In a season in which everything seems to be going right for the Capitals, the team has shown very few weaknesses. If there is one, however, it would be their slow starts.
The Caps were held scoreless in the first period of Monday's game against the Arizona Coyotes, and then allowed the first goal of the game to Kevin Connauton in the second period. It was the 12th time in their last 15 games that the Caps allowed the first goal. In fact, out of 58 games this season, the Caps have allowed the first goal in exactly half of them.
Not what you would expect from a team that has been so dominant all season. The reasons why seem to be both external and internal.
For teams that aren't leading their division by a mile, the games are becoming more and more critical as everyone is vying for playoff position.
"Sometimes the teams play desperate hockey right now," Alex Ovechkin said. "It's maybe 20, 22 games left and they need some points so they just want to get the results."
The real issue, however, seems to be more a mental one.
"It's always tough in February," Braden Holtby said. "These types of games, it's hard to get your mind into it sometimes."
That sentiment was echoed by head coach Barry Trotz.
"I want to say it's as easy as, 'Hey we're up by 25 points, let's go get 'em!'" Trotz said. "I think sometimes the other team's looking at our record and say 'Hey, man we've got to jump on these guys. We can't let them get a lead,' and so you get a maximum effort in the first period.
"It's not that we're not giving our max effort, we're probably not as emotionally engaged."
There's an interesting mental dynamic developing within the team. Given how far ahead they are in the standings and how long they have left to go until the postseason begins, it would seem difficult to get mentally up for every game. That's when good teams start to slump.
"That first period is kind of what we're using right now to get our team body going," Holtby said.
What makes the Caps so interesting is that they are slumping...in the first period. They just have the talent and confidence to overcome that.
"I think we have a lot of confidence that if we can manage the first period we'll take it over later," Trotz said.
So far, it hasn't hurt the Caps. Despite giving up the first goal in 12 of their last 15 games, Washington has gone 11-3-1 in those games. They are also the only team in the NHL to boast a win percentage above .500 when giving up the first goal (.552).
Still, given their disappointing playoff history, it would be fair to be concerned over what these slow starts may mean come playoff time. For now, however, the Caps don't seem to mind.
Said Holtby, "It's one thing we want to improve on, but I don't think we're too worried about it."
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