The Washington Capitals took to the ice at their practice facility in Arlington for only about a half hour Thursday. After what was perhaps their worst loss of the season a night earlier — to their biggest rival, no less — the bulk of the day’s work came in video sessions.
There was no escaping how discombobulated the Capitals were in the 4-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, how they struggled to execute simple plays and how poor decisions compounded to make their objectives more difficult to accomplish. Even Coach Adam Oates, who unfailingly emphasizes the positives from any contest, couldn’t gloss over the reality that the Capitals’ problems were self-inflicted and avoidable.
“The first thing I showed them was our execution, decisions with the puck that — when they scored a goal, we weren’t ourselves, and that’s something we should have conquered by now,” Oates said. “I showed them that up until the too-many-men penalty, a minute left in the second period, it’s a two-goal game. We had plenty of opportunities to get one, and that’s all we needed to get in the game. Third goal makes it very difficult, of course, but it’s 39 minutes [into] the game. We need one.”
The lack of execution and the inability to respond after falling behind against Pittsburgh were the main focus as Washington prepared for back-to-back games in the next two days beginning Friday when it hosts the Montreal Canadiens.
“It’s hard to be positive after last game, after last night’s effort, for sure,” veteran winger Jason Chimera said. “But you’ve got to watch on film and see what happened. Whenever a game like that happens, it’s mostly on us. It’s nothing [the Penguins] really did.”
Technical mistakes were easy to spot, in real time and on video. Passes were in skates rather than on the tape of a stick blade, and poor decisions prevented the Capitals from exiting the defensive zone cleanly. Those miscues not only kept them from establishing an offensive flow, but they also made it far too simple for Pittsburgh to dominate possession and heavily outshoot Washington.
The Capitals gave up 30 shots on goal for the 19th time in 22 games, and Oates thinks that’s a problem. The volume of shots alone cannot tell how many quality chances a team had, but giving up this many is a dangerous trend. Washington has allowed 771 shots on goal, third most in the league through Wednesday. That puts the Capitals on pace to give up 2,870 shots this season, which would be the second most since 1987-88.
“Too many,” Oates said flatly. “We’ve got to do a better job of getting out of our own end. I showed the boys this morning, in the first 10 minutes we had at least 10 plays where you’ve got a 10-foot pass and we miss a guy. We put it in his feet. It slows us down, and next thing you know, they ram it right down our throat again.”
Oates also pointed out the Capitals’ inadequate response after Pittsburgh took a two-goal lead. Washington has struggled both in sustaining momentum after scoring a goal and fighting back to establish itself after giving one up. Even when it was a two-goal game, the Capitals didn’t have the poise to attempt any kind of comeback.
“We have to have a better mentality, whether it’s us scoring or them scoring, going out for the next shift and trying to better yourself from the guys before,” forward Troy Brouwer said. “This whole season, that’s one of our weaknesses.”
Pittsburgh’s first goal by Paul Martin was something of a fluky play, with a long-range shot beating a screened Braden Holtby, but the Capitals let it knock them backward. When a neutral-zone turnover led to Pittsburgh’s second goal, they were still reeling from the first.
That’s something Oates wants to see Washington fight through.
“You almost felt the air come out of the building a little bit. Probably would have been easier if it was on the road, when that goal goes in,” Oates said. “That’s a mental thing. You try to jack it up again, get going. They get another one, and then it’s down two against Pittsburgh. That’s our rival. You could feel it in the building, and that’s where the team has to show character.”
Capitals notes: Oates said he expects Mike Green to play Friday against Montreal. Green has missed the past three games with a lower-body contusion he suffered Nov. 12 against Columbus. It is unclear what the corresponding move would be to create space on the 23-man active roster, but both Dmitry Orlov and Tyson Strachan can be sent to the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears without having to clear waivers.