RALEIGH, N.C. — It doesn't take a sharp hockey brain to figure out that leading NHL goal-scorer Steven Stamkos streaking down the ice alone isn't an enviable position for a goaltender.
A turnover in Saturday night's 2-1 loss at Tampa Bay led to a goal in that situation.
"We gave up some odd-man rushes, and that's how they scored," Washington Capitals coach Dale Hunter said. "They're trying to do too much, and turnover."
Hunter made it clear upon succeeding Bruce Boudreau in late November that odd-man rushes are integral to his system; generating them on offense and stopping them on defense.
Surrendering them has been a recurring theme in some losses.
It often stems from the desire to break out of scoring doldrums.
"I think we want to score all those goals that you see from this team a lot. We try to make those plays and always make them at the blue line," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "We shoot ourselves in the foot when we do that because we're trying to get something going offensively and then we turn it over."
Defensive-zone miscues are one thing, but coughing the puck up around the offensive blue line was the issue over the weekend in allowing so many breakaways and two-on-ones to Florida and Tampa Bay. Forward Matt Hendricks' giveaway that sprung the Lightning's Stamkos was one example, as he was trying to keep the pressure up offensively.
Forcing the issue, especially when falling behind on the road, is a source of turnovers.
"It happens. That's the fine line when guys are trying to be offensively creative and doing the safe thing," right wing Mike Knuble said. "While safe doesn't always generate goals, doing the right thing is going to buy time for the next time down. That's when you have to trust the offensive instincts of the players and if a play's there that they can make it. And if it's not there, if it's not going to be a glorious chance, then maybe you've got to think twice."
But the Capitals shouldn't have to think twice about making smart passes in the middle of the ice, even though costly circumstances have arisen when they give it away in the neutral zone. Opponents then have less ice to cover, and makes it harder on the goalies.
"It's just awareness of where you are on the rink," Knuble said, "and knowing the situation of the game. I think there's times to take a chance and there's times not to, and it's part of knowing what the situation of the game is."
Given that the Caps endured a five-game stretch from Feb. 9 through Saturday in which Brooks Laich was the only forward not named Alex Ovechkin or Alexander Semin to score, offense has been scarce.
Alzner lamented that one or two goals a game is not how this team can succeed, so there's increased pressure to create offense.
With that, offensive-minded defensemen such as Dennis Wideman try to cheat up in the play, forcing others to watch the other direction if the puck is turned over.
"It's making sure when we have a high third man in their zone is just kind of the key to us pinching or not and us having guys back," defensive defenseman Jeff Schultz said. "It just depends on where the puck is turned over. ... Having a third man [back] will eliminate those odd-man rushes."
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