The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers faced off at 12:30 pm on Saturday, February 20. The result of the bout was a decisive 4-1 victory for the Rangers. The Washington loss comes as a surprise to hockey viewers as the Capitals entered the game as clear favorites. So what went wrong for the Washington Capitals and what can they do to fix it?
Slow Starts and Sloppy Passes
For all their skill and offensive depth, the Washington Capitals did not look like a playoff contender in this game. It is not abnormal for teams to have slow starts during midday games, but it is uncharacteristic of Washington to turn a slow first period into a slow game. The Capitals were outskated by the Rangers in the first period and continued to be outskated for the duration of the game.
While the Capitals have been dominant in the second period this season, they were unable to generate offense against the Rangers. New York was able to score two goals late in the second period after controlling most of the period.
Defenseman Dmitry Orlov was able to net one for the Capitals with 38 seconds to go in the second period, but Washington’s slow and sloppy play in the second and in the third took away the impact of this goal.
Along with speed, passing was an issue for the Capitals. The stretch pass that the Capitals rely on for zone entries was not effective. These long passes were often poorly aimed, resulting in turnovers and a good number of icing calls against Washington.
Penalties and Powerplays
Penalties by the Capitals exaggerated the poor passing and slow movement of the team. Washington committed five penalties in the game, two in the first period, one in the second period and two in the third period.
The Capitals penalty kill unit was relatively effective at clearing the puck and keeping the Rangers to the outside of the ice. However, Chris Kreider was able to score on the powerplay in the first period.
If Washington wants to win games on a consistent basis they will need to work on their discipline. Being on the penalty kill is not advantageous, even if you have a good four-man unit. Having to kill penalties when you are already being outplayed and outscored makes it difficult to win.
Though the Rangers also struggled with penalties, committing a total of four, their aggressive penalty kill limited the Capitals’ scoring opportunities. The New York penalty kill units forced Washington to take most of its shots from the blue line. They did not allow Alexander Ovechkin to stand in his signature goal-scoring position at the top of the circles. Converting on powerplays, especially when already being down a goal or two, is a must for the Capitals moving forward.
Goal Tending and Defense
Vitek Vanecek entered his 13th straight start in this game against the Rangers. The rookie goaltender started the game with a 7-3-2 record, a 2.91 Goals Against Average and a .909 save percentage. His opponent, Igor Shesterkin, entered with a 3-5-1 record, a 2.37 Goals Against Average and a .918 save percentage. These are impressive statistics for two young goaltenders.
Both netminders performed admirably, making crucial saves to keep their teams in the game. The second period was difficult for the Capitals who allowed two goals in a short period of time. Without Vitek Vanecek, it is likely that Washington would have left the period down much more than just two goals.
While the Capitals are a high-scoring team with a defense that gets involved in the offensive zone, they consistently let in three or more goals. Vanecek finds himself in situations where there are opponents standing right in front of his net without coverage. The Rangers took advantage of this lack of coverage on goals by Chris Kreider and Alexis Lafreniere.
Washington Capitals defensemen need to improve their strategy to defend their young goaltender. It does not matter how good a team’s goalie is if the defense is going to allow the opponent time to enter the zone and set up a dangerous play. Moving forward a focus on defensive improvements is a must for Washington.
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