Caps searching for consistency with playoff race heating up

Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov grimaces while leaving the ice after being injured against the Sharks

WASHINGTON — The Capitals’ first two games out of the All-Star Break encapsulated how their season has gone all year. They took down the vaunted Boston Bruins 2-1 on the road Saturday, becoming just the second team this season to beat them in regulation at TD Garden. Then, they dropped a 4-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks, a team already well out of the playoff hunt, the next day.

No matter how far in or out you zoom, the Capitals have battled inconsistencies in 2022-23. Their power-play unit has looked unstoppable at times before falling into lengthy scoring droughts. They’re among the league’s highest-scoring teams in second periods, unable to translate that success as well to the first and third frames. The Capitals posted sub-.500 records in both November and January but sprinted through December with a mark of 11-2-2.

That up-and-down play has shown through in the standings over the last six weeks. Washington is 8-8-2 since Dec. 29; its only consecutive wins over that stretch were separated 11 days apart due to the All-Star Break. Sunday’s loss to San Jose was the seventh time the Capitals have played the second leg of a back-to-back this season. They’re 1-5-1 in those games.

"I don't want to blame on that,” center Evgeny Kuznetsov said Sunday of playing two games 22 hours apart. “We had a lot of time to rest, we [were] home before nine, like I said, there are some games like that when things not going well, and sometimes we're able to turn the things around and today just wasn't there.


“We're gonna learn from that for sure and, like I said, we're gonna get the proper rest and next game I'm pretty sure we're gonna come out hot and we're gonna be much better because I know this team can respond after bad games.”

The Capitals have reached the portion of their schedule where every point matters. They hold a one-point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference and face several playoff contenders the next few days. With the March 3 trade deadline looming, there is a sense of urgency for a team still on the playoff bubble.

“There’s so many free agents here, it’s a lot going on,” left wing Conor Sheary said. “You never know what’s going to happen, but at the same time with the players that are in this room you gotta just buy in every night. Twenty-five or so games left and we’re pushing towards playoffs and we want to stick together as a group. We don’t want to look at who’s going to be moved or whatever. That’s out of our control so I think this is one that we definitely wanted to get after last night.”

Washington has shown at many points this season what it’s capable of doing. Not every team is capable of walking out of TD Garden with a regulation win. Not every team is capable of stringing together a nine-game point streak. Not every team has star-caliber players returning to the ice down the stretch like the Capitals do in Tom Wilson and perhaps John Carlson.

But in order to make a deep playoff run and, in a deep Wild Card field, qualify in the first place, the Capitals understand that it’s going to take more consistency than what they’ve shown since the calendar turned to 2023.

“I don't think there's any room for excuses, including myself,” goaltender Charlie Lindgren said. “I think we all got to look in the mirror and we all probably got to say we got to be a little bit better."