Over the course of an NHL season, each team has to figure out its strategy for the grind of games on consecutive nights. For the Washington Capitals, back-to-backs are a work in progress.
Washington has 14 back-to-back game sets this season — each team in the NHL gets at least 10 — and the results, after four of the Capitals’ 14, are mixed on the tail-end of the sets, with the Caps going 2-2 on second-day games.
The two wins came in dominant fashion against the Calgary Flames and the Pittsburgh Penguins, with the Capitals taking both by a combined score of 10-2. But the two losses were embarrassing, with Washington losing to the Carolina Hurricanes and the Toronto Maple Leafs — two teams not expected to contend for the playoffs this year — by a combined score of 9-3.
The Capitals’ most recent back-to-back, a 4-2 loss in Toronto on Saturday night, showed how much trouble the schedule makers can create for Washington. Saturday was the Capitals’ third game in four days, and it showed. Washington fell behind by a single goal in the first period, but through the 12 minutes of the game, they were outshot 11-1. The first period ended with a 15-6 shot advantage in favor of Toronto. The Capitals were never in the contest.
“We didn’t look like the Washington Capitals out there,” goaltender Braden Holtby, who stopped 33 of the 37 shots he faced, said. “Completely embarrassed by a young team. It’s unacceptable in our culture here.”
The back-to-back games are a harsh reality for the Capitals. Last season, the team had 15 sets of back-to-back games. In the latter of the two game sets, the Capitals went 9-5-1. So while the Capitals have fewer sets than they dealt with just last season, they don’t appear to be on pace to finish with as successful a record.
“I think we need to get to work in practice,” Holtby said. “Get in better shape, get working harder, realize it’s not easy just because we had success last year.”
“We can’t play like that if we want to get success,” Alex Ovechkin said. “We [can’t] come in the rink and think like [a win] is going to happen. We have to work it and use our strengths and just play our game.”
The problem with the Capitals on Saturday was inefficiency by the team’s top playmakers.
Defenseman John Carlson, known for his offensive prowess, took 15 shot attempts. Only four hit the net. Forward Andre Burakovsky, a top-six forward within the Capitals’ offense, didn’t have a single shot on net.
To make matters worse during the game, the Capitals’ top defenseman, Matt Niskanen, exited the game in the third period with an injury. No update was provided on his status, but he did not return to the game.
“Schedule might have got us a little bit,” coach Barry Trotz said. “But, no excuse. We still weren’t detailed enough and our compete level in some areas wasn’t good enough.”
The Capitals (13-6-2) get five days before a home date Thursday with the 6-10-4 New York Islanders. Trotz, who suffered a blow of his own after taking a puck to the head in the opening seconds of Saturday’s game, seems to believe that fatigue simply set in on the most recent string of games, and his team will get back on track following the break.
“We’ll just say three games and four nights and American Thanksgiving took a little edge off of us,” the Canadian Trotz said.
• Tommy Chalk can be reached at email@example.com.
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