The last time the Washington Capitals lost two straight games in regulation was March 13, 2015. Curtis Glencross led the way for the Capitals with a first period goal in the team’s 4-2 defeat to the Dallas Stars.
Nineteen months later, the Capitals crashed back to earth after a season of tremendous success. On Wednesday night, the Caps fell 4-1 in Edmonton to Oilers after losing their previous matchup against New York 4-2. The team has now won three of its six games.
Last year, the Capitals had one of the best regular-season performances of all time, capturing the Presidents’ Trophy. Despite bringing back a nearly identical roster, the 2016-17 campaign has gotten off to a choppy start.
“We got to perform better,” defensemen Matt Niskanen said after Wednesday’s loss. “Guys need to do their jobs. It’s a little uncomfortable here tonight after the game.”
Some of the Capitals’ woes are manifest, emblazoned on the game summary sheet handed out to media members, coaches, and players after the final horn.
“We’re going to have to get both our special teams going,” head coach Barry Trotz said after the loss to Edmonton.
The Capitals’ power play, despite signs of improvement after a sluggish start this season, managed nine shots on goal on Wednesday but was 0-3 against the Oilers.
“Those chances, they really don’t count,” Trotz said. “That’s why scoreboard is just for goals. If we have chance to stick the puck in the net, let’s stick it in the net. If we get a chance to get a big kill, we need a big kill. If we need a power play to change the game, we need to find a way. If we need a big save — I don’t think we got any of that today.”
The Caps power play has now converted on a mere 8.3 percent of their opportunities through six games, ranking 28th in the league.
“I think our execution and my execution when I have a chance to shoot the puck has been not that good,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said of the power play. “It’s blame on us. If we didn’t get success, it’s not about their kill, it’s all about us. We have the skill. At the same time we didn’t do it.”
The penalty kill, meanwhile, is ranked 25th in the league, stopping opponents 72.2 percent of the time. Last year that percentage was 85.2, second best in the NHL. On Wednesday night, Washington allowed one goal on four opportunities against Edmonton.
Trotz has reiterated to the media that his team should not be judged on a small sample size. But speaking to reporters after the game in Edmonton, it was clear the Capitals were fed up. So was their coach.
“I know it’s a small sample,” Trotz said. “Those key moments when we’re still in the game, we’ve got to recognize those moments right now. We didn’t play well enough to win.”
But Washington’s problems don’t end with five-on-four play. Though the Capitals have been extremely strong defensively, allowing the third fewest five-on-five goals against per game, they have struggled to score themselves at even-strength.
“We’re just kind of average in a lot of areas right now, five-on-five and special teams,” Niskanen said. “We’re in the right position a lot of times, but we need that second or third effort to score a goal to win or a second or third effort to score a goal — whatever it is you got a find a way to win more battles and have success.”
Due to the forward corps lack of offense, Trotz broke up one of the best lines in hockey and reconfigured the top-six. On Wednesday, it was a disaster as his new first line and second lines were seldom a threat.
“This is time it didn’t work out,” Ovechkin said of the line changes. “Everybody understands we have to play better. It starts from me and all the leaders. We have to set an example.”
The Washington Capitals bulldozed through the regular-season last year and were perhaps a few bounces away from winning a Stanley Cup. Now, just six games into a new season, many of the players speak with shame about Washington’s 3-2-1 record. Braden Holtby, however, is not fazed.
“Hockey’s testing us right now, which is good,” the goaltender said Wednesday. “I think a little bit of adversity never hurts to build a team. Last year, it seemed like every time after a loss the pucks would bounce our way. Tonight it showed that sometimes you’ve got to work a little harder and dig yourself out to earn these wins.”
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