For the most part this season, the Capitals have played well when holding a lead. They’re 27-7-6 when they score first, 21-1-4 when leading after the first period and 23-0-1 when ahead after the second.
Over the past six games, though, Washington gave up advantages of two or more goals on three occasions. On March 23, Winnipeg rallied from down 3-0 to win, 4-3, in overtime; on March 29, the Capitals won, 3-2, in a shootout but not until Boston forced overtime when it rallied from down 2-0; and on March 31 Washington won again in a shootout after coughing up a 2-0 lead on the Canadiens.
The Capitals certainly aren’t the only team that’s been losing leads lately. As teams scramble for points and try to reach the playoffs, they’re pushing even harder to come back against any deficit, but Washington knows it can’t afford to squander advantages with so much on the line in these two final games.
“This time of year teams are working so hard to get into the playoffs, guys will do anything. No lead is safe,” said Troy Brouwer, who expanded on what the Capitals need to do in the event they find themselves ahead.
“If they’re going to have an opportunity to have a shot on our goal we’ve got to make sure it’s from the outside,” Brouwer said. “We’ve got to make sure that they come 200 feet from behind their net. So just making sure that we’re putting pucks in areas so their goalies can’t break it out, making it difficult so their D-men have to turn back and get pucks every single time.”
Matt Hendricks said that when teams put pressure on late in a contest and are “throwing the kitchen sink” at them, the Capitals need to focus on the basics in the defensive zone, starting with smart decisions with the puck. It all starts with get the puck deep into the offensive zone and simply remove the chances and time an opponent has in Washington’s end.
“We have opportunities to get it deep, get it away from our net and we don’t do that,” Hendricks said. “We turn pucks over, give them more zone time than they need, give them opportunities, faceoffs in our zone — things that aren’t necessary because we have the opportunity to make sure that doesn’t happen. I think that’s our number one problem and until we figure that out, it’s going to be hard.”
In that loss to Winnipeg when they gave up a three-goal edge, the Capitals went into a defensive shell in the third period and could barely escape their own zone. There’s a fine line between protecting a lead and allowing an opponent to keep attacking in waves, though. Trying to add to an advantage is one thing, but taking risks that can result in turnovers when up by a few goals is careless.
“We don’t need to try to do things one-on-one and beat guys one-on-one to score goals in the league,” Hendricks said. “We need to put pucks deep, you see when we out-cycle teams, get pucks from the point and get rebound goals, throw pucks at the net….It’s not always about making picture-perfect plays.”