The Washington Capitals enter tonight’s match-up with the Philadelphia Flyers with a 23-11-8 record (sixth in the Eastern Conference), but a stellar 13-1-4 mark in their last 18 games. After today’s practice, nine Washington players were asked what grade they would give the Capitals as of the mid-way point of the season.
Most of the team was extremely pleased with how the Capitals are playing, with Joel Ward most enthusiastic, giving the squad an A++.
“Absolutely an A,” echoed Mike Green.
Several players were more tempered. Karl Alzner said the Capitals are “really good at times and at times not as good.” He still gave the team a “close to A-.” Andre Burakovsky agreed that “every game is different.”
When asked the strength of the team this year, several players cited improved 5-on-5 play as the biggest reason for more success. This observation is supported statically. In the 2013-2014 season, the Capitals 5-on-5 goals for vs. goals against average was .90, or 23rd in the NHL. This season, the Capitals have improved to a 1.12 ratio, or ninth best in the League.
Almost every player praised the power play, which is currently fourth in the League, coverting at 24 percent. Last season, the Capitals were also dominant at 23.4 percent (second in the League). Jay Beagle said it was the strength of the team.
The penalty kill is the biggest concern, even though every player praised how it has improved lately.
“Lately, PK is winning us hockey games,” Green said in.
Jack Hillen agreed. “Penalty kill is starting to play better,” he said.
The team is currently 23rd in PK at 79 percent. Last year, the Capitals killed off penalties 82 percent of the time.
When asked what the team needs to work on to contend for the Stanley Cup, most players talked in generalities, not specifics.
“[We need to] find a way to win games and everything else will follow,” Ward said.
Similarly, Braden Holtby said the team needs to “focus on what we are trying to accomplish.”
Other players felt the team was very close. We just need “fine-tuning of our game,” said Green.
Troy Brouwer and Beagle talked about the need to close out tight games. Statistically, the Capitals are actually good at finishing. The Capitals are second in the League in winning percentage after scoring first (84.6%), fifth in winning percentage after leading after one period (86.7%) and thirteenth after leading after two periods (87.0%).
Lastly, Brouwer talked about the team needing to be more disciplined. The Capitals penalty kill to power play ratio is sixth-worst in the League. Washington is ninth-worst in giving up power play goals.
It is good the Capitals have such confidence. Hopefully that will translate into a strong playoff run.