Highlighted by a stick to the eye of Braden Holtby, an Evgeny Kuznetzov demotion, a triumphant return for former head coach Barry Trotz, a players-only meeting and a literal last-second goal to send Tuesday’s game against the Sharks to overtime, the Washington Capitals find themselves in a downward spiral that is seemingly self-inflicted.
Having lost six straight games, the team is well aware of its current situation but still hasn’t been able to find the magic antidote to get back on the winning track.
Not since January 2014 have the Capitals experienced a slide like this. That also happens to be the last season the Caps missed the playoffs.
Tuesday marked Alex Ovechkin’s 23rd career regular season hat trick and the first time the Caps had lost on such an occasion. Watching the defending Stanley Cup champions blow that kind of opportunity to end their losing streak didn’t sit right with NBC Sports Network analyst Jeremy Roenick.
“They are playing such high-risk hockey,” Roenick said on the heels of Tuesday night’s heartbreaking loss to the Sharks. “They are playing by the seat of their pants. They’re playing loosey-goosey hockey.”
Roenick went through game film to detail examples of the Capitals’ poor play on Tuesday, declaring, “That is awful hockey for a team that has lost five games in a row. You can’t play that way.”
The Caps averaged a goal a game in the first four games of their current skid but have put 11 pucks in the net in their past two games. Washington’s defense has been an issue throughout, allowing 30 goals in their past six games and 15 in their past two.
“You have to get down to the logistics, get down to playing smart hockey, hard hockey and not having hope-for passes and trying to do things because you’re talented just to win games . . . When you’re on a five-game losing streak, you’re supposed to tighten it up. Throw the puck into the corners. Start getting into your forecheck. Start grinding the puck. Start playing stronger defense.”
“Even on the winning goal — Ovechkin played a great game tonight, he’s been great all year — he loses a battle behind his own net. And then on the backcheck he stops skating at the blue line and the puck goes right past to [Tomas] Hertl and in the back of the net.
“This is a great hockey team. Don’t get me wrong. The Washington Capitals are the Stanley Cup champions. They can turn it on when they want to but . . . with the way some of these teams are playing, especially in the Metro division, they could find themselves in a wild-card position and, if they’re not careful and don’t start playing the right way, they could find themselves out of a playoff position.”
The Caps will look to right the ship Wednesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs in their final game before the NHL’s all-star break.