When the schedule was announced for the NHL season, pundits circled the 13 instances where the Washington Capitals were to play back-to-back games as trouble spots. It makes sense considering the Capitals record in those games last season, 7-8-1 in the second game of the back-to-backs.
Early returns this year in those same games have been promising, however, at a 3-1-1 clip. The Capitals have only been outshot in one of those games, a 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, and own a +4 goal differential. Check that one off. The Capitals have improved in back-to-back games.
Two or More Rest Days
The games that have, almost inexplicably, given the Capitals the most problems have been the “dreaded” games after rest. With two rest days or more the Capitals are only 3-4. They have outshot their opponents in all but two games, but their goal differential is a paltry -5. They have played three games with four rest days (included in greater than two rest days numbers), and are 2-1 in those games, but have been outshot 83-80 and are even in goal differential.
Their per game shot differential over the seven multiple rest day games has been relatively on par with their season averages at 30.4 shots for and 26.6 shots against. The Capitals goal scoring differential is the place to look for variances, though. In these games the Caps have scored only 2.0 goals per game and allowed 2.7. Following is a chart that will show the goal and shot averages broken down by rest days.
Less Than 2 Rest Days
At 11-0-1, it is easy to see that the Caps dominate with one day in between games. Their goals for and goals against numbers in those games are equally impressive as well. Braden Holtby has been stellar with only one day of rest which follows his norm under Barry Trotz and Mitch Korn. The more Holtby works, the better he is. The goal scoring is another matter. It does make sense that players with more consistent work would be sharper in their accuracy and consistent shot numbers with more goals scored does mean a higher shooting percentage, but shot accuracy may not be the only culprit here.
Consistency After Multiple Rest Days
In games with one or less rest days, the Capitals have been able to get into rhythm early and play their systems consistently. At times, during games after rest, the team has haphazardly gotten into their systems, which leads to sloppy play throughout. They also tend to come out slow in those games. In the seven “rested” games, they managed more than seven shots in the first period only twice. The lack of systematic consistency and first period urgency are the biggest reasons for the lower goals scored rate in games with two or more rest days. When looking at scoring chances in these games, compared to their season averages, the Capitals have two less scoring chances per game on offense (20.3 to 22.5) and have given up two more high-danger scoring chances per game on defense (9.9 to 7.8). The other element of their systems that is inconsistent during games after multiple days rest is their power play. They have scored only one power play goal in those games in 24 attempts (4.2%). While sample sizes are too low for any of these numbers to be conclusive of anything, they are symptoms of the lack of consistency in their systems.
The Capitals have 13 more instances in which they will play a game after two or more rest days (including both the Christmas and All-Star breaks) starting with the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 8, and how they can adjust to these games might be more important than their ability to win the second game of back-to-backs.
All stats compiled from War-On-Ice.com and HockeyStats.Ca.