NEW YORK — The Washington Capitals want a concrete explanation as to why early afternoon games fluster them, but they haven’t found one yet. Sure, it gets them out of their typical routine, but the Rangers weathered that issue by scoring a goal just 38 seconds into Game 2 on Saturday, while the Capitals were on their heels for the first period.
“For me, it’s too early for a game,” forward Evgeny Kuznetsov said. “But the Rangers are on the same page. We have to play hockey, and if we have a game at 12, no problem, then we play at 12.”
The Capitals fared poorly this season in games that have started at 1 p.m. or earlier, going 2-6. The last time Washington won an early matinee was Feb. 21 against the Islanders. Saturday, the Capitals looked sluggish at the start and fell into a 2-0 hole in the first period en route to a 3-2 loss.
“I have no idea, to be honest with you,” forward Nicklas Backstrom said. “If I could answer that question, I would. I don’t know. It looks like it was sloppy in the beginning and not as quick as were used to being.”
The first period followed a familiar pattern of lethargy, as the Capitals had just four shots on goal while the Rangers raced to a 2-0 lead on goals by Chris Kreider and Dan Boyle. The next three games in the Eastern Conference semifinal series will start at 7 p.m. or later.
Kuznetsov said the Capitals had a “positive talk” during the first intermission and were happier with how they played in the second and third periods, when he scored a goal that cut New York’s lead in half. Slow starts for the Capitals haven’t been restricted to puck drops before 2 p.m., as Washington trailed first in five of the seven games against the Islanders.
Washington Coach Barry Trotz tried a new approach to the Game 2 early start time. He mandated an unexpected day off on Friday, and the Capitals spent the day in meetings in their hotel near Central Park rather than at the rink. Because the early start prevented a morning skate at Madison Square Garden, the Capitals had no ice time between the end of Game 1 on Thursday and warmups before Game 2.
Trotz said before the game that he thought the day off was productive in terms of rest after a bruising seven-game series against the Islanders. He said the team was aware of its poor results in early games, not ignoring them but trying to learn from them. Trotz felt that Washington had gotten better with each early afternoon game, handling the change in routine better.
Defenseman Karl Alzner said on Friday that the 12:30 start time was bothersome for him because he likes to play with an empty stomach, meaning he needs to wake up around 7:30 or 8 a.m. to eat a small meals, but then he’s inevitably hungry before the game.
“It’s not a normal day, you know?” Kuznetsov said. “You wake up, go to morning skate, lunch, sleep. You just have lots of time. At 12 o’clock, you wake up and you just have to go in the game. But the Rangers are on the same page. No matter what, you have to play good.”
Said Backstrom, “Hopefully we won’t see these noon games again.”