On Saturday against the New York Rangers, the Washington Capitals looked to be in complete control. At the end of the first period, the Caps held a 2-0 lead. The Rangers scored early in the second, but then Mika Zibanejad took a double-minor as he hit T.J. Oshie in the face with a high-stick. In a game in which the Caps had dominated, they had a chance to put the Rangers away.
Then things took a turn.
The Caps failed to score despite having four straight minutes of power play time. The Rangers took the momentum and rattled off two more goals to take a 3-2 lead in the second.
A game in which the Caps were in complete control of had suddenly gotten away from them.
"I think we scored first two goals and I think we felt like it's going to be over," Alex Ovechkin said. "Five-on-four, four minutes I think we have only one chance when [Matt Niskanen] shot a puck and after that we was so casual. We couldn't stay in their zone so obviously it's blame on us and can't paly like that."
To make matters worse, this was the second game in a row in which the team struggled in the middle frame.
On Thursday, the Caps took a 2-1 lead into the second period against the Florida Panthers, but were outshot 14-4 in that period and gave up the game-tying goal. Washington again struggled in the second period on Saturday. They gave up only five shots, but it yielded the Rangers three goals.
"They definitely scored on the opportunities they got," Lars Eller said. "They didn't give up."
"They came at us a little bit in the second, but wasn't a lot of shots, wasn't a lot of chances," Trotz said. "But all their chances went in. That's just the way it goes sometimes."
Against Florida, there was no single moment that seemed to turn the tide in the Panthers' favor. On Saturday, it was very clear just when the Rangers took over the game.
"They got a little momentum off that power play," Trotz said, "Our own power play they got a little momentum because you get those on your bench, you get a four minute, you want to get something out of it at least and you get right back in the driver's seat if you get one there. They dug in and sort of built a little momentum from that."
The good news is that it is still early in the season. The Caps are only 3-1-1 and will not play many teams that can turn five second-period shots into a complete turnaround.
But the Caps recognized slow starts as a problem from last season and they made a point of correcting it. In five games this season, Washington has scored first in each of their games. Now a similar focus may be needed in order to turn around what is becoming a growing concern in the second period: Weak play in the second period.
"Our first periods have been good, that's something we wanted to correct," Trotz said. "Now our second period, we're going to need to correct that."
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