When you have more wins (39) after 52 games than any NHL team that has ever come before you, well, you have to start looking for thorns on the rose you’re holding.
And that’s what the Capitals were doing Tuesday night after improving their record to 39-9-4 with a 5-3 win over the Nashville Predators.
While the Caps are happy to be leading the rest of the Metro Division by 17 points, the rest of the Eastern Conference by 12 points and the rest of the NHL by six points, they haven’t been perfect.
And so, on their way from Nashville to Minnesota, they highlighted a few things they can work on. Things like better starts, better killer instinct, and a more efficient power play.
“The whole night felt like we were under pressure,” Capitals right wing Tom Wilson said after the Caps’ win in Nashville to begin a three-game road trip. “It seemed like they had three guys all over us. We could have managed the game better. They cashed in some net-front goals.”
Justin Williams agreed, saying that although the Caps scored the first two goals of the game – from Jason Chimera midway through the first period and Tom Wilson early in the second – they came out of the gates slowly and were forced to rely on Braden Holtby, who kept the Predators off the board with 14 first-period saves.
“We were warned,” Williams said. “We were aware they’re a fast- starting team. It took us a couple minutes to realize we were in a game.”
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It also took the Caps a couple minutes to realize the game didn’t end after they had taken a 4-1 lead on the Preds with 8:03 gone in the third period on a goal by Marcus Johansson. Less than four minutes later the Predators had climbed within 4-3 on goals Roman Josi and Filip Forsberg.
“We’d like to shut it down with a 4-1 lead,” Williams said. “I didn’t get a block on their third goal.”
And then there’s the power play, which until recently was nearly unstoppable. The Caps went 0-for-2 on the man-advantage Tuesday night before Alex Ovechkin scored into an empty-net on the power play to break an 0-for-19 drought. During that stretch they also received a goal by Nicklas Backstrom one second after a penalty expired.
It should be noted that Alex Ovechkin missed a game against the Florida Panthers in which the Caps went 0-for-8 on the power play and that Marcus Johansson missed four of those games with an upper body injury.
“Sometimes we can be very stubborn and say, ‘Our power play will work against everybody,’” Capitals coach Barery Trotz said on Sunday. “But we do make lots of adjustments.
“If there’s a trend, then we better fix it before the playoffs because, to me, if we don’t fix it before the playoffs, you’re almost in a situation where it’s too late.”
Trotz also noted the Caps were playing their third game in four days Tuesday night and may have shown signs of fatigue. They’ll return to playing every other night when their schedule resumes Thursday night in Minnesota against a team that is 1-7-2 in its last 10 games.