Caps Seeking Home Improvement | Washington Capitals

Oct. 29 vs. San Jose Sharks at Capital One Arena

Time: 5:00 p.m.


Radio: 106.7 The Fan, Capitals Radio 24/7

San Jose Sharks (0-7-1)

Washington Capitals (3-3-1)

The Capitals continue their season long five-game homestand on Sunday afternoon when they host the San Jose Sharks at Capital One Arena. Washington opened the homestand with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Minnesota Wild on Friday night.

Darcy Kuemper made 39 saves during the 65 minutes of actual hockey against the club that drafted him on Friday night, and then he stopped all seven shots he faced in the shootout to record his second victory of the season. John Carlson scored in the seventh round of the shootout to give the Caps the win.

Friday’s win over Minnesota gave the Caps their first set of consecutive victories this season, and they’ll obviously be seeking to build upon that over the remainder of the homestand, and this home heavy stretch in which Washington is playing nine of 11 games on home ice. But the Caps are also looking to string together consecutive victories at Capital One Arena for the first time in more than 10 months. The last time Washington was able to manage back-to-back wins on home ice was a run of three straight victories here from Dec. 17-23 of last year.

Since the turn of the calendar from 2022 to 2023, Washington has won eight of its 26 home games (8-13-5), with only four of those wins coming in regulation. The Caps’ .404 points percentage at home ranks 29th in the NHL over that span, and only San Jose (three) has fewer regulation wins in its own building during that stretch.

Over their last 26 home games, the Caps are averaging 2.54 goals per game, 30th in the NHL during that time. Washington is yielding goals against at a rate of 3.38 per game over the same time frame, ranking 24th in the League in that department.

What’s even weirder about the team’s struggles at home in calendar 2023 is that the Caps were quite good at home at the outset of last season. From opening night of the 2022-23 season through New Year’s Eve of 2022, Washington’s 12-5-2 record at Capital One Arena was seventh best in the NHL, with a .684 points percentage.

The Caps scored an average of 3.47 goals per game in their first 19 home games last season, ranking eighth in the League to that point of the season. The Capitals yielded 2.58 goals against per game over the same span, ranking seventh.

Sharp-eyed readers will note that the Caps’ last home “winning streak” ended the same night the team lost defenseman John Carlson to a head injury when a Brenden Dillon slapper caught him above the neck in a Dec. 23 game against Winnipeg. The Caps’ season went off the rails thereafter, at first gradually, and then all at once.

As they vie to return to the postseason in 2023-24, they realize that turning things around at home will be imperative toward achieving that goal.

“If you look at it [closer],” says Carlson, “for a long time we were a Presidents’ Trophy caliber team, and that obviously helps the stats everywhere. Statistically, I don’t know about this year, but I think that over the course of the years, having the first goal go your way means a lot to the outcome of the game. And I think that – regardless of whether it’s home or away – that’s something that we’ve struggled with when we’re not as effective.

“I think the most important things we can do is bring energy, start faster, start better and put teams on their heels right from the start instead of feeling it out and seeing what’s going to come of the game.”

Carlson’s point is well taken. During their first 19 home games last season, the Caps played with the lead for 501 minutes and 26 seconds, fourth most in the NHL over that span, though it should be noted that teams did not play the same number of home games over that time.

Despite the fact that they’ve played more home games (26) since those first 19 games at home last season, the Caps are still well short (at 389 minutes and 52 seconds) of cumulative lead time at home this year, ranking 27th in the League over that stretch.

“We’ve always been a good road team,” says Caps’ right wing Tom Wilson. “I don’t think it matters too much whether you’re home or away; the game plan has to be similar. The game plan has to be about your team and how we’re executing.

“Those [home] stats aren’t good enough. The reality is we’ve got to be better at home, and the best teams around the League, those are the buildings that are hard to go into, and forever that was the case in D.C. We’re starting to play better hockey, we’re starting to be better at 5-on-5, and we’ve got to get back to that identity, whether that’s controlling matchups, scoring first, getting the building into it. There’s a bunch of different factors that may play into it, but we’ve got to make sure that we’re doing our best to jump on teams when they come into our rink.”

Friday’s win pulled the Caps to even (3-3-1) on the season. In the Metropolitan Division where the Caps compete, only four points separated the eight divisional denizens as of Saturday morning, and it’s the tightest of the four divisions in the early going. If the Caps can take advantage of this home heavy schedule between now and Black Friday – when they depart for a five-game road trip – they could go a long way toward reestablishing their home ice dominance while also putting themselves in a good position in the standings and the chase for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“We love playing at home,” asserts Wilson. “There’s something about being at home, sleeping in your own bed, playing in front of your fans, and if you can string together some wins and build some momentum, it’s huge.

“That was the message from [Caps’ coach Spencer Carbery] against Minnesota. It was, ‘Let’s get off on the right foot here, let’s start the homestand playing the right way, and make this building tough to play in.’ For a while since I’ve been here, teams coming into D.C. knew that it was going to be a tough night, and I think that’s part of our identity. We’ve got to get back to making it a feared building to come into, knowing that we’re going to be playing really good hockey, and it’s going to be a tough night.

“I think it’s a good start, and we’ve got to make sure that the detail and the execution is there for the next little while, so that we can string together some wins.”

From 1997-98 through 2018-19, the San Jose Sharks were among the NHL’s most successful franchises. They reached the playoffs in 19 of 21 seasons over that span, advancing to the conference finals five times and reaching the Cup Final in 2016. But San Jose is now firmly in rebuilding mode, and it has missed the postseason in each of the last four campaigns.

This season, the Sharks have struggled mightily out of the starting gate. San Jose enters Sunday’s game as the League’s lone winless team, and it has averaged exactly a goal per game through its first eight contests of the season. The Sharks rank last in goals scored and 29th in goals against with an average of 3.88 per game.

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