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Postgame: After a third straight loss, Capitals find ‘it’s very difficult to try to stay on course’

Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby takes a breather Saturday night in Tampa. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

TAMPA – He had begun preaching the same concept of patience throughout the past week, safeguarding against the inevitable onset of frustration, and now, as the Washington Capitals suffered their third straight defeat, Coach Barry Trotz would try again. “I can guarantee I’m not very happy we haven’t won the last couple games,” he said, “but at the same time I want to keep it even-keeled.”

The same challenge had confronted Trotz’s players moments before, when those left inside an otherwise empty dressing room tried to explain a 4-3 loss to the Lightning, which in turn seemed reflective of this slide altogether. How, the Capitals wondered, could they keep blasting pucks at opposing goalies, keep holding teams under 30 shot attempts, keep killing penalties, keep succeeding on the power play, and still sink to .500, 10 games into Trotz’s first season?

“It’s very difficult to try to stay on course when frustration’s setting in a little bit,” said forward Troy Brouwer, who scored for the second straight game. “We’re doing a lot of the right things … When you’re not winning, it’s tough to focus on the positives, but that’s what we need to do.”

So first, the positives. Eric Fehr slammed a shot off the back wall, gathered the rebound and squeezed the puck past 6-foot  7-inch colossus-in-net Ben Bishop. Trotz had scratched Fehr vs. Detroit, one game after moving him back onto the top line. Trotz brandishes ice time like a battle axe, hoping the demotion would light a flame beneath Fehr, which it did.

Alex Ovechkin also found his first point since mid-October, a superhuman effort in which a Lightning stick tripped Ovechkin to the ice, yet he somehow managed to flail the puck off Bishop’s pads and toward Marcus Johansson, who with the ensuing goal exceeded his even-strength total from 2013-14. A sprawling backcheck later saved a two-on-one breakaway, precisely the defensive zone effort Trotz wanted from his captain.

“I want to say I’m looking for the right combinations, but at the same time you’re getting 30 scoring chances a night, that’s pretty good,” Trotz said. “Sometimes you look for 15 and tonight we generated lots. Didn’t generate enough goals to win the hockey game. But we had three goals. We shouldn’t won that hockey game scoring three goals.”

So, next, the negatives, beginning with the opposite end, where Trotz felt Tampa goals were “coming way too easy.”

Back to the net in the first period, Ryan Callahan redirected a centering pass between his legs, then between Holtby’s. Behind the net in the second, Nikita Kucherov deked Holtby, who thought Kucherov would wrap around the net, but instead passed strong side to Ondrej Palat. Kucherov later tipped in Eric Brewer’s shot from the point, and less than three minutes into the third period, Jason Garrison won the game by ricocheting a blast off center Nicklas Backstrom’s skate.

“He made some good saves, but the goals were a little bit easy,” Trotz said. We’ve got to have those. There was one that was tipped. There’s nothing you can do about that, those high tips. The other ones, he’s got to have those.”

And the Capitals felt they should have emerged with a victory, or at least a point scraped together through overtime. Entering Saturday, Washington held leads in four of five losses, stalking the kill shot which never came.

“The worst thing you can do as a team is focus on the negatives, and for us the positives are we’re playing well,” Brouwer said. “We’re getting good opportunities, we’re just not converting on them. We’re not putting teams away when we have the opportunity and we’re letting teams back into it. If we find a way to finish our chances, step on teams when we’re ahead, we’ll be a really good team in this league. But we have to learn how to do that. We’re trying hard but it’s just not there yet.”