As the Capitals piled up penalties Saturday night in their 6-3 loss to Tampa Bay, it was clear these weren’t the types of infractions that were the result of trying to break down an odd-man rush or stop a scoring chance.
These minors – all eight of them – were more a reflection on the team’s conditioning level as it kicked off a shortened season.
“Some of the mistakes came from conditioning. We got tired at times, the game went in waves,” Coach Adam Oates said. “They had a couple waves on us and wore us out. Just the amount of ice time the guys got and being a little bit out of shape took its toll.”
Of the 23 players on the active roster for the season opener against the Lightning, 10 played games overseas during the lockout. Among the defensemen, the only person to play professional games since last season was Tom Poti whose game time came this week during a conditioning stint in Hershey.
The time off can make anyone a step slow or a hair behind on a play. The inability to catch up often means reaching with a stick, rather than moving feet to regain ground on an opponent and it also often leads to a penalty.
While it’s not unexpected that the Capitals showed signs of fatigue in their first game back, they simply can’t afford to take this many penalties on a regular basis.
“It’s just normal that it’s been a long time for everyone, you come back and you’re flat-footed and out of position. You’re chasing back,” Mike Ribeiro said. “There’s some calls that were made there were other calls that weren’t made but at the end of the day it’s part of the game. Discipline will win you games. We cannot give teams five, six goals and expect to win any game.”
From the start of training camp it was clear there wouldn’t be enough time to help work players into game shape.
Given the compact nature of the schedule, with 48 games in 99 days, there isn’t enough recovery time for coaches to wear players down with heavy conditioning drills and bag skates either. That evolution must occur on the fly.
“That’s a tough call. … I think it’s the same for every team,” Oates said when asked if he might structure practice to include more conditioning work this week. “Going into our building will help, you feel a little better in your own barn. Get a couple games under your belt will certainly help, but we play four games in a week. When do you try and catch up? It’s tough.”