Twice in the past three games the Washington Capitals had early two-man advantages and failed to score. And both times the Caps lost winnable games.
“If you want my opinion, and I don’t speak for the coaches, when you don’t score on a 5-on-3 you generally lose the game,” said goalie Olie Kolzig, who may not have been speaking for Glen Hanlon but repeated almost verbatim the coach’s feelings on the subject.
The Caps had Nashville at a two-man disadvantage Wednesday night for 1:18 in a scoreless first period and goalie Chris Mason wasn’t tested. He made two stops but wasn’t flustered.
But what followed is now becoming predictable for the youthful Caps. Saddled with a momentary setback, they became dejected and the more experienced Predators took advantage. By the time the Caps refocused, they were behind by a pair of goals.
“We’re going to have to be able to handle momentum swings,” Hanlon said yesterday after calling off practice for all but a handful of players. Most of the players wanted to skate but Hanlon ordered some of them out of Piney Orchard Ice Arena and told them to go home and rest.
There’s a good chance they’ll need the breather. The Detroit Red Wings, who visit MCI Center tonight, lead the Western Conference and possess even better specialty teams than Nashville. It was the Predators’ special teams that killed the Caps.
“We know going into this game we’re not going to be in control for 60 minutes,” said Hanlon, a one-time Red Wings’ goalie. “It’s more of the same thing Nashville brought, another learning experience. We think they are two teams that are kind of equal — skilled, quick, good specialty teams.”
Detroit and Ottawa are tied for the NHL lead in combined special teams excellence and both are well ahead of Nashville, which is not good news for the Caps.
“Against the second best team in the Western Conference, you get a 5-on-3 against them early in the game and you have to score,” Kolzig said. “That took the momentum away from us when we didn’t and gave them more confidence. We need to play the way we did against the Rangers (a 5-1 win Saturday night). Against Nashville, we didn’t play our style of hockey and we need to get back to that — frustrating people, making them uncomfortable.”
Hanlon agreed: “Absolutely. Nashville turned the tables on us, making us feel uncomfortable in our own building. From start to finish, they’re so organized. They force you to make mistakes and they frustrate you. They played our game and we don’t like that.”