As they’ve sputtered to a 1-4-1 record over the past six games, the Washington Capitals have consistently struggled to find their game in the first period.
They’ve been outscored 6-1 in the first period during this stretch, outshot 51-31 and trailed heading into the first intermission in five of the six contests – the only exception being March 6 at Boston when it was scoreless after one.
“It’s focus, discipline, preparation, a little bit of everything,” Coach Adam Oates said, commenting on the three road losses in that time. “You’re on the road, they’re pumped up; they’re at home, you’re not quite – we’re not quite ready for how hard they’re going to come at us and we probably make mistakes in terms of where we put the puck to allow our game to evolve.”
The early malaise has been caused by mistakes such as Mike Green being caught flat-footed against Chris Kunitz in Monday’s 3-2 loss to the Penguins; an inability to clear the puck out of their own zone that seems to crop up on a nightly basis; and abundant turnovers. For a team vying for a playoff spot, falling behind early or simply needing 20 to 30 minutes to establish is game is far from a desirable habit.
A lot stems from any team’s success or failure to have clean breakouts. If the Capitals can get the puck moving up ice smoothly, they don’t have to worry about being trapped out for long shifts in their defensive end. If they can get through the neutral zone without coughing up the puck, then Washington can set about establishing a forecheck. But they have to do enough successfully elsewhere to reach that point.
“A lot of it has to do with execution,” Troy Brouwer said. “There’s been a lot of times where we’ve been coming through the neutral zone and pucks are in our skates, or we can’t get pucks cleanly or make plays on entries into their zone because the puck is bouncing or just not quite on our tape, or we’re chasing after it. When our passes are better when guys are in better position to receive pucks you’re going to have more room on the ice and you’re going to have more time.”
So how can the Capitals improve upon that point so that more passes hit the mark and there are less easy turnovers for an opponent to pick off?
“Systems discipline more than anything,” Brouwer said. “Being in the right spot for your partner, being in the right spot for your linemates so they know where you are so that you don’t have to get your head up, you don’t have to look around to find them on the ice you just know where they’re going to be. It just makes everything cleaner it makes everything smoother it makes you look like a good, organized team.”