After riding the rails to Philadelphia on Tuesday night after their game against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Washington Capitals didn’t get in until about 1:30 a.m. Factor in time to unwind, center Mathieu Perreault said, and bedtime wasn’t until 3.
The results the following night were less than ideal. The Caps were scored on 23 seconds in and had no real push-back the rest of the game. They were subsequently skated out of Wells Fargo Center by the Flyers.
“I think guys were just tired, but it’s not a reason,” Perreault said. “If we’re tired we’ve got to find a way to keep it together. We can’t blow it like that right away from the start.”
That’s one of the lessons the Caps take into Saturday’s game at the Winnipeg Jets and throughout the rest of the season. With five more back-to-back sets the rest of the season and four that involve travel, players know they can’t make excuses.
But many do want to forget about the Flyers game, throwing it out and chalking it up to fatigue as a bad loss.
“Definitely a big hiccup in Philly,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “It wasn’t our best outing at all, we didn’t show up to play right away and that’s really what affected us. … I think you’ve got to look at it and learn from it, but you’ve got to let it go and move on to the next one because we don’t have time to dwell.”
In a shortened season there isn’t much time to dwell on wins or losses. But there is just enough time for coach Adam Oates to impart some lessons from the Flyers debacle.
“I just showed the guys today some situations where we kind of shot ourselves in the foot, where we had opportunities to alleviate some pressure, get it down the ice,,” Oates said. “We didn’t execute a pass, we didn’t chip it correctly. And that’s probably mental and fatigue. But those are the plays we have to execute or the [situation] will look overwhelming.”
Going into what could be an overwhelming environment Saturday afternoon at MTS Centre, without injured defenseman Mike Green, the Caps understand the value of a good start. Or at least not stumbling out of the gate as badly as they did Wednesday.
The Jets have scored in the first five minutes in five of their past six games, including Andrew Ladd’s goal eight seconds in Thursday against the New Jersey Devils.
“We got scored on before the anthem was done last game, and they scored a goal right at the beginning of the game,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “We’ve got to have a good start there. We know they’re going to come out hard; we know they’re going to play a hard game at home and their fans are going to be very into it. So we’ve got to make sure that we’re ready to play.”
Oates likes to be able to show his team Xs and Os, but he said avoiding a bad start is on the players.
“I think it’s their mental preparation,” he said. “You’ve got to know that we’re going into Philly. They’re a desperate team right now, they just lost. They’re getting the riot act read to them and they’re going to come, that’s what they’ve always tried to do and we’ve got to handle it. You’ve got to mentally be prepared to handle it.”
The Caps are prepared for what to expect in Winnipeg: a raucous crowd unlike most around the NHL. Brouwer said the excitement of having the Jets back is still “fresh,” and players can feel it.
“Those kind of games are a lot of fun to play,” Brouwer said. “It’s more fun to go in and play against a hostile building than an empty building.”
That’s not a concern, but any lingering doubt from the Flyers loss could be.
“I think it’s only a step back if we lose our confidence, but I don’t think that’s going to happen,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “that’s just the way a hockey season goes is you have a couple good games, and sometimes you let up for a bit. That’s just what’s happening right now.”
That’s why players generally subscribe to the idea of forgetting about Wednesday and moving on.
“Yeah, 100 percent,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “Blame on us, but let’s talk about different stuff not about last game.”
It happened, though, the Caps’ 12th loss of the season and 11th in regulation. And it wasn’t like there was much to be happy about.
“It’s hard to just discard a game like that. Our effort wasn’t where it needed to be,” Brouwer said, refusing to make excuses about the back-to-back games. “You’re not going to have your best game every game as a team but you’ve got to find ways to make sure that you’re in the game and giving ourselves a chance to win where we didn’t last game.”