The Washington Capitals' propensity for relinquishing two-goal leads has made an unwelcome return since the team reassembled last week following the NHL's Olympic hiatus.
In three games, the Capitals have blown three such leads, most painfully a 4-2 advantage on Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers with less than 10 minutes remaining in regulation. The Flyers ultimately prevailed in a 5-4 overtime victory, a comeback win that prevented the Capitals from attaining a playoff position for the first time since Jan. 18.
"I'm just more frustrated with the way we played those last 10 minutes," goaltender Braden Holtby said. "It was embarrassing.
"I don't know what it is. We didn’t play a game today that we should have won. We were lucky to get to overtime. When the game is on the line like that and we have the lead, we have to lock down and play defensive hockey, and we aren’t doing that.”
In all, the Capitals have blown a total of 11 two-goal leads this season, including four in which they led by two in the third period alone:
“We’ve done it too many times," forward Eric Fehr said. "We almost don’t want two-goal leads the way we’re playing with them right now. I don’t know what it is, if we shut our brains off for a little bit or think the game’s over. In this league we should have learned by now the games are far from over.”
Washington has been able to salvage at least one point in seven of the aforementioned games (4-3-3), but it could not afford to essentially hand two points to Philadelphia, a fellow Metropolitan Division inhabitant who is also jockeying for postseason positioning in the Eastern Conference.
It is human nature for a team with a multi-goal lead to "relax" or "take its foot off the gas" in an effort to protect that lead.
The Capitals are no different; Washington has taken 44.1 percent of shots when leading by two goals or more this season as compared to 48.3 percent when the score is "close," which is defined as "game situations where the score is tied in any period or within one goal in the first or second periods."
Yet the discrepancy between Philadelphia and Washington's shot attempts once defenseman Dmitry Orlov gave the Capitals the 4-2 lead late in the second period is startling.
In 26:22 of game time, the Flyers outshot the Capitals 19-4 -- including the final 13 -- with a 43-11 advantage in total shot attempts.
“Even though we are up, we still have to play desperate a little bit, just wanting to really finish them off, I think," forward Joel Ward said. "We kind of let [Philadelphia] off the hook a little bit. We have done that the last couple of games, which is frustrating. I think at times we may sit back a little bit, and you just can’t do that in this league, especially with guys like that on the opposition.”
Regardless, a team struggling to keep their tenuous postseason hopes alive simply cannot give points away.
“It hurts because we blew a lead and it’s the wrong way,” coach Adam Oates said. “At this point in time you’re supposed to be better than that.”
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