Capitals need to correct familiar problems

November 11, 2013

(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

When Joel Ward scored to tie the game against the Colorado Avalanche in the second period Sunday night, it presented the Capitals an opportunity to gain momentum against a team with one of the top records in the NHL.

When Colorado was whistled for penalties in close succession early in the third period, gifting the Capitals, then trailing by one, a 56-second long two-man advantage, it offered up another chance to assert themselves in the contest.

But when both of those critical moments arose, the Capitals didn’t take advantage. Instead, they faltered in ways that have become far too familiar through the first 18 games of the season. Washington is looking for ways to correct the missteps heading into Tuesday’s game against Metropolitan Division foe Columbus at Verizon Center.

It was a fortuitous bounce off the end boards that careened out in front to Ward for that tying goal. Fluky or not, the Capitals managed to overcome a rough opening 20 minutes to tie the contest just as they appeared to be finding their footing. They didn’t give themselves a chance to build off that tally, though, when they allowed the Avalanche to score 28 seconds later and regain the lead with a goal by Nick Holden.

“They come right back and get one. That hurt, obviously,” Coach Adam Oates said. “You’re feeling good about yourselves and that hurts.”

Allowing quick goals after recording one themselves has been a frequent source of pain for the Capitals. They’ve given up a goal in the first two minutes after scoring in eight different games this season – on five occasions the tally came in 48 seconds or less — and are 3-5 when doing so.

Game Result
Nov. 10 at Colorado Nick Holden scores to give the Avalanche a 2-1 lead in the second period, 28 seconds after Joel Ward tied the game at 1-1. L, 4-1
Nov. 5 vs. N.Y. Islanders Kyle Okposo scores to tie the game at 2-2, 17 seconds after Alex Ovechkin gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead. W, 6-2
Oct. 28 at Vancouver Ryan Kesler scores to cut Washington’s lead to 3-2 in the third period, 1:01 after Mikhail Grabovski gave the Capitals a two-goal lead. L, 3-2
Oct. 26 at Calgary Mike Cammalleri scores to give the Flames a 3-1 lead in the first period just 48 seconds after Jason Chimera put the Capitals on the board. L, 5-2
Oct. 22 at Winnipeg Blake Wheeler scores to knot the game at 3-3 in the second period, 1:19 after Alex Ovechkin gave the Capitals a one-goal lead. W, 5-4 (SO)
Oct. 12 vs. Colorado Jamie McGinn scores for a 5-1 Avalanche lead in the third period, 21 seconds after Eric Fehr recorded Washington’s lone goal. L, 5-1
Oct. 3 vs. Calgary Lance Bouma scores for a 3-1 Calgary lead in the first period, 1:35 after Connor Carrick put the Capitals on the board. W, 5-4 (SO)
Oct. 1 at Chicago Patrick Kane scored to re-establish Chicago’s lead at 2-1 in the first period, 24 seconds after Alex Ovechkin tied the game. L, 6-4

 

Only once, Oct. 12 against the Avalanche, was the game already out of hand when an opposing goal followed immediately, which means Washington is relinquishing momentum — or at the very least, creating more hurdles for themselves in tight contests.

“That needs to be addressed. We need to come out with a better effort right after a goal,” Troy Brouwer said. Pepsi Center in Denver is “a tough building to try to get momentum in, and I thought we did there and we gave it back right away and weren’t able to get it the rest of the night. We’ve got to be tighter on those. We’ve got to make sure pucks get deep and we carry the momentum over to the next line.”

Against the Avalanche it was the third line, which created the goal, that was on the ice for the faceoff and shift immediately after Ward’s marker. While that forward unit — whether featuring Eric Fehr or Mikhail Grabovski with Ward and Chimera — has been Washington’s most consistent at even strength this season, they’ve also been the most frequent culprits when opponents score quick goals, having been on the ice for five.

Even after squandering that opportunity, the Capitals weren’t out of the contest. It was a one-goal game early in the third period when Cory Sarich went off for hooking, soon to be followed by a bench minor for too many men against the Avalanche. The lengthy 5-on-3 that ensued for Washington provided another window to climb back in the contest, but the power play recorded only one shot on goal before time expired.

Said Alex Ovechkin: “Sometimes puck bouncing. Sometimes you get a shot, miss the net and have to go back to neutral zone and set up again.”

Whatever the reason, the Capitals are permitting too many opportunities to pass them by with the inability to find any success 5-on-3.

“You’ve got to capitalize on those, especially when at the time we’re down and that’s going to get us back into the game,” Brouwer said. “We’ve got enough skill, enough talent, enough ability to be able to put the puck in the net. We can do it 5-on-4 but we can’t do it 5-on-3 for some reason.”

It was the second time in as many nights and fifth time this season (5:46 of total time) that the Capitals have failed to convert on a two-man advantage. Despite owning the best power play in the league both this season and last, Washington has now gone 11 consecutive tries 5-on-3 without recording a goal.

This year, the chances have been long enough to provide ample time for the unit to get set up in the offensive zone and even readjust should it need to but for reasons the Capitals can’t pinpoint the execution simply isn’t there.

“We’ve got to obviously try and figure something out. We had a couple good looks not as many as we should,” Oates said adding that even if the unit is snakebit don’t expect any personnel changes to the usual group of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Brouwer and Ward that the Capitals use 5-on-3.

“It’s tough because those are the guys you’re going to play,” Oates said. “We’ll talk about it next practice but those are the guys that are going out there, we’re not going to change them. We had a couple chances. I thought it was a little better than [the 5-on-3 opportunity Saturday in Phoenix]. It’s always the reads.”

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