Back in training camp, when Capitals coach Barry Trotz challenged his players to go the entire season without suffering back-to-back losses, he knew it was probably an unreachable goal.
On Saturday night, in their 38th game of the season, the Caps finally lost for the second straight time when they dropped a shootout decision to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“I’ve been in the league long enough to realize that at some point we’re going to have a little blip in the radar and maybe take a step back,” Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen said last week, before the Caps’ two-game slide.
“What I really like about our team is that when we do have a setback, we’re hungry for the next game and we come out hard and well.”
The Caps did just that on Saturday, following a flat 4-2 loss in Carolina with a strong effort against the Blue Jackets. They were 68 seconds away from a regulation win but for the first time all season the Caps coughed up a third-period lead and eventually succumbed in a shootout.
Gone was the dream of becoming the first NHL team since 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens to go an entire season without consecutive defeats. But those Canadiens, who went 60-8-12, had the benefit of regulation ties.
“It’s a long year,” Caps right wing Tom Wilson told reporters after Saturday night’s loss. “We’ve done a great job of answering on back-to-backs thus far. We think we should have had (Saturday’s) game. … It’s not the outcome we wanted. We felt we played fairly well and now the next thing is not to lose three in a row.”
The Caps (28-7-3) lead the Eastern Conference with 59 points and own a 10-point lead over the New York Islanders in the Metropolitan Division. They’ll try to end their 0-1-1 swoon Tuesday night in Boston when they visit the Bruins (20-13-4, 44 points).
“I expect us to rebound against Boston,” Trotz said. “They’re going to be motivated after the Winter Classic (a 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Gillette Stadium). They’re back home (at TD Garden). We got a point (Saturday night). It wasn’t a regulation loss. We pride ourselves in bouncing back and we’ve got to get a win.”
Niskanen says that if the Capitals continue to focus on the process and not always the result the wins will come and the losses will be few and far between.
“We’re probably not going to win every game the rest of the year,” Niskanen said, “but as we focus on our level of play – our execution, compete level, how we play -- the results will take care of themselves.”
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