For years, the Capitals have proven themselves capable of winning high-scoring affairs, though the same cannot be said for games where goals are at a premium.
Washington has not won a game this season in which it has scored less than three goals. After their 1-0 loss to the Islanders on Tuesday, the Capitals are now 0-19-5 in those low-scoring games, leaving them as the only team in the NHL without a win in those situations.
“What it proves is you can’t worry about goals. You’ve got to worry about your own end,” coach Adam Oates said. “You’ve got to be a defensive team first, and it’s amazing when you play good defense how you get chances.”
The Capitals, who emerged as perennial contenders by playing offensive-minded hockey, have never been particularly adept at winning low-scoring games.
In fairness, they did not have to as they overwhelmed opponents offensively. Yet that has not been the case in recent seasons. With the exception of a foray into defense-oriented hockey under former coach Dale Hunter two seasons ago, the Capitals have struggled to adjust.
“It’s something that we’ve been missing over the last few years,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We were like that a little bit when [Hunter] was here. That’s because our style wasn’t a goal-scoring style; we just had to grind it out and that’s what happened but it’s pretty necessary. … We’ve struggled with those over the years.”
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Alex Ovechkin-era Capitals arguably had their greatest postseason success under Hunter, whose no-frills approach led them to a seven-game upset of the defending champion Bruins and within one victory of the Eastern Conference final in 2012.
Yet, if the Capitals, three points out of the final wild-card spot with 25 games remaining, even want to qualify for the playoffs, then they must find a way to win low-scoring games.
“No question,” Oates said. “Those are points you’ve got to get.”