick a little too hard, that is part of it for sure but I mean we just got to I don’t know, I feel like we can be better using the whole ice a little bit better not just there on the boards.”

With just 32 games left until the end of the regular season, and only five weeks until the trade deadline, the Capitals know they’ve got to find the answers sooner rather than later. 

“The start of the season you don’t know where the teams are going to be and now they are, you get that identity on every team,” Backstrom said. “That is where we are at. That is what we have to come to. You see every other team is buzzing right now and we are not. That is something we have to get back to.”

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