John Carlson whistled the puck high and wide, and it caromed all the way back into the Washington Capitals’ zone. Goaltender Michal Neuvirth went back to get it, but so did defenseman Tom Poti.
Within seconds, James van Riemsdyk of the Toronto Maple Leafs had it and wrapped it into the net.
“I saw them kind of looking at each other like who was going to take the puck and it was just sitting there, so I went to go grab it and was able to just kind of wrap it in,” van Riemsdyk said.
More than that one play doomed the Caps in Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss at Verizon Center, but that and so many other errors illustrated what has gone wrong during a disastrous start to the season.
“It’s incredibly frustrating. We’re not getting any results right now,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “It seems every game we have one or two human-error goals, not ones that we should let in or allow them to even have a chance. And every time we do, it seems to be killing us. I’m very frustrated. I still feel like we play good hockey, just never good enough to win though, and it’s about time we get over that hump.”
At 2-7-1, the Caps are dead last in the NHL with just five points.
“I’ve never experienced a start to a season like this before, so it’s very frustrating to me,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “I don’t think it’s super easy to play against us, but we allow easy ones, and that’s when you run out of patience, when you keep letting in a couple of soft ones.”
While coach Adam Oates talked about playing “correct hockey” in recent days, center Mike Ribeiro crystalized the Caps’ myriad woes with one very crucial “D” word: “It’s details that’s costing us right now,” he said.
Details such as Carlson missing the net wide, or Neuvirth and Poti miscommunicating behind the net. Or the chaos that ensued on the second goal after Alex Ovechkin’s turnover spawned an odd-man rush.
“We definitely had some good things, and then you look at a couple of their goals and just, it’s frustrating to let those in,” right wing Joey Crabb said. “It’s what we say over and over, that we’ve got to clean up those little details, and that’s the difference, but we keep making those little mistakes.”
The mistakes keep coming in bunches, snowballing to the point that one goal begets another. Oates called the first goal a “huge deflater.”
Deflated has been the most constant emotion this season.
“At some point you can’t have those breakdowns,” Oates said.
Breakdowns like so often this season. Matt Hendricks and Jason Chimera each rang one off the post, and Korbinian Holzer banked one off Chimera’s stick and in.
“That seems to be the way everything is kind of going right now,” Poti said. “We make one little mistake, and it’s in the back of our net.”
Mama said there’ll be days like this, but there have been far too many of them in the first 10 games of the season. Oates, in praising the Caps’ play of late, has made it clear it’s the process, not the result, that he’s concerned about.
But maintaining confidence isn’t just hard on the players.
“It’s tough to keep our confidence up,” Oates said, referring to the coaching staff. “It’s part of the job, and we’ve got to figure out ways to get the guys to understand that you’re doing a lot of good things, and hopefully it’ll turn our way.”
Oates said Monday he felt as if his team was going in the right direction, but on Tuesday night the Caps looked like a team lost without a compass. There were elements of strong play in fits and spurts, but that’s not inconsistent with the past week or so.
“For minutes at a time the details aren’t there, and that sums it up right there,” Alzner said. “Five bad minutes, 10 bad minutes, maybe, and the details kill us. It looks like we have to play full 60-minute games all the time. We got away with it a bunch of times last year, but this year it doesn’t seem to be that way.”
At this point the Caps can’t get away with anything, not even an above-average game against a mediocre Maple Leafs team. The dreadful start to this season is beginning to test the young coach’s vocabulary, if not his resolve.
“You run out of cliches to say to the guys, obviously,” Oates said.
Crabb even found himself noting how much he repeated himself. Over and over again, the same troublesome trends and the same search for answers.
“Like I’ve said I don’t know how many times before, it’s little mistakes that are adding up and costing us the game in the end,” Crabb said.
Added Hendricks: “I really don’t have the answers. I’m having a hard time with this.”