It is often said that a two-goal lead is the most dangerous lead in hockey, a cliché that has rung true for the Washington Capitals over their past two games.
Between Saturday against the New Jersey Devils and Monday against the Anaheim Ducks, Washington blew three two-goal leads, both resulting in losses. After relinquishing a 3-1 lead after two periods and a 4-2 lead with less than 12 minutes remaining in regulation in their 5-4 overtime loss to the Devils, the Capitals led the Ducks 2-0 late in the first period before ultimately losing 3-2.
"It's not acceptable at all, I think," Nicklas Backstrom said. "It's something we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and make sure we all do a better job. I mean, this is not good enough, that's for sure."
On Monday, Anaheim's first and second goals came shortly before the end of the first and second periods, respectively; Andrew Cogliano scored with 2:15 left in the first and Saku Koivu scored with 27 seconds left in the second, which allowed the Ducks to gather momentum heading into the intermission, which they fostered in the locker room while the Capitals rued a missed opportunity.
"We’re sitting in here for 17 minutes dwelling on the last 30 seconds of the period because we got scored on, not feeling good about ourselves while they’re over there with momentum, confidence coming out for the start of the third period," Troy Brouwer said of the Capitals' second intermission. "It’s just not a good combination for us to have to go out into the third period and have a good start."
Koivu's goal in particular was also indicative of a much larger problem -- the uninspiring defensive zone coverage that has felled the Capitals on innumerable occasions.
As Ben Lovejoy carried the puck from end to end, he got a step on Dmitry Orlov, who was caught flat-footed after Daniel Winnik set a bit of a pick at Washington's blue line. As Lovejoy entered the Ducks' offensive zone, he held off Orlov with his left arm.
Meanwhile, Mike Green drifted to the wrong post, leaving the slot unguarded even as Cogliano and Koivu approached, and Marcus Johansson failed to cover Koivu -- his defensive assignment on the play -- on the backcheck, resulting an easy tap-in goal.
It was the kind of defensive breakdown that has persisted through nearly half of the season and something that is certainly a cause for concern.
"We’re in great shape, we’re down below their goal line and they get one rush and put it in the net," Coach Adam Oates said. "That goal and the third goal we made... incorrect reads on the backcheck, which by now we shouldn’t do.
"It’s a combination of reads there. [Lovejoy's] a quick guy, Orly had pretty good position on him, could have got a stick on puck maybe could have helped and I thought Greenie faded to the wrong post quite honestly. But it was just generally a tracking read [error] and the third goal we made the same mistake."
As the Capitals scatter for the three-day Christmas break, they are left with plenty to think about. Despite sitting alone in second place in the Metropolitan Division, there are too many lingering issues that have yet to provide Washington with any semblance of stability entering the new year.
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