Before Wednesday night, Capitals head coach Adam Oates had been steadfastly, stubbornly optimistic about his 2-5 club. His team, who can’t seem to stay awake during the first 20 minutes of their games, compete at even-strength or find consistent goaltending is simply having a run of bad luck, he claimed. They play well, it’s just that every mistake ends up in the back of their net; they don’t get any bounces; their opponents get all of them. Despite the Capitals record, Oates was mostly pleased with what he saw through six games, or so he said.
Tonight, though, after Washington’s pitiful 2-0 loss to a struggling Rangers team dropped them to 0-2 in the Metropolitan Division, Oates had a different message. He was honest – and specific – about his team’s problems.
“We have to take care of our own end better,” Oates said when asked about his team’s struggles playing 5-on-5. “We’ve mentioned it lately and you know what, we do – we need to play better in our own end. Obviously, we want to score. We want to get down the ice, but until we cross the blue line, we can’t.”
Of course, the Capitals are having problems in the attacking zone as well.
“I think we’re coming in and we’re one and done,” Caps forward Troy Brouwer said. “We’re getting a shot off the rush and no second or third opportunities, no puck recoveries and we’re unable to sustain a whole lot of pressure in the offensive zone.”
That certainly was a problem against the Rangers, who had Washington hemmed in their own zone for much of the second period, outshooting the Caps 21-6. The fact that Washington was outshot 36-22 in the game is a rough enough statistic before factoring in that they were outshot 31-16 at even strength. That’s an unacceptable number, even if the Rangers were blocking shots (22 total) like it was the middle of May.
While it is far too early in the year to panic, the Capitals don’t seem to have any specific answers to these problems. In addition, they are not all in agreement about exactly what is wrong.
“The preparation in the locker room has to get better,” Caps goaltender Braden Holtby said. “It’s as simple as that.”
After the Capitals blowout loss to the Avalanche, Brouwer made similar comments. Now, however, he is backing away from his initial assessment.
“I may have been a little hasty on the comments the other day,” he said, noting that emotions run high after a tough loss.
Brouwer and Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner both admit that the Capitals are not a tough team to play against right now. How they can change that is still unclear.
“I don’t think it’s what we expected to start,” Oates said. “But, it’s where we are and we’ve got to find a way to dig ourselves out.”
The Capitals had an excellent chance to take a lead with nearly a minute of a 5-on-3 advantage in the first period. They generated good chances, but ultimately were unable to score, which could have completely changed the tone of the game.
“We had a couple of good chances,” Oates said. “Sometimes you get a little too cute.”
With both teams playing sloppily through the first half of the game, a short-handed chance for the Rangers in the second period set off a chain of events that sent the Capitals reeling.
With their third power play chance of the game negated by Alexander Ovechkin’s slashing penalty, the Capitals surrendered a four-on-four goal when John Moore snapped a high shot past Holtby’s glove to put the Rangers up by one at 12:05 of the second period.
After that opening tally, the Capitals struggled to make it out of their own zone and less than two minutes later, Ryan Callahan blew by two Washington defenders to get to the front of the net and sent Brad Richards’ centering pass past Holtby to put the Rangers up by two.
Washington never recovered, handing their Empire State rivals their second win of the season and losing the chance to even their record before a long road trip to Western Canada.