When the Washington Capitals jumped out to an unexpected fast start this season, they did so with above average play from the back half of the lineup — namely the defensemen and goalies.
While Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov received ample love and attention as they accumulated points in rapid fashion, and the handful of rookies playing meaningful minutes every night made for a feel-good story, stout defensive play in Washington’s own zone was a key reason why the Caps held the best record in hockey a month into the season.
Unfortunately, since posted back-to-back shutouts just before Thanksgiving, Washington’s defense has taken a massive step backwards. After falling to the rival Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2, the Capitals have now allowed 30 goals in the nine games since Los Angeles and San Jose failed to score in consecutive outings.
Of course, it’s difficult to have consistency and stability defensively when you’re forced to play with a new roster seemingly every time you take to the ice. The Capitals faced Pittsburgh without bottom-six forwards Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway and defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, who are in NHL’s COVID-19 protocol. Additionally, forwards Nicklas Backstrom and Anthony Mantha remain sidelined as they recover from injuries.
And yet, no one in hockey will shed a tear for Washington. Peter Laviolette’s men either need to figure out how to limit opponents to under three goals a game or a once-promising season could derail quickly.