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Capital Vibe Check: April Fools

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

Washington Capitals Vs Boston Bruins At TD Garden Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

April got off to a very rough start for the Washington Capitals. The Caps went 4-3-0 in their first seven games of the month, grabbing eight of a possible 14 points. Don’t let that record fool you, however, because some of those games were far too close for comfort and involved a few nearly-blown leads. Two of the Caps’ losses came against the Islanders, including a miserable 8-4 New York win on April 1, and the third loss came against the Bruins in their lone home game of the seven game stretch. They did win their final two games of the season against the Devils, although one required overtime, and took wins over both Boston and Buffalo. There’s a lot to unpack, so let’s get to it with a vibe check.

The Capitals’ offense on April 11 against the Bruins? Awesome! The Capitals’ offense in the six games before that? Not great! On the surface the overall offensive numbers for April’s seven games don’t look too bad, but once you peel away the Caps’ 8-1 thrashing of the Bruins, it gets rough. Their 25 goals-for is second-best in the league since April 1, but take away that outlying eight-goal performance and their goals-for per game drops from 3.57 to 2.83. The Caps also got shut out for the first time this season, falling to the Islanders 1-0 on April 6. However, the Capitals’ shots per game did go back up, jumping from 25.1 in the last set of seven games to 29.9. They surpassed the 30-shot mark four times, even hitting 40 shots once, and came close one night with 29. On the other hand, their other two outings featured 19 and 22 shots.

One other positive constant: the Capitals continue to get offense from up and down their lineup. 20 skaters dressed for the Caps in their last seven games and 16 of them recorded at least one point (and two of those 20 players were Richard Panik and Daniel Carr, who dressed twice and once respectively). The goal-scoring was also, unlike the previous stretch of seven games, more distributed through the lineup with 14 players finding the back of the net at least once.

After a stretch of solid, shot-suppressing defensive play at the end of March, the Capitals loosened the reins on that aspect of their game a bit and it showed. The Caps allowed 22 goals-against and averaged 33.4 shots-against per game through their last seven outings, a marked difference from the 17 goals against and 25 shots-against per game they allowed in the seven games prior. In particular, the Caps allowed opponents a lot of high-danger chances. Between April 1 and 11 they allowed 90 high-danger chances, the worst in the league during that span.

The Capitals’ third period goals-against problem isn’t quite as glaring as it was at the end of March, but still isn’t great. The Caps allowed eight third period goals, tied for third-most in the league since April 1. They seem to have more trouble controlling possession and momentum in the third period, resulting in both more goals-against and fewer goals-for. This trend has been a bit of a nagging problem all season, and it hasn’t improved much.

The Capitals once again split games between their two young netminders during this set of seven games — Ilya Samsonov started three games and Vitek Vanecek started four, although Vanecek did also make a brief relief appearance for Samsonov on April 1. Samsonov and Vanecek combined for a .906 SV% and 3.14 GAA through seven games, a definite decline from their .913 SV% and 2.14 GAA from the previous seven-game stretch. However, this time around it was Samsonov bringing the numbers down, not Vanecek.

Ilya Samsonov has taken a bit of a beating through his three April games so far, posting a .853 SV% and 5.21 GAA, a far cry from his .922 SV% and 1.77 GAA the last time we checked in. His high-danger SV% has also plummeted, dropping from .800 to .700. He has looked shaky and unsure of himself in net ever since his April 1 start, after T.J. Oshie accidentally took him down behind the net:

He left the game for a bit before coming back, presumably having been checked out for a concussion. The most concerning part of this collision is when Samsonov tips sideways, almost in slow motion, onto the ice. He was obviously cleared to return to the game, but he hasn’t looked as sharp as usual since.

Vitek Vanecek, on the other hand, has gotten off to a great start this month. Through his five appearances, he posted a .942 SV% and 1.85 GAA compared to the .904 SV% and 2.69 GAA in the previous set of seven games. He also brought his high-danger SV% up from .778 to .860. Vanecek’s numbers even go up a little when taking just five-on-five play into consideration — .950 SV%, 1.70 GAA, and .882 HDSV% — which is an excellent trend. It looked, through the end of March, as though Samsonov had pretty much regained control over the “starter’s” role, for all that’s worth in Washington right now. However, Vanecek has made an excellent case for himself through the Capitals’ last seven games.

Don’t look now, but it appears as though the Capitals’ power play might be righting itself. After a very rough stretch to wrap up March, the Caps’ PP is on the up and up to kick off the month of April. The Caps converted on seven of their 22 power play opportunities for a 31.8% success rate, good for fifth-best in the league since April 1. They had two multi-power play goal games, scoring two in their loss to Boston and three in their win over the B’s three days later, and their other two power play goals came in games against the Devils and Islanders. The five power play tallies against the Bruins are particularly impressive, as Boston’s penalty kill is ranked number one in the league at 85.4%. T.J. Oshie led the way with three PPGs, followed by Alex Ovechkin with two and then Tom Wilson and Conor Sheary with one each. Are things on the man-advantage looking up? Only time will tell, but this recent set of seven games points to, “Maybe?”

The penalty kill has been the bright spot for the Capitals so far in April. They went shorthanded 21 times in their last seven games and allowed just two power play goals against, for a success rate of 90.5%. That is the highest percentage of any of the seven-game stretches we’ve looked at this season. This recent string of successful penalty kills has brought their season average to 82.8%, eighth-best in the league to date this season. Something else that improved since the last Vibe Check: the Caps’ top penalty killers have been better about staying out of the box. Carl Hagelin led the team in penalties with three, but Nick Jensen just took one penalty and Nic Dowd and Zdeno Chara did not take any.

The cherry on top? The Caps scored their second shorthanded goal of the season, a Hagelin tally on April 4 against the Devils.

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

WSH v PHI — Tuesday 4/13, 7pm

WSH v BUF — Thursday 4/15, 7pm

WSH @ PHI — Saturday 4/17, 12:30pm

WSH @ BOS — Sunday 4/18, 12pm

WSH @ NYI — Thursday 4/22, 7pm

WSH @ NYI — Saturday 4/24, 7pm

WSH v NYI — Tuesday 4/27, 7pm