- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 20, 2021

When the Washington Capitals take the ice Friday, what played out in their previous game — a fast start followed by a second-period collapse — will be fresh in their minds.

Through four games this season, Washington has shown the good and the bad. There have been plenty of the former, leading to two wins against the Buffalo Sabres and three goals in the first period Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins. But the latter has shown through at times, too, noticeably in the most recent overtime defeat.

With a 5-on-3 power play advantage and a two-goal lead late in the second period, the Capitals could have sealed the game. Instead, the Penguins took advantage of a lapse in concentration to turn the game around, with goaltender Casey DeSmith flicking the puck long to find center Teddy Blueger on a breakaway. Blueger finished with a nifty backhander, the first of three straight goals for Pittsburgh that turned a deficit into a victory.

“We should have closed the game there when we were up 5-on-3 power play, I think,” center Lars Eller said. “But we just let ‘em back in the game.”

The sample size is small, and Washington still secured six of the possible eight points available through four games. But to find success moving forward — with another matchup with Buffalo on Friday — it’s imperative to clean up the inconsistent play that has cropped up for the Capitals so far this season.

The most glaring instance yet came Tuesday, squandering a three-goal first period with a disastrous second period.

“The first period I thought was maybe one of our better periods of the year so far,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “We shot ourselves in the foot in the second period with mental mistakes from all different areas.”

Two early penalties in the second period handed Pittsburgh a 5-on-3 opportunity, which winger Jake Guentzel turned into a goal. The Capitals responded soon after, creating a 4-2 edge.
But they soon conceded that shorthanded goal, followed two minutes later by another power play score, to draw the scoreline level. And amid all that, Washington failed to convert a 3-on-0 breakaway chance.

Eller said he felt the team’s edge dropped “5-10%” in the second period, and that cost Washington. Laviolette’s squad didn’t manage much in the third period and center Sidney Crosby scored the overtime winner.

But this isn’t the only time the Capitals have suffered from mid-game letdowns this season. In Sunday’s shootout loss to the Penguins, penalties in the second period allowed Pittsburgh to outshoot Washington 11-3. And even in two wins against the Buffalo Sabres, the mass of penalty minutes were stains on otherwise strong outings.

“Maybe in the long run it is better to see that we can’t get away with it, rather if we would have gotten away with it today it wouldn’t have hurt now,” Eller said. “Now, it hurts, and hopefully it will show next time that we won’t do it again.”

With a shortened training camp and a new coach, Laviolette acknowledged entering the season there would be issues to work out early in the year. Some of those have made themselves known — losing faceoffs, racking up penalties and misplaying passes.

Those shortcomings combined into a dismal second period Tuesday, dooming Washington to another loss when two points seemed attainable. And in a 56-game season, the Capitals hope more consistent performances develop so results like Tuesday’s don’t become commonplace.

Friday against the Sabres is a good place to start.

“It’s a shortened season, so we want to get there as quick as possible,” winger Tom Wilson said. “Every line, every guy has to go over and do his job. It’s frustrating to lose two to a rival, and these points are important, so we’ve got to find a way to get those games and close them out.”

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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