Washington Capitals - Biggest Team Need?
I hope you are all doing well today. Today we are looking at what the team needs to be "complete".
The Washington Capitals have had their fair share of successes and struggles since winning their first ever Stanley Cup in the 2017-2018 season. They have won the Metropolitan Division in back to back seasons but have also been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs to a wild card team in back to back seasons. There are many reasons the Capitals have fallen short the last few years since winning the cup: Coaching, defense, goaltending, depth scoring, etc. The Capitals decision to let Barry Trotz walk after winning the Stanley Cup was a catastrophic decision that left many fans and analysts scratching their heads. What team in their right minds would not re-sign a Stanley Cup winning coach? What we have seen the last two years in the postseason is really just a sample size of the residual effects of this devastating move. I think I speak for all Caps fans when I say the last two seasons (even with two division titles) have been remarkably disappointing considering the teams potential. The Capitals are an elite team on paper who have the talent and experience to win another Cup. The team’s inability to get out of the first round the last two seasons is inexcusable and hence why Coach Todd Reirden was let go.
Today however, we are turning the page to the Laviolette era and taking a realistic look at the future. The Washington Capitals are fully capable of competing for the Stanley Cup next year. As of this morning, VegasInsider has the Capitals T-6th best odds to win the Stanley Cup. It is worth noting the Capitals are tied with division foe, the Philadelphia Flyers. Peter Laviolette is the head coach of the Capitals now and we have officially turned the page on the Todd Reirden era. I am beyond excited about the head coaching change and confidently feel there will a catalytic effect on the Caps production on both offense and defense. With that being said, every team has strengths and weaknesses. There is plenty to be excited about but there are a ton of question marks that remain.
So, what is the ONE THING the Washington Capitals need to realistically compete for a Stanley Cup in 2020-2021? To be honest there may not be one thing but for the purpose of today, I am picking one. I am going with DEFENSE!!!
When the Capitals won the Stanley Cup in 2017-2018, they rode a Trotz-style defense, timely goaltending from Holtby, and LOTS of depth scoring. Everything just fell in to place as is typically the case for teams who go on to win the Cup. The once consistent Capitals defense has evaporated of the last two years. The Caps gave up the 14th most goals against per game with 3.07 in 2019-2020. They had the 5th most goal against per game after January 1st, 2020 with 3.29. As a partial consequence of defensive inconsistency, Braden Holtby struggled big time last year. Of the 61 qualified goalies who played at least 15 GP, Holtby ranked 53rd with a .897 SV% and 48th with a 3.11 GAA. Some of Holtby’s struggles are 100% on him but the defense also did not help out consistently.
During the 2019-2020 season, the Capitals ranked 13th worse in the league in high danger scoring changes against 5v5 at 603 chances against. For reference, the Jets were the worst at 756 chances against. The Blackhawks were 2nd worst with 728 high danger chances against. In terms of high danger goals against 5v5, the Capitals were 8th worst during the 2019-2020 regular season. They gave up 88 high dangers goals against at 5v5. Teams worse than the Capitals were Detroit, Winnipeg, Toronto, San Jose, Chicago, Ottawa, and Edmonton. Most of these teams are hardly in the realm as being considered serious Stanley Cup Contenders. If the Caps want to be considered serious Stanley Cup threats, they need to reverse this statistical trend
Why am I harping so much on goals against, high danger chances against, and high danger goals against? Well, with the departure of Holtby, the Capitals will now lean on their young sensational goaltender in Ilya Samsonov. Other than Filip Forsberg, Samsonov is probably one of the Capitals most notable prospects in the Ovechkin Era. Even with an inconsistent defense in front of him, Samsonov showed consistent flashes of greatness last year in 1A/1B duties alongside Holtby. The reality is, Samsonov only has 26 NHL games played under his belt. Our newly acquired backup Henrik Lundqvist is coming off one the worst seasons in his career. Similar to Holtby, Lundqvist ranked 52nd of 61 with a .905 SV%. He ranked 50th out of 61 goalies with a 3.11 GAA. Qualified goalies had to play a minimum of 15 games played. Both these categories for Lundqvist were career worst stats for him. I firmly believe if the Capitals can sure up their defense, more notably limiting high danger chances against, their goalies will have a significantly easier time keeping the puck out of the back of the net next season. If they do not, Samsonov and Lundqvist could be in for tough seasons.
From a roster standpoint, the Capitals have tried to address the defense during the offseason. They re-signed Brandon Dillon to a four-year deal. They signed Justin Schultz to a two-year deal. They also signed Trevor Van Riemsdyk to team friendly one-year 800k deal. Lastly, the Capitals re-signed Jonas Siegenthaler to a one-year 800k deal. With the Capitals salary cap already tight, some of these signings are debatable but you can’t knock the Caps for investing in players to improve their biggest weakness.
The defense is easily the biggest question mark for next season. It remains to be seen if the new faces or new system that Laviolette bring in will be enough to overcome last seasons shortcomings. If they can solidify the defense, Samsonov and Lundqvist are going to be in great position to be successful next season.
I could have written an entire blog about addressing the Caps lack of depth scoring but I don’t believe that is as big of a deal as the defensive lapses the last couple years. Lack of depth scoring is certainly a concern but with Laviolette’s offensive track record, I am confident they will sort that out in due time.
What are your thoughts? In a perfect world, what is one thing the Capitals need to be complete?
As always, thanks for reading! Have a great day everyone! GO CAPS
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