The Capitals played perhaps their best period of the season in the first Thursday against Montreal, but when they gave up a pair of goals in 57 seconds early in the second period, every last morsel of momentum was destroyed.
They never recovered, despite having more than 35 minutes of play remaining in regulation to fight to remain relevant in the game. Afterward, when asked what went wrong, Coach Adam Oates described his team as “probably a little bit fragile.”
“Things haven’t gone our way so far. We haven’t really had a lead and just the 5-on-3 they got a goal and we’re behind the 8-ball,” Oates said. “It takes the air out of the building. We were playing fine. It’s an uphill battle.”
Through the first 180 minutes of the season, the Capitals have led for a grand total of 2 minutes and 32 seconds. Their spurts of strong play, usually in the first period, haven’t translated into goals, and even when they do, the edge is short lived. They’ve trailed their opponents for 122:45 so far this season and played tied for 54:43.
At this point, the Capitals need something – anything – to go their way early in a game to give them something tangible to build off of so that when an opponent surges, they can fend off that overwhelming feeling of “here we go again.”
“When things aren’t quite going your way and then something like [two quick goals] happens, then sometimes it’s hard to get going and keep your momentum going,” Joey Crabb said. “If the bounces would’ve gone our way and we would’ve been up one, two midway through the game then I think it would’ve been a different story.”
Ideally, strong play at the start of a game needs to translate into an early lead. With a lead, the Capitals can play with a little more ease, worry less about the routine plays and let their instincts take over without the pressure of having to mount yet another multi-goal comeback.
“That would be great,” Karl Alzner said. “A little bit of a confidence booster would be nice for all of us right now. It seems like we went through the same thing last year – a goal would get scored against us and we’d all get down, fans included. It doesn’t help us when we get down. We definitely need the first goal, maybe even the second goal if we can get it, and then just get everyone’s spirits up.”
Facing New Jersey on the second night of back-to-back games isn’t going to do the Capitals any favors, either, as they search for their first win of the season. The Devils, who haven’t played since Tuesday, are 2-0, haven’t given up an even-strength goal, and future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur has allowed one goal on 43 shots so far this season.
“Maybe that’s what we need: A team that everybody knows is really good and we really have to be on point to stand a chance against them,” Alzner said. “Hopefully that’s really going to help us. Yeah, it’s a team that we’re going to play similar styles, so we’ve got to show them at least that we can do it and show ourselves that we can do it because we’ll have another showing like [Thursday] if we don’t bring it.”