The Capitals may be on the verge of clinching a playoff berth for the eighth time in nine years but there are a few cracks beginning to show in their foundation.
For the 13th time in 15 games, the Capitals surrendered the first goal in Saturday night’s 5-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks. And for the fifth straight time they failed to own a lead in a hockey game.
On the bright side, the Caps are 2-2-1 in those games. But it’s become an issue inside the team’s locker room.
“It’s certainly tough coming from behind every night,” said Caps right wing Justin Williams, who picked up his 20th goal of the season in the loss. “It seems like we’re obviously used to it. It’s been happening quite a bit.
“Maybe we need to stop thinking about it and just go out and play. But our starts obviously have been an issue for us. The first period goal differential, all that stuff. It’s something we have time to clean up.”
The Caps have 14 games remaining in the regular season and can clinch a playoff berth with any combination of losses by the Penguins, Red Wings or Flyers and/or a win over Carolina on Tuesday.
The Caps have shown they can shut teams down when taking a lead this season. They are 19-0-0 when leading after one period and 33-0-1 when leading after two. But the fact they have been outscored 54-48 in first periods and have had a lead after 20 minutes just 19 time in 68 games is alarming.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz said that despite allowing a first-period goal to Joe Thornton, he was happy with the way Caps played in the first period in San Jose and was even happier with their second period, when they scored a pair of goals to enter the third period in a 2-2 tie.
The Caps could have had a lead heading into the third if Jay Beagle had converted on a penalty shot or one of his breakaway chances, but the Sharks scored on a power-play goal by Joe Pavelski to start the third period (a goal Philipp Grubauer called “a gift”) and made it 4-2 just 2:02 later when Brenden Dillon scored.
It was that fourth goal, Trotz said, that broke the Capitals.
“That next shift after a PP goal is huge,” Trotz said. “You want to settle things down, get the crowd out of it and we give up another goal. To me, it turned right there. And then they shut us down.”
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