Following their 4-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday, the Washington Capitals bemoaned a lack of execution and self-inflicted mistakes, spending their Thursday hoping to correct those mistakes by analyzing what was arguably their worst overall performance of the season.
Yet if a visibly frustrated Adam Oates were to be believed, the Capitals' 3-2 loss Friday to the Montreal Canadiens was even worse.
The same problems that have plagued Washington all season long -- which is beginning to read like an overflowing list of innumerable errors -- manifested themselves again in the form of all three Montreal goals.
Center Mikhail Grabovski fumbled a sloppy breakout pass from defenseman Alexander Urbom at their blue line, leading to a transition goal seconds later. Three minutes later, missed defensive assignments allowed center David Desharnais to slip behind the Capitals' defense undetected for a deflection goal off a faceoff, a play that the Capitals routinely discuss and work on.
Though the validity of forward Martin Erat's roughing call against goaltender Peter Budaj can certainly be disputed, it was one of many unneccessary penalties that stunted momentum and, in this specific case, allowed the Canadiens to extend their rapidly growing lead to 3-0.
It was the fourth time this season -- and second time in as many games -- that the Capitals fell behind by that score, once again highlighting a lack of focus at the start of games.
"We waited until about 18 or 19 minutes [remaining] in the first period to look like we had some jump," Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer said. "[We] spotted them a three-goal lead and things that we're trying to avoid: turnovers on the first one, taking penalties on the third one, second one's [a] tough call, but it's how it goes. We've got to have better starts. We can't expect to win games if we're down 3-0."
When asked what the Capitals need to do to get off to better starts, Brouwer was blunt.
"Do you have some ideas?" he replied. "Because apparently we haven't found it yet."
Added defenseman Mike Green: "I wish I had an exact answer, but it's almost like we're waiting for a momentum shift to come along instead of creating it. I don't know."
Therein lies the problem: the Capitals are still searching for answers to rectify the issues that have become commonplace as the season enters its second quarter. Isolated incidents have long since become unsettling trends.
Washington played much better in the second and third periods (though, to be fair, the first-period bar was not set very high), but as Oates pointed out, it was less of an inspired effort and more of his team simply playing the game in the way it was supposed to be played.
"That’s the frustrating part,” said Oates, who called out his veterans and admitted that he was more upset with his team's performance Friday than he was Wednesday. “All we did to make the push was play correct.”
Saturday morning, the Capitals will reconvene in Toronto ahead of their game with the Maple Leafs to go over what went wrong again. Oates will show them the same exact things that he showed them prior to their most recent loss, and he can only hope that this time, his lessons stick.
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