The U.S. Navy has its “KISS” principle — short for “Keep it simple, stupid.”
Coach Barry Trotz has his own hockey version of KISS for the Capitals: Keep it short and smart.
Unfortunately for the Capitals, losers of three straight, things have suddenly gotten long and dumb.
Trying to shake off rust after a mandatory bye week, the Capitals have tied their longest losing streak of the season.
Asked what the Capitals need to simplify to get back on track, Trotz joked “how about every area?” Decision making, in particular, he said, needs to be better — with and without the puck.
“Right now, we’re not where we should be,” Trotz said. “We haven’t been giving up more chances, we’ve been giving up higher quality chances. … Our chances against, we’ve given up way too many odd man rushes and too many breakaways in the last three or four games here.”
The higher quality chances Trotz referred to are shots taken in the crease and the slot. This season, the Capitals have given up a league-high 494 “high-danger” chances in even-strength, according to the website, Natural Stat Trick. Over 60 minutes of ice time, that’s an average of 13.19 shots on goal per game — also most in the league.
In their first two-games out of break, the Capitals were soundly outshot, and both the Montreal Canadiens and the New Jersey Devils generated more than 60 percent of the games’ high quality chances. That left the Capitals particularly frustrated after Friday’s 3-2 loss to the Canadiens.
“Too much cheat and not enough attention to detail,” center Lars Eller said Friday. “Just probably one of the sloppiest games I’ve seen us play, if not the sloppiest.”
Despite the poor numbers, the Capitals remain in first place thanks to timely goals and great efforts from their goaltenders. While the Capitals give up the most shot attempts for higher quality chances, the Capitals rank fifth-best in stopping those chances with an 89.07 save percentage.
Sunday’s loss to the Flyers was a more encouraging effort for the Capitals. On Saturday, Trotz said the Capitals had “grown stale” lately and shuffled all four of his lines, including separating Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
The Capitals lost the game, but the shakeup worked. Washington dominated the game in shot attempts and generated 64.29 percent of the game’s high-danger shots. Philadelphia, meanwhile, finished with just five shots from that area.
Goaltender Braden Holtby said the effort was “more of the style” Washington will play the rest of this season.
“[Sunday] was an improvement in a lot of areas,” Holtby said. “We can’t be focused too much on the fact that we lost, but we have to realize those areas that we have to continue on playing well like we did tonight. And there’s still some [areas] that we can do better.”
The Capitals’ schedule could have played a factor in the losing streak. After a five-day rest, they were immediately caught in a back-to-back. In total, the Capitals will have played four games in a week’s span when they take the ice Thursday against the Florida Panthers.
But Capitals forward T.J. Oshie said the team has to do a better job of “bearing down” on shots. The Capitals take a league-low 28.7 shots per game.
Oshie said there’s still “another level” the Capitals can reach. Trotz added the Capitals could do a better job of finishing chances earlier in the game.
With the All-Star break approaching this Friday, urgency is kicking in.
“Everybody is in the playoff picture,” Trotz said. “There’s not a lot separating first and eighth [place]. There’s just not. Every game is going to be huge and it’s going to get ramped up here.”