In a season chock-full of success, the Washington Capitals have wobbled a bit of late, losing five of their past eight contests.
It is probably far from panic time in the District, but one reason for the recent troubles is the special teams haven't been, well, so special.
The Caps have allowed at least one power-play goal in nine consecutive games. Meanwhile, Washington's own power play - a strength for much of the season - has cooled.
"Special teams sometimes are streaky things," Caps forward Brooks Laich said. "You get really hot on the power play, and the same is true with the penalty kill - you can kill 20 in a row when things are working and guys are paying the price. ... We just have to get back to doing that."
The more pressing concern of the two is probably the penalty-killing problems. Seven of the past eight goals the Caps have allowed occurred with the team down at least one man.
Washington's penalty-killing ranks 24th in the NHL at 78.5 percent. Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said it is not a tactical problem or an issue with effort, but the team has gone more than two games without allowing a power-play goal only once this season and never more than four in a row.
"That's the million-dollar question right now," Caps center Boyd Gordon said. "I don't know. Obviously, it's got to be a lot better. I think we just have to bear down and we have to get it done. It seems like we take a penalty at just the wrong time, and we're pretty fragile with it right now."
While the penalty-killing unit can look superb at times yet still yield negative statistics, the power play is the exact opposite. At times the Caps have looked disjointed or uninterested with the man advantage, going multiple extra-man opportunities without putting together a coherent attack.
The Caps have been shut out on the power play the past two games - 0-for-11. That could change, though, because Boudreau wants to lobby the league to change defenseman Mike Green's goal against Boston to a power-play marker because he says the score came with one second left on the man advantage, but the TD Banknorth Garden scoreboard operator ran off two extra seconds after the goal.
Despite the issues with the power play, the Caps remain among the league leaders at 22.0 percent, which is seventh - though that is down from their top-five spot earlier this month. Part of the reason is the team's immense offensive talent.
The Caps can cover up deficiencies in the power-play structure with a great individual effort, but at the same time it is those players' eagerness to attempt said individualism that can create the extra-man problems in the first place.
"We haven't really had consistency," Green said. "We've had maybe a stretch of six games where we've been good, but we need to put together a full month where we are consistently good."
One reason for optimism with both units is the forthcoming return of defenseman Tom Poti. The veteran has missed the past 15 games with a groin injury, but he is likely to be in the lineup Saturday for the Caps' matinee against the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings. Poti also will move right back into his spot as a contributor on both special teams units.
"It alleviates the fact that you have to have Alex [Ovechkin] and Mike [Green] on for the whole two minutes of the power play, first of all," Boudreau said. "He's arguably our best penalty-killer defensively, so those [facts] just say he's going to help."