Why Do the Capitals Struggle So Much During Afternoon Games?

Why do the Capitals struggle so much during afternoon games? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Evgeny Kuznetsov's first game back from the NHL's COVID-19 protocol-related absence list fell on Feb. 14. As he prepared for the game, he was happy to be back, but there was one problem.

"Just one thing that bothers’s me, the game’s 3 o'clock," Kuznetsov said. "I don’t like those early games. I think hockey should be 7 or 8 p.m. starts."

The Capitals as a team apparently share Kuznetsov's dislike for afternoon games as these have been an issue all season. After a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday the team is now winless in afternoon games with a record of 0-3-2.

In an honest moment, most players and coaches will tell you they prefer games at night. Players are creatures of habit and generally do not like it when they have to change their gameday routine.

"Not many people go to work and have to think about getting into a fight before they have their lunch," head coach Peter Laviolette said on Friday.

But afternoon games should affect both teams equally and that has not been the case. The Caps just seem to struggle more with the early start times and are still looking for their first win after five tries.

"I can't put my finger on one thing," T.J. Oshie said of the team's struggles. "I think we just got to do a better job of getting ourselves ready without having that normal game-day routine that you have for a typical 7 o'clock game."

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Is it really just as simple as saying the Caps are thrown off by the change in their game-day routine? That seems like a flimsy explanation for a team that is playing hockey in the middle of a pandemic, but it certainly seemed to be the case on Saturday.

After two of their better performances of the season, the Caps came into Saturday's game and just looked off. Passes were off the mark, the offense was almost non-existent and sloppy mistakes cost Washington in its own zone. Two first-period penalties changed the trajectory of the game after two sleepy teams did little to start. The Rangers woke up with their power play opportunities and never looked back whereas the Caps were sleep-walking to the finish.

“You really got to take care mentally and really you got to show up to these games because it comes up quick and comes up fast and kind of throws you off your routine a little bit," Nick Jensen said. "But that is all on us and all on preparation on whether we are ready to play or not and I don’t think our preparation was there today.”

In a condensed schedule against all divisional opponents, the Caps must improve their play in afternoon games. The team still has seven afternoon games left on the schedule including Sunday's game which was moved up from its original 7 p.m. start after the Lake Tahoe game was delayed to 7:30 p.m. by the NHL. With the constant changes to the schedule this season, there could also be more added down the line.

Of all the challenges the Caps have faced already, it would be silly to see their season derailed just because their game-day routines have been disrupted by a handful of afternoon games. Washington needs to be ready when the puck drops regardless of whether it is convenient or not.

"We've got to find a way to get ourselves going and get prepared for these games because a lot of our schedule times are changing," Oshie said. "It looks like we've got some other noon games coming up. We got to be better in that regard and really just each player just getting themselves ready so we can win some of these."

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