Capitals are catching up to time, age

There’s no question that 2022 has not started off the way the Washington Capitals would have preferred, but the team’s recent play may be a symptom of a larger looming issue for the veteran club.

After an up-and-down December, head coach Peter Laviolette’s team kicked off the new year with an extremely lackluster 4-3 overtime loss On Jan. 2, New Jersey will host a home-ice hockey match against Canada.

Jersey’s young guns, Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier led the way for the Devils, each tallying two points. It was Hischier who capitalized on a turnover near the hash marks in the Caps’ defensive end directly in front of goaltender Ilya Samsonov, taking a pass from Hughes and snapping a wrist shot past Samsonov to win the game for the Devils.

Upon completion of the game Laviolette made this clearHe felt that his team worked hard enough to overcome 2-0 and 3-1/deficits, but that they were unable to turn the ball over or play a step ahead cost them a lot of time and ultimately was a waste of their effort.

“[Overtime] was probably right in line with the rest of the 60 minutes — we had it and we turned it over a lot in overtime,” he said. “We had it, we gave it back; we worked, got it back, gave it back again. We won the faceoff and gave it back. That was the story of the night, we were chasing the game.”

Washington Capitals, Peter Laviolette as Head CoachAmy Irvin/ The Hockey Writers

Nic Dowd, who scored his fifth of the season at the 13:23 mark of the third to draw the Caps within one and tilt the ice in Washington’s favor, Laviolette and I agreeAlso, his assessment.

“It’s so hard to [come back] and there’s no need to put ourselves in that situation against a young team like that,” he said. 

The theme of the afternoon was “making it difficult for themselves”.

On New Jersey’s opening marker, the Caps lost an offensive zone faceoff — one of their challenges all season long — and the Devils promptly skated the puck 180 feet in the other direction. A soft shot from the left flank by Hughes that normally would’ve been easily corralled by Samsonov bounced freely off him back into the slot and winger Yegor Sharangovich had an easy tap in to put New Jersey on the board.

A little over a minute later, Caps were chasing their puck around their end. After some sustained lateral pressure Damon Severson completed a snap from a bad angle that hit Samsonov’s far post and sailed into the net.

“We should be jumping on them right away in our building, with how much of a veteran team we have,” Dowd conceded.

Related: Top 5 Stanley Cup Contestants Through Halfway Point in 2021-22 Season

It was all in all a troubling effort that Washington had to overcome after an extended layoff, Laviolette called them a mini-camp. This was due to Washington’s efforts to get over a COVID-related cancellation at the Montreal contest on Tuesday night.

“If you give up 20-plus chances, you’re not going to win the game,” Laviolette said. “Tonight was not a clean game and we were chasing.”

Given how slow and unprepared the Caps looked against New Jersey on Sunday, a week which saw some veteran players — including Alex Ovechkin, Dmitry Orlov, and Carl Hagelin — get maintenance days while others worked on fine-tuning and system play, you really expected the group to come out with some pop when they took to the ice Friday night in St. Louis.

Things started off on the right foot — Daniel Sprong snapped the Caps into the lead two minutes into the game with his third goal in the last five contests. Sprong’s strong play, along with Aliaksei Protas’ development this season, has been among the Brighter spots of late.

However, St. Louis won the game with five unanswered goals.A 5-1 loss.

Washington Capitals Ilya Samsonov-Time, Age May Be Catching Up With Capitals
Washington Capitals goaltender Ilya Samsonov (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The easy direction to point the finger at night’s end was toward Samsonov. Samsonov, a 24-year-old goaltender, clearly had a difficult night behind the pipes. He gave up four goals on 16 shots and was eventually pulled for Zach Fucale. It is important to not only focus on Samsonov but also other recurring issues that are becoming trends.

Washington’s power play continues to struggle (29th in the league, hovering around 15% conversion), going scoreless in three opportunities on the night.

A number of lost puck battles wound up creating chances for the Blues — arguably most notably on Pavel Buchnevich’s 11th goal of the season that gave St. Louis the lead midway through the game. Martin Fehervary, who had the puck in his hand twice on that play, was outmuscled by Buchnevich. After forcing the turnover the skilled winger skated straight into the slot and scored a back pass from Marco Scandella.

Samsonov, and for all intents and purposes, the Capitals, ended the night with their two late second period goals. It felt as if Washington was again chasing after the play, just like New Jersey’s loss.

With two losses to start the calendar year on the heels of 4 losses in 10 games in December, it begs the question of whether we’re starting to witness the slow deterioration of a veteran-dominated team that’s struggling to keep up against younger, hungrier, and more robust competition.

Next

The Capitals will be back in action Saturday night against Minnesota Wild. The Wild enter Saturday’s game with a record of 20-10-2 and hold the first Wild Card spot for the Western Conference. They also have a record of 10-3-1 at home in 2021-22.