It didn’t take long for the Washington Capitals to identify that Philadelphia goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov was giving up juicy rebounds with regularity Sunday night. Taking advantage of that observation, though, was an entirely different matter.
The Capitals outshot and out-chanced the Flyers in that contest, yet couldn’t find a way to put the puck behind Bryzgalov once. Washington lost, 1-0, extending its scoring drought to 120 minutes. It marked the first time since the 2005-06 season that the team had been shut out in consecutive games.
While their methods had merits in the defeat, the Capitals were left to focus on what they could have done differently to break this scoring slump.
To a man, players said that creating traffic in front of the opposing net, seeking out more second- and third-chance opportunities and translating possession into quality shots needs to be a continued focus.
“We had a couple here and there but not nearly as many as we need,” forward Troy Brouwer said. “We have to make that a consistent part of our game, getting around the net. We have a lot of guys who can score off the rush and score with big shots, but the majority of the goals that are scored nowadays, and especially in the playoffs, are in front of the net.”
Of the 34 shots the Capitals took against Philadelphia, eight (23.5 percent) came from within 15 feet, which is above average for them. Settling for one shot and then watching the opposition clear the puck out of harm’s way too much isn’t making the most of possession or establishing a cycle, players said.
“It’s working harder to get rebounds and keep the play going, keep them spinning,” said winger Mike Knuble, who recorded two shots on goal and four hits in his first game in the lineup after sitting out four as a healthy scratch. “When shots occur and you’re chasing down loose pucks, that’s when breakdowns occur, because guys are switching and having to defend and criss-cross and we’re buzzing. That’s when you create opportunities.”
In preparation for Tuesday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Capitals spent a chunk of their Monday practice working on shooting for rebounds and trying to cash in on the unpredictable shots they provided. Groups took turns in a drill where players rushed up ice, making hard stops in the crease in order to pursue loose pucks.
“Most goals are scored around the blue paint,” Coach Dale Hunter said. “It’s hard work when you stop because a lot of times the puck won’t lay there and you have to skate all the way back. But most of the goals are scored on rebounds and it’s going to take an ugly goal.”
Throughout the season, the Capitals both individually and collectively have been guilty of trying to make the perfect play. Particularly when the team is struggling to score, players know they should rely on the basics of crashing the net for any kind of goal they can muster.
“We waste good opportunities sometimes,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “If I’m looking at a goalie and you don’t think you can beat them because they’ve got a good angle on you, shoot for a rebound. There’s nothing wrong with that. Put it into his pads and hope it takes a bounce.”
When the Capitals are trailing, as they have in three consecutive games now, it’s understandable that they will take a few more risks to try and even the score. But it can also lead to ad-libbing and deviating from the game plan. That is what the players say they can’t afford when seeking to break this slump and keep pace in the hunt for the postseason.
“I think mentally, just being consistent with what we’re trying to do for 60 minutes is big,” Joel Ward said. “We tend to get down. I think our mentality at times is a little weak. We just change who we are and try to go for the home run, I guess you could say, rather than sticking with the program.”
Capitals Notes: Nicklas Backstrom has been in his native Sweden for a little more than a week and isn’t expected to return until Sunday, according to a team spokesman. The trip was to allow the center, who has missed 27 games with a concussion, time away from the frustration of not being able to skate or play. . . . Washington reassigned goaltender Braden Holtby to Hershey.
Neil Greenberg contributed to this story.