The second half of April went much better for the Washington Capitals than the first half. In their final eight games of the month, all after the trade deadline, the Caps went 5-2-1 to snag 11 of 16 possible points. Two of those wins were shutouts, including a shootout shutout, both over the Islanders. Washington also recorded two wins over the Flyers and a third win over the Islanders. They lost to Buffalo and Boston in regulation, and lost to Pittsburgh in overtime. How did they do all of this? Let’s do a vibe check and find out.
The Capitals’ offense rebounded nicely after a very rocky start to April. In their last eight games, the Caps scored 28 goals and averaged 32.9 shots per game. They had three six-goal games and they only failed to reach the 30-shot mark twice — 28 shots in the shootout win over the Islanders and 29 in the loss to the Sabres. Their goal-scoring has also been relatively spread out across all three periods, although they are still scoring the fewest goals in the third period with 11 first and second period goals and just six third period tallies.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the Capitals continue to get offense from all over their lineup. Out of the 20 skaters that played in at least one game since April 13, 18 of them recorded at least one point. The only players that didn’t? Michael Raffl, who missed the first four games after the trade deadline due to injury, and Zdeno Chara. 12 different Caps also scored at least one goal, with Anthony Mantha, T.J. Oshie, and Daniel Sprong leading the way with four goals apiece. Imagine reading that sentence back in January...
The Caps have had some excellent defensive outings in the second half of April. They allowed 23 goals-against through eight games and opponents averaged just 27 shots per game, good for fourth-best in the league since April 13. The Capitals allowed an average of 33.4 shots against per game in their previous seven games, so they have definitely tightened things back up defensively a bit. Their three-game “series” against the Islanders was particularly impressive, limiting New York to an average of 22.7 shots/60 and holding them to just 18 shots in Vitek Vanecek’s shutout on April 27.
The Caps have struggled with allowing too many third period goals this season, but this recent set of eight games was a huge improvement. They only allowed four goals in the final 20 minutes, which is tied for third-best in the league since April 13. Letting opponents back into games late often poses a problem for Washington, so the more they can do to limit that the better.
Every time it looks like the Capitals might be narrowing in on a “starting” goaltender, the picture changes. Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov once again split the last set of games, with each netminder getting four starts. However, Ilya Samsonov did not dress for the 5-2 loss to Buffalo on April 15 and Caps fans were treated to a Craig Anderson sighting; Anderson entered in relief of Vanecek after he allowed four goals on 21 shots in just 33 minutes. The three goalies combined for a .902 SV% and 2.63 GAA over eight games, not terribly far off from the .906 SV% and 3.14 GAA Vanecek and Samsonov posted in the previous set of seven games.
Despite recording his second career shutout on April 27, Vitek Vanecek’s numbers took quite a tumble in the second half of April. Through his four appearances, he posted a .861 SV% and 3.95 GAA. In the five appearances before that? A .942 SV% and 1.85 GAA. His high-danger SV% is even worse, dropping from .860 to .591. Yikes. Let’s end on a good note for Vanecek: he saved all nine shots he faced while the Caps were on the penalty kill. The goalie needs to be a team’s best penalty killer, and Vanecek was able to do that.
Ilya Samsonov, on the other hand, has looked great since April 13. He recorded his second shutout of the season, the third of his career, and has definitely improved his numbers since the Capitals’ first seven games in April. In his four appearances, Samsonov posted a .933 SV% and 1.72 GAA — much better than the subpar .853 SV% and 5.21 GAA in his previous four games. He also brought his high-danger SV% back up to .808 from .700. His numbers get even better at five-on-five play: .963 SV%, 0.89 GAA, and .882 HDSV%. The only sore spot for Sammy since April 13: his .842 SV% when Washington is on the penalty kill.
Washington’s power play hit a bit of a rough patch towards the end of March, but they appeared to right the ship once the calendar flipped to April and that upward trend has certainly continued. The Caps’ man-advantage converted on eight of 26 power play opportunities for a 30.8% success rate. The game by game breakdown is as follows: 3-3, 0-3, 2-5, 2-6, 0-3, 0-1, 0-1, and 1-3. Washington had two multi-PPG games against the Flyers and one against Boston, and they failed to score on the power play against the Sabres and Islanders. The Islanders have the fifth-best penalty kill in the league at 83.6% and they’ve had the best power play since April 13 at a whopping 94.7%, so the Caps not scoring on them is not entirely surprising but still frustrating. It is also a tad worrisome when taking the playoff series-esque nature of those three games into consideration.
One other not-so-great note about the Caps’ power play: they allowed three shorthanded goals against, which ties them with the New Jersey Devils for the most in the league since April 13.
The Capitals’ penalty kill? Still good! Washington has had a top-ten penalty kill all season, and their last eight games has pushed them to a sixth-best 83.2% in the league. The Caps went shorthanded 21 times and allowed just three power play goals against, operating at an 85.7% success rate. That is relatively consistent with the previous seven game stretch, when they allowed two PPGs on 21 times shorthanded. The Flyers scored one power play tally against the Caps’ PK and the Islanders scored two, both in the same game.
Nick Jensen and Zdeno Chara continue to be the primary penalty killing defensemen with Brenden Dillon third in line, and the two starting forwards rotate between Carl Hagelin, Lars Eller, and Nic Dowd. Both Dillon and Hagelin stayed out of the box through the last eight games, and Jensen, Chara, and Dowd only took one penalty each. There was a brief stretch in the middle of the season where frequent penalty killers were taking frequent trips to the box, so it is good to see that trend improving. Also of note: Lars Eller won ten of 18 faceoffs on the PK, or 55.56%.
Welcome to Washington, Anthony Mantha! The Capitals acquired Mantha at the trade deadline on April 12, and boy oh boy has he made his presence known. Is there a better way to endear yourself to a new fanbase than immediately going on a four-game goal scoring streak and a two-point game in your debut? Probably not! Mantha slotted into the Caps’ lineup on the second line with Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie and the trio synced up in record time. They have looked excellent together, and Mantha can provide both size and speed on the line. He also jumped in on the second power play unit, and he scored a PPG with said unit against the Bruins on April 18. He has cooled off offensively a bit since the deadline, posting just one assist in the Caps’ last four games, but there is no denying he can bring something special to the lineup.
Buckle up for the final stretch, folks. The Capitals’ last six games of the season look like this:
WSH v PIT — Saturday 5/1, 7pm
WSH @ NYR — Monday 5/3, 7pm
WSH @ NYR — Wednesday 5/5, 7pm
WSH v PHI — Friday 5/7, 7pm
WSH v PHI — Saturday 5/8, 7pm
WSH v BOS — Tuesday 5/11, 7pm (*rescheduled from 4/20)