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The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

10 games in, Capitals experience mixed results

Courtesy Allie Berube
The Capitals take warmups ahead of their Nov. 4 game agains the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Capitals won the game 2-1, one of the five games they have won this season.

The Washington Capitals have opened their 2023-24 campaign to varied results. The team faces old and new problems and appears to have few immediate solutions. In their first ten games, the team has gone 5-4-1 and sits in fifth place (out of eight teams) in the Metropolitan division.

With trouble brewing since the middle of last season and their first time missing the playoffs since the 2013-14 season, Washington has seen the writing on the wall and has made some changes in an attempt to return to competitiveness.

Most importantly, in the offseason, former Head Coach Peter Laviolette and the team mutually agreed to part ways, while Spencer Carbery was hired as the new head coach. Carbery, also the former Hershey Bears (Washington’s minor league affiliate) head coach, is the youngest current head coach in the league and brings a fresh perspective to a troubled Capitals team. Carbery won Coach of the Year in both the ECHL and AHL (minor league affiliates of the NHL) and led the Hershey Bears to first place in the league’s regular season in 2021. Carbery was also the Toronto Maple Leafs’ power play coach from 2021-2023. While Carbery has had a great deal of success in hockey, from his time in the ECHL and AHL to his relatively successful stint with Toronto, it is unclear if this success will translate to this year’s Capitals team.

With a new coach comes a new system, which presents a host of new issues. Under Carbery’s leadership, the Capitals got off to a rocky start to the season, opening 1-3-1 with a shootout win against Calgary and losses to Pittsburgh, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto. The team’s bleak start was highlighted by an even more telling statistic: for the first time in 14 years, on Oct. 16, the Capitals broke their sellout streak, failing to sell out all 18,500 seats in Capital One Arena.

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However, a three-game win streak brought glimmers of hope back to the team, notching wins against New Jersey, Minnesota and San Jose. The streak was the team’s first three-game win streak since December 2022, showcasing their issues with consistency. The consistency issue appeared once again as the win against San Jose was quickly followed by a 3-0 loss to the New York Islanders on Nov. 2. The Capitals rebounded with a win against Columbus on Nov. 5 to bring their record to an even .500.

A major problem for the Capitals is that they have no true star, aside from Russian left-winger Alexander Ovechkin. However, the perennial star is struggling to score at a consistent rate. Ovechkin only has two goals in the Capitals’ first 10 games, one of which came as an empty net goal. By this point last season, he had already scored five goals. With Ovechkin’s struggles, the team is left without a true top scorer, save for perhaps the valiant goal-scoring efforts of Dylan Strome, who has scored six goals in 10 games. Tom Wilson has also experienced a return-to-form, finally rebounding from his ACL surgery in early 2022 and contributing three goals and three assists.

Three players on large contracts — Evgeny Kuznetsov, Anthony Mantha and T.J. Oshie (with a combined cap hit of over $19 million) — have all been relatively absent to start the season, combining for only eight points in ten games. Kuznetsov has been quietly racking up points but has looked like the shell of the player he once was. Mantha has similarly failed to live up to his potential, and has been a non-factor following an offseason riddled with trade attempts. Oshie, now 36, looks like his age has finally caught up to him, and has produced only one point this season.

Overall, offensively, the Capitals have struggled to simply score goals. They are currently averaging slightly above two goals per game while being scored on an average of three times per game.

There are some bright spots, though. Four of the Capitals’ younger forward prospects appear to have been cemented as full parts of the team this season: Beck Malenstyn, Matthew Phillips, Connor McMichael and Aliaksei Protas. McMichael and Phillips have contributed offensively, combining for three goals and six points, and Malenstyn has become an impressive cog in the team’s penalty kill.

The team’s defense has also been a major weakness over the first ten games. Defensive play overall has been poor, and defensemen have not been contributing offensively either. While John Carlson and Nick Jensen have contributed seven and two points, respectively, no other defenseman has put up more than one. Recent trade acquisition Rasmus Sandin was a stand-out player last season, but failed to produce any points until the Capitals’ tenth game. The defensive lineup has also been inconsistent, with Alexander Alexeyev, Hardy Haman Aktell and Lucas Johansen fighting for the sixth spot, with none of the three consistent enough to claim the spot even semi-permanently.

The Capitals also signed free agent defenseman Joel Edmunson from the Montreal Canadiens this offseason; however, Edmunson has remained out with a fractured hand suffered in training camp. He has begun skating, but his return, according to Carbery, remains a ways away.

Injuries also plague the rest of the roster with forwards Max Pacioretty and Nicklas Backstrom out long-term. Pacioretty has begun skating again following a torn Achilles tendon suffered in the middle of last season. He will likely return before the end of the year and will slot into the team’s top six forwards.

Backstrom underwent hip resurfacing surgery in the summer of 2022, but in a statement released on Nov. 1, Backstrom announced a leave of absence due to his dissatisfaction with how his hip condition was still affecting him. Backstrom will be out for at least the remainder of the season and his announcement could lead to retirement.

Other members of the Capitals roster have voiced how Backstrom, one of the team’s longest-rostered players and an alternate captain, has shaken the team and left a void both in the locker room and on the ice with his leave.

Despite certain signs and statistics pointing towards disaster, not all is lost. The team has the kindling to light the fire but is simply failing to find the spark. In their first 10 games, the Capitals have scored 10 goals less than their expected-goal total (at five-on-five). Essentially, they’ve been very unlucky; despite producing many quality scoring opportunities, the goals just aren’t going in.

The Caps also remain solid in goaltending. Despite his less-than-stellar stats, Darcy Kuemper has pulled the Capitals to multiple shootout wins, and Charlie Lindgren has posted an impressive 92.9% save percentage.

It’s also still early in the season — in their 2018 Stanley Cup-winning season, the Capitals started with a slightly worse 4-5-1 record in their first ten games.

While it’s impossible to truly determine what the Capitals’ season will look like, the first 10 games have provided a meaningful spotlight on what the franchise needs to prioritize and fix.

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Seyun Park
Seyun Park, Print Editor-in-Chief
Junior Seyun Park is in his third year of the Pitch, happy to join this year as a Print Editor-in-Chief. Outside of Pitch, Seyun plays tennis and cello, and likes to follow hockey.
Mia Halper
Mia Halper, Senior A&E Editor
Junior Mia Halper is thrilled to be in her third year with the Pitch as Senior A&E Editor. She's an avid fan of the Washington Capitals and plays soccer.
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