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Capital Vibe Check: Home Cookin’

The good, the bad, and the ugly of the Capitals’ recent game play.

NHL: New York Islanders at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Capitals have put together another pretty solid seven-game stretch following the halfway point of the season, with a record of 5-2-0. Both of their losses came against the New York Rangers; the teams split two two-game series over the last two weeks. They also beat the New York Islanders once, and the New Jersey Devils twice. The Caps played six of their last seven games on home ice as well, which theoretically should have worked in their favor. Did it? Let’s find out with a vibe check.

The Capitals’ offensive production has dipped a bit in this recent seven-game stretch, but not enough to be too concerning. They scored 21 goals for an average of three per game compared to their 26 and 3.71 goals per game during the previous seven games. The more eyebrow-raising part of their offense lately has been their shot production, which has continued to drop. The Caps only averaged 25.1 shots per game, their lowest average yet in these seven-game segments of the season. They only surpassed the 30-shot mark twice and they failed to hit 20 shots once (18). The Capitals were averaging about 30 shots per game towards the beginning of the season, so this has been a slow decline that has really come to a head in the past two weeks. If they aren’t careful, this low shot production could come back to bite them soon.

16 of the 19 skaters who suited up for the Caps in these last seven games recorded at least one point, and 15 of those players tallied at least one assist. However, unlike previous stretches, the goal scoring was not as distributed throughout the lineup. Just nine different Caps found the back of the net at least once, and Alex Ovechkin scored seven of Washington’s 21 goals. More on that later.

The Capitals defensive play is still steady as she goes. The Caps have done a much better job at suppressing opponents’ shots in their last seven games — they averaged just 25 shots against per game, fourth-best in the league during that time span. Their season average is 28.7 SA/G, so this recent stretch was a particularly good one. They only allowed an opponent to eclipse the 30-shot mark once when the Rangers recorded 33 shots in the Caps’ 2-1 win on March 19. That was also one of only two games in which the shot differential did not favor Washington; New York outshot them 33-18 that game, and the other was when the Devils outshot the Caps 24-22 on March 25. Additionally, the Capitals only allowed 17 goals against, two of which were empty netters.

A concerning trend to keep an eye on: the Capitals have a third period problem. Out of the 17 goals they allowed, a whopping 12 of them came in the third period. This included two consecutive games in which they allowed the Rangers to score four third period goals.

Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek continue to split games evenly — this time, Samsonov started four games and Vanecek started three. They each recorded one loss, and neither of them needed to make a relief appearance. The two young netminders combined for a .913 SV% and 2.14 GAA through seven games, an improvement over their combined .910 SV% and 2.57 GAA from the previous seven-game stretch. All in all, pretty solid.

Vitek Vanecek was certainly the weaker of the two goalies this go around, posting a .904 SV% and 2.69 GAA. He let in a few soft goals over the course of his three starts and made a handful of very noticeable mistakes, including this awful misplay of the puck against the Devils on March 25. That 4-3 Caps’ win was one of his poorer outings of the season, despite recording his 14th win on the year.

It was looking like Ilya Samsonov was re-cementing his spot in the starter’s net for Washington, and this recent set of games seems to have all but confirmed that. He finished his last four games with a .922 SV% and 1.77 GAA, a definite improvement over his .917 SV% and 2.64 GAA the last time we checked in, and he is now up to eight wins in ten starts this season. His high-danger SV% did drop from .909 to .800 but he maintained his 5v5 SV%, dropping just a bit from .935 to .932. Samsonov also recorded his first shutout of the season, and just his second career shutout, with a 24-save performance against the Devils on March 26.

Washington’s power play just keeps getting worse and worse, folks. The Caps have only converted on three of their 19 power play opportunities over the last seven games, for a 15.8% success rate. Despite having at least one power play chance in all seven games, they went goalless in five straight. Game by game, the Caps’ power play went 2-4, 0-1, 0-4, 0-2, 0-2, 0-3, and 1-3. Keep in mind, too, that those first six games were on home ice. At this point, it feels like the only option left is to try and shake things up. The Caps have been predictable on the man advantage for a while, and now it appears to be catching up with them.

To add insult to injury, the Capitals also allowed a shortie during this seven game stretch in March 30’s loss to the Rangers. This was their first shorthanded goal against since February 25, a victory over the Penguins.

Washington’s penalty kill has continued it’s yo-yo pattern on the season, and this most recent stretch has been of the declining variety. The Capitals went shorthanded 20 times over seven games and allowed four PPGs against for a penalty kill success rate at 80%. The last time we checked in it was at 88.2%, but the time before that it was 77.3%. Washington’s penalty kill is still solid on the season, sitting at 81.3% for tenth-best in the league, they have just struggled finding consistency in their play. Part of what continues to do them in is some of their top penalty killers spending time in the box; Nick Jensen and Nic Dowd each took one minor penalty, Carl Hagelin took two, and Zdeno Chara and Brenden Dillon each took three.

Alex Ovechkin has been on a tear lately, and somewhere up in Canada Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid are quaking. The Great 8 has nine points in the Caps’ last seven games, and seven of those points were goals. The first of those goals officially put Ovi in sole possession of sixth all-time on the NHL’s goal list, breaking his tie with Phil Esposito, and the next six brought him to 724 career goals. Ovechkin also led the team in shots with 23, was third on the team in hits with 16, and logged a whopping 138:46 of ice time, good for second-most on the team behind John Carlson. Ho hum, nothing to see here.

Evgeny Kuznetsov has been in fine form lately: seven points (3G, 4A) in seven games, including a two-goal game against the Devils that featured a game-winner and a bird celly. He has also maintained his discipline, continuing to stay out of the penalty box; this has been a problem for him at times, but Kuzy has only taken four minor penalties this season and he has not seen the inside of a penalty box since March 11. The most noticeable part of his game lately, however, has been his attitude. Kuznetsov recently approached Coach Laviolette about shouldering more responsibility during games, and Laviolette made it clear that, while he wanted Kuzy to be a “difference-maker” on the ice, he would have to earn it (stories on that discussion from WaPo and NBCSW). He has clearly met that challenge head-on, and his confidence and refreshed outlook are paying dividends.

Here’s what the next seven games look like for the Capitals, if the current schedule holds:

WSH @ NYI — Thursday 4/1, 7pm

WSH @ NJD — Friday 4/2, 7pm

WSH @ NJD — Sunday 4/4, 3pm

WSH @ NYI — Tuesday 4/6, 7pm

WSH v BOS — Thursday 4/8, 7pm

WSH @ BUF — Friday 4/9, 7pm

WSH @ BOS — Sunday 4/11, 7pm