Washington Capitals recent struggles are key to postseason success

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) /

Could the Washington Capitals’ recent slump be a good thing for them down the road?

The Washington Capitals seem only to be able to beat their archrival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, recently, with an occasional win over teams that on the outside looking in for the playoffs.

With their 3-2 shootout loss in Buffalo Monday night, the Washington Capitals continue their slump. The Capitals have gone 4-3-3 in their last 10-games. Is that worrying for Capitals fans? No, not at all. They hold the top spot in the Metropolitan Division with 90 points amid internal struggles, as of Tuesday morning.

According to MoneyPuck, the Capitals have a 99.95% chance to make the playoffs. They have solidified a spot with 14 games left in the regular season. Since I believe that they are, statistically, a lock into the playoffs, it is better to look at how far they will make it this year. Last year, the Capitals tried to defend their Stanley Cup Championship after winning it all in the 2017-2018 season.

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What have they struggled with recently? Power plays, defense, and all-around drive have been points that I have seen recently, not only from watching games and press conferences but also from reading articles and tweets from beat reporters. Those points will be a game-changer if they can address them before the playoffs start.

Their power-play percentage, thus far, is 19.4%, compared to 20.8% at the end of last season. Acquiring Ilya Kovalchuk at this year’s trade deadline, the Capitals knew they needed to improve that part of their offensive play. Head Coach Todd Reirden added him to the power play unit immediately, in efforts to increase productivity.

Washington has gone scored one goal on 15 power plays they have had in their past seven games.  Is that bad? Yes, very bad, but at least the team has owned up to it. Since they know about it before the playoffs start, they can fix it. It is a must for the team if they want to make a run for the Stanley Cup this year.

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Michal Kempny scratched one night, Radko Gudas scratched the next, the Capitals have struggled as of recent to find the right pairings on defense. The only reliable pair that they have is John Carlson and Brenden Dillon, acquired at the deadline from the San Jose Sharks, on the top line.

With how they have shifted their second and third defensive lines pair frequently, they are going to have to settle soon on stable pairs going into the playoffs for the reason of reliability. Once they solidify that factor, they will be looking like the team from the beginning of the season.

The fourth-line on almost any team is expendable, alternating players who are scratched game-to-game. But not for the Capitals. A fourth-line consisting of two players that are new this season, right-winger Garnet Hathaway and left-winger Richard Panik, surround Nic Dowd to create one of the most underrated fourth-line in all the NHL.

Panik has nine points (two goals, seven assists) in the past 12 games, Dowd five points (two goals, three assists) in the previous five games and Hathaway recorded four points (three goals, one assist) in the past seven games. This has been the most effective these players have been this whole season.

It all started when Rierden rearranged the lines when he got Ilya Kovalchuk and placed him on the third line, moving Panik down to the fourth line. The shifting of the third and fourth lines was the right move. It sparked a new drive of offense in a line that needed to start producing.

This line is also heating up at the right moment of the season, as we approach the playoffs. This line will be a difference-maker when it comes to facing off against teams that can’t match the depth of the Capitals in the playoffs.

Their recent struggles might have been a blessing in disguise. A blessing that has shown them what they need to improve before going into the playoffs. Most teams held the opportunity of being in the same position as the Capitals at some point this season.

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But when that happened to such teams as the Flyers, who have had a resurgence, it was too early. They are going to burn out at least by the beginning of the second round if they make it that far. The Capitals are bound to get better due to their knowledge of these issues, and they are going to fix them in the few games they have left in the regular season.