Five thoughts on the loss:
1. The mental side. In his postgame comments Coach Adam Oates said he’s talked “too much” about the Capitals’ mental fortitude or lack thereof this year. But when a team continues to deviate from the game plan based on the situation, rather than allowing it to serve as the backbone through both success and failure, that’s where the focus ultimately lies.
The steely resolve of successful teams can take time to create, but this has been a consistent problem for the Capitals each of the four years I’ve covered them. Regardless of the coach, time of year, opponent or situation there have been plenty of games where one goal causes them to unravel or they let up with a lead. Few games will be scripted perfectly from beginning to end, of course, but that’s why a team needs to play as a cohesive unit regardless of the circumstances.
“You have to teach it. We have no choice. We won’t win. Look what happens. Won’t win,” said Oates, who said he doesn’t intend on changing the way he delivers the message.
“I have to approach it the same way. That’s who I am. I can’t change who I am. Can’t change the way I approach it. As I’ve said all along, it’s still communication,” Oates said. “I can sit a guy out of the lineup. I don’t have to yell at him to sit a guy out of the lineup. I can remove a guy. Yelling is irrelevant. That’s high school for me. If guys don’t know that we let one get away, shame on them. Shame on them. I’m gonna tell them.
“If they walk away and they’re not upset, then there’s nothing any coach can do to change that.”
2. Too many penalties. There were questionable calls Wednesday night, sure. But once it becomes clear that officials are going to whistle any possible infraction it’s up to players to eliminate the possibility of penalties as much as they can. The Capitals took 12 penalties against the Senators, nine of which were minors and many of which were avoidable. Ottawa had 7:33 of power-play time and went 3 for 6 on the power play — the first time this season the Capitals gave up three power-play goals.
“You just have to make sure you move your feet. It was pretty apparent in the second period they were going to be a factor in the game, the penalties were and it was going to be a special teams game,” Brooks Laich said. “In that instance, as players we’ve been around long enough we’re aware of that. We’ve been through those games. You’ve gotta make sure you move your feet and keep your stick off of guys – don’t give them any excuse to call one.”
Veteran players were frequent culprits as Mike Green was called for three minors, one of which led to a Senators goal, and Eric Fehr was called for two, both paving the way for Ottawa goals.
“Wasn’t moving my feet, got caught with a trip and they scored the first minute both times I was in the box,” Fehr said. “I’ve just got to find a way to stay out of the box.”
Green didn’t speak to reporters afterward but Oates said the veteran defenseman can’t be in the box that much.
“One of them was in recovery mode but a couple of the other ones, yeah you can’t,” Oates said. “He’s a better player than that.”
3. Holtby. For the 21st time in 25 games, the Capitals allowed more than 30 shots on goal. Ottawa fired 40 shots against Braden Holtby, who’s faced 30 or more shots in 15 of the 18 games he’s started and finished this year. While Holtby likes heavy workloads because it helps him be more involved in the game, the Capitals give up too many shots on too consistent a basis.
Holtby made quite a few quality stops in the early stages of the game, allowing the Capitals to create their two-goal lead, but like the rest of the team he didn’t have his best outing.
“I think Holts is the same as everybody else tonight,” Oates said. “We had moments we were good, he had moments he was good. He had moments he wasn’t good, we had a lot of moments where we weren’t either.”
One of those not-so-good moments came late in regulation when Zack Smith split the Capitals defense and beat Holtby to give the Senators the lead one final time just 64 seconds after the Capitals tied the score at 4.
“That’s just a save I need to have,” Holtby said. “We have an opportunity to win a game that we probably shouldn’t have an opportunity to win and that’s where I have to come up with a save.”
4. First period. The Capitals did a decent job overcoming mistakes in the first period and extied the period with a two-goal lead. They got goals from three players not named Alex Ovechkin for the first time in four games, including a power-play tally, which has become a bit rare these days. (The power play is 4 for 27 over the past eight games.)
But after establishing the lead the mistakes were the only part of the first period that lingered for Washington.
“Quite honestly I don’t think we were that good in the first,” Oates said. “We fought the puck a lot, we weren’t clean getting out of our own end but we got some goals – PP and two forechecking goals, so we got something.”
5. Sliding down the standings. Washington has lost four straight and now sits tied for second in the Metropolitan Division, seven points behind Pittsburgh. More concerning, though, should be that the Capitals have only seven regulation or overtime wins total this season. The only other teams with that many or less? Winnipeg (7), Calgary (6), Edmonton (6), the Islanders (5), Florida (5) and Buffalo (2).