Talk to just about any coach, Dale Hunter certainly included, and two of their top tenets rarely change from game to game: minimize turnovers and crash the net. On Monday night in a 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay, the Capitals didn’t do enough of either.
After a rocket shot by Alexander Semin gave Washington a 1-0 lead in the middle of the second period, despite a few quality chances to add to the advantage the visitiors were searching for the perfect highlight-reel play rather than focusing on details and throwing pucks at the net.
Rarely has trying to be cute aided the Capitals’ cause this season. Instead it typically leads to poor decisions with the puck and turnovers.
“When we get up, we get fancy,” defenseman Karl Alzner said, “And we think, ‘Oh, we’re going to score another couple goals and we’re not going to let any in.’ We make backhand passes through the middle of the ice. …For example, we chip the puck in the middle of the ice to try to get to our centers instead of chipping it along the wall and skating into it, which all the other good teams do to us. We get very, very soft with the puck.”
The abundance of sloppy play and unfocused decision making is a source of frustration. Minimizing turnovers is something that Hunter has talked about on almost a daily basis since he took over in late November.
“We’ve got to get in deep and don’t turn the puck over,” said Hunter, who was asked if he was frustrated by the Capitals’ continual problems with turnovers. “It is [frustrating] as coaches but they’re on the ice; they’ve got to read the plays.”
A significant contributing factor to the number of giveaways is when players freelance to take on a play by themselves, Troy Brouwer said, rather than relying on the system and teammates to make the best decision.
“I want to see more of putting pucks in good areas. I want…less turnovers, guys to realize they don’t need to do it by themselves,” Brouwer said. “On the first goal we had two turnovers and a penalty and then the second goal was another turnover right away after that. We’ve got to eliminate these turnovers, these useless turnovers that are just in terrible areas of the ice because they’re killing us.”
In addition to coughing up the puck, the Capitals didn’t drive the net consistently to put pressure on Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson or force him to make many stops through traffic. Most of the shots Roloson faced, he could see, and even for someone who has struggled as he has this season (12-16-2 with a .885 save percentage and 3.71 goals-against average) the absence of traffic in front makes it much simpler for him to stop the puck and gain confidence.
When they do drive to the net, the Capitals have proven to be successful. Jason Chimera scored a rebound goal with 3 minutes 17 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game at 2 largely because he was in the right place – standing at the top of the blue paint – at the right time.
“We need more of that,” Chimera said. “Just throwing pucks at the net and getting goals like that is key. In tight games, too, you’ve got to get pucks to the net. For the most part they did a good job blocking out, but we’ve got to get some shots through like that and get those ugly goals like that, too. We need more of that.”
What may be the most concerning factor is neither of these habits is anything new for Washington, and the solution an oft-repeated refrain. With two games left in the regular season, it’s tough to imagine these patterns will just disappear once (or if) the postseason begins.