Win or lose, this 48-game NHL season doesn’t allow players too much time to dwell on results. That, Washington Capitals center Mike Ribeiro said, was the problem with Tuesday’s tough loss to the New York Islanders.
“Obviously it hurts,” Ribeiro said. “The bad thing is that you have a few days now to think about it.”
After five games in eight days, the Caps don’t play again until Saturday night when they visit the Buffalo Sabres. On the outside of the playoff picture looking in, the time off has its positives and negatives.
“We need to regroup,” defenseman John Carlson said. “Maybe it will be good for us. We haven’t had a stretch like this to get a few good practices in and get settled back to what we know how to do.”
Refining a few things like the power play couldn’t hurt, even after four victories in the past six games.
But after getting used to playing just about every other night, the Caps will be forced to watch the teams they’re competing with play before they have a chance to pick up more points. Washington trails the Southeast Division-leading Winnipeg Jets by seven points and is four back of the New York Rangers for the final playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
“Everyone’s playing every night, seems like,” Carlson said. “We can only control ourselves. It’s going to be a race.”
That’s what made Tuesday so difficult to swallow, as the Caps came back from a two-goal deficit only to lose when Mike Green turned the puck over in the defensive zone, resulting in the Islanders‘ game-winner. It underscored the almost nonexistent margin for error, especially given a 2-8-1 start.
“We just dug ourselves such a hole,” defenseman Jack Hillen said. “We need points in these games, so it’s really tough. But you know what? Let it sink in for 10 minutes and then move on and get points in our next game.”
First, though, coach Adam Oates would like his players to pause and not overwork themselves. He called Brooks Laich’s mistake that preceded Green’s a “tired play” and accepted responsibility for playing the veteran forward too much in his fifth game back from a groin injury.
“The guys need rest. They need rest mentally,” Oates said. “And then we need some practice time. We haven’t been able to practice in two weeks.”
Several elements of the Caps’ game will get some fine-tuning Thursday and Friday, including the NHL’s No. 1-ranked power play. That unit went 0 for 3 in the loss to the Islanders.
“I think our PP was not that sharp like [we’re] used to,” captain Alex Ovechkin said, citing zone entries as a particular problem. “I don’t think we have opportunity to score goal there.”
It was the first time in six games the Caps failed to record a power-play goal. It’s no coincidence that their winning streak was snapped at three in the process.
But Ribeiro did not think he and his teammates did such a terrible job with the man advantage.
“You cannot always score on the PP,” Ribeiro said. “I think they pressed well up the ice. But I think we got good chances to score. We had a good, few shots there that we didn’t connect. … You just need to battle through. Obviously when you’re first, you’re expected to score every game.”
That’s exactly why Oates said last month he’d almost rather not have the league’s top power play. There’s too much expectation involved.
“You’re focused on it too much,” Oates said. “I don’t want the guys driving to the rink thinking, ‘Oh, I can’t wait for my three power plays tonight,’ because there’s still 54 minutes besides that that you need to think about.”
The Caps managed to score twice at even strength, but now they have a lot of minutes to think about a missed opportunity to pick up a couple of valuable points.
Going on the road for three games after Tuesday’s defeat, players at least have the confidence to draw from a 3-1 trip last week that put them into playoff contention.
“We’re still in the fight,” Laich said. “[We’ll] hit the road [with] the same mentality that we did last week.”