F Street Faithful
by Matthew Tate on 11/21/13 at 01:20 AM ET
The Washington Capitals put in one of their worst showings of the season tonight, falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-0. It's always infuriating to lose to rivals, but when you lose like this in your own building, it tends to sting a little more. For that reason, and the fact that they played so poorly, the usual reCap will be replaced by a bit of an overreaction to a November loss.
Washington Goals: Who are you kidding?
Braden Holtby: LOSS; 36 Saves; 4 Goals Allowed
Pittsburgh Goals: Martin 2 (Crosby); Bennett 1 (Malkin, Niskanen); Crosby 11 PP (Neal, Kunitz); Neal 2 (Martin, Malkin)
Marc-Andre Fleury: WIN; 18 Saves; 0 Goals Allowed
On some level, you had to see this result coming. A game against one of the best in the league on national television? We all knew the Caps were fighting an uphill battle on this one. Add in the tendency of the Caps to allow the opponents to throw an alarming amount of rubber at their goaltender, and disaster was pretty much guaranteed. Coming into tonight's game, the Caps, on average, came in with an average shot differential of -4.8. Only Buffalo, Toronto, and Phoenix have a worse differential. And that number is only going to be worse after tonight's showing where the Caps were outshot by Pittsburgh 40-18. That is the worst shot total the Caps have mustered this season and is the fourth time they have allowed at least 40 shots on their own net.
Now, this all raises the question of how the Caps have managed to get second in the metropolitan division if being outshot is this much of a death sentence. The answer is partially that the division really isn't that good, but mostly it is the play of Braden Holtby. Holtby has been repeatedly keep the Capitals in games they deserve to be trailing in, but his play tonight was not near that level. Of the four goals he let past him tonight, only Crosby's second period strike can be forgiven. He looked completely lost on Martin's opening goal. Maybe he didn't see it, but he certainly made a minimal effort to stop it. The other two (Bennett and Neal) came on the rush with players shooting far side on a moving Holtby. Maybe it was just a coincidence tonight, but something tells me it will be the start of a trend. If Holtby's play drops, this team is going to be dropping even faster.
Yes, allowing that many shots is not a great sign, but you can still overcome that if you can match it. This is something the Caps never looked to be able to do tonight. They put up only 18 shots, and in the third period, when they knew they had a lot of ground to make up, they put a lowly four shots on Fleury. And it was not as if Pittsburgh packed it in for the fourth. Even in the second period, the statistically best period for the Caps this season, they only managed eight shots. The reason for all of this, quite simply, is that the Caps can't manage to use their cycle to open up the slot.
The shots that come from the slot are typically referred to as scoring chances (although some will include missed shot). I do not track these, but went back and check the shot chart to see if I'm seeing what I think I'm saying. In the first period, the Caps did well and actually had five of their six shots come from the slot. That, in large part, comes from the three power plays they had in the first. For the remainder of the game, the Caps would not get a single shot from the slot (0-12). The second period saw mainly shots from above the circles (and two from the neutral zone) and the all four shots in the third period came from along the boards.
For the first games of the season, I was adamant that a lack of a cycle was the reason behind the Caps' struggles even strength. Adam Oates juggled the lines a little bit, and we started seeing prolonged cycles, but the goals have still not come at the rate this team needs. Yes, they are cycling the puck effectively, but the puck never leaves the perimeter. Opposing teams are not unaware of this. Watch a team defend the Caps. When the Caps are establishing the cycle, the defensive team simply shrinks to cover the slot. The Caps get the puck to the point, eventually going D-to-D, but the opposing team holds firm. They are more than content letting the Caps throw shots from the point and along the boards. The chances say that most pucks will never make it to the goaltender and those that do will present little threat. This turns out to be doubly effective as when it's time for the to go the other way, as they have been sitting calmly while the Caps tired have themselves out. Until the Caps show that they can break down opposing defenses and get to the slot, I can guarantee that you will see practically every team play the Caps in the same manner.
I fully understand that it is November. The Caps still have time to figure out how to continually succeed in a division that can barely spell success. The problem is that the Caps do not appear to be making ground. Over the last two games, the Caps have been outshot a combined 87-38. Seriously, take a second and let that sink in. Call it an overreaction, but the Caps will not find consistent success until they can find a way to get off the boards.
The Caps will be back at it on Friday when the Montreal Canadiens come to town.
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Welcome to the home of the F Street Faithful, run by Matthew Tate. This is a go-to blog for all things related to the Washington Capitals. The F Street Faithful is 5% news and 95% breaking down the news.
In the past I have written for several other sports blogs as well as the college newspaper while at York College of Pennsylvania. I am a graduate of York College of Pennsylvania but am based out of Southern Maryland.
You can follow me on twitter @FStreetTate but I must warn that I do tweet about more than hockey. You can also e-mail me at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.