PITTSBURGH — The Washington Capitals have been outshot in eight straight games. That they've managed to not fall into a losing rut is thanks to some opportune scoring and outstanding goaltending.
During that stretch, they've been outshot 271-173, or an average of more than eight per game.
"Every game, it's sort of a trend of not generating a lot of shots," veteran right wing Mike Knuble said.
The Caps freely admit they need to solve this problem, and quick — ideally ending this streak as soon as Sunday when they visit the offensively potent Pittsburgh Penguins.
"We're not too happy about that. You've just got to direct the puck at the net," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "I think after having less than 25 shots in enough games, you start to get angry."
That anger should be starting with captain Alex Ovechkin, whose shot totals have been down this season and lately as his scoring has similarly dipped.
Since Nicklas Backstrom went out of the lineup with a concussion, Ovechkin has just 23 shots in eight games.
"Alex knows when to shoot," coach Dale Hunter said. "Like [Friday] night, our power play wasn't very good and Alex didn't have a lot of chances. They did a pretty good job through the neutral zone on him, picking him up. But he knows he has to shoot."
Ovechkin admitted as much a few weeks ago but on Saturday pointed to a team-wide problem.
"You can't play like that and you can't win the game with 14 to 16 shots in the game and give all the attention to our goaltending," he said.
Ovechkin has led the NHL in shots each season he's been in the league, averaging 5.3 a game. This season, it's 3.6. His shooting percentage is actually up from last year, though, making an increase in shots a realistic precursor to a better scoring pace.
"When I talk, I said, 'Ovi, you've got a hell of a shot. You have a heavy shot. You have to keep shooting.' And he listened," defenseman Roman Hamrlik said. "I told him to keep shooting, and he's going to get scoring chances. But the opposite team, they know he's going to shoot. and they cover his lanes, so it's not easy for him. But he should definitely keep shooting."
The 26-year-old left wing has just 19 goals and 17 assists in 46 games this season.
"It does startle me. I am surprised that his numbers aren't there," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "When I watch, I don't see a significant drop in his play or where he gets his shots from or where he's at on the ice."
Hunter brought up Ovechkin's signature curl, drag and shoot move as something the star needs to keep doing to get more shots. But Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang doesn't necessarily agree.
"It's always been the same. Always been the same move," Letang said. "Same spots on the ice. I think teams watch him through the years and kind of notice and pay attention to everything that he does."
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