Capitals’ little mistakes add up to big problems through 10 games

The question posed to several Washington Capitals players drew plenty of uncertainty. What is the biggest problem with this team right now?

At 2-7-1 and dead last in the NHL, it’s impossible to pinpoint one thing that has gone wrong.

“We’re not scoring enough to win games, I think, and we’re letting too many goals in,” forward Marcus Johansson said. “That’s the biggest problem: We’re not winning games.”

Simply put, the Caps have lost a lot early under new coach Adam Oates. They’ve played poorly and lost and played well and lost.

“Playing well is not enough. We got to win games,” left wing Jason Chimera said. “Unfortunately you don’t get prizes for just too close. Too close only counts in horseshoes, I think. That’s what you get points for. They don’t count here. You got to get wins somehow. You got to get better goaltending, you got to get better play from our top guys, I got to chip in a little more.”

Even as Oates said that “the way we’re playing, I think, is the way to do it,” the results haven’t followed.

The reasons for the underachieving start are plentiful.

“I don’t think there’s one big gaping problem, but I think there’s a couple little things that are really hurting us,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “I think that our [power play and penalty kill] haven’t been very good. … And I think that some of the little mental errors that we’re making, it doesn’t seem like we’re getting the same thing for. A lot of it’s just going against.”

That was the most common answer among more than a half-dozen players asked about the Caps’ biggest problem. Right wing Troy Brouwer cited “mental lapses.” Right wing Joey Crabb pointed to “little costly mistakes that aren’t from a poor system or poor effort.”

“It’s pretty simple in my mind,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “We’ve been playing solid games, it’s just those little mental mistakes, those little things during a game, and we’re all guilty of it, that are making the big difference. Those are the things that the best players in the league and the world never make because their mental game is stronger.”

Even after 10 games full of mental errors, Caps players see the issues as easily correctable. Right wing Joel Ward said, “it’s about being sharp.”

“It feels like when we make mistakes they end up in our net. It’s not a lot of system errors,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “I think it’s a lot of human error. Mistakes that happen in a game, goals are scored because of mistakes and if you can limit your mistakes to two or three times a game, it’s pretty good.”

Hendricks, unprompted, invoked ex-coach Dale Hunter’s refrain of “It was a hockey play.” The hockey bounces aren’t going the Caps’ way, but it’s not a valid excuse.

“We’ve got to create our own luck,” Crabb said. “A lot of times those bounces happen to good teams and they don’t let it affect them. We’ve got to be one of those teams and just, if you’re working hard and you’re playing good, you’re creating your own luck.”

What the Caps haven’t been creating is a whole lot of offense. Through Tuesday, they ranked 24th in the NHL in goals per game at 2.30. They’re the only team in the league that hasn’t scored four or more goals in a game.

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