WASHINGTON — Three is the magic number.
For the second straight game, the Capitals fell just short of reaching that number as they dropped back-to-back contests against the Los Angeles Kings and New Jerseys Devils with only two goals on the scoreboard. Though they’ve been one of the NHL’s best teams when scoring three or more, they’ve struggled this season to reach that threshold consistently.
After losing to the Devils 3-2 in a shootout Thursday, the Capitals fell to 3-24-4 when scoring two goals or fewer. When they hit that magic number, they’re 28-4-3 with an .843 point percentage that ranks seventh in the league. But having only done it 35 times in 65 games, the Capitals have often been left still looking for that third goal when the score goes final.
That was the case Thursday when the Devils fired off 40 shots to the Capitals’ 22. The score was tied at 2-2 after 65 minutes of play, but only because of a stellar effort from netminder Darcy Kuemper. Washington struggled to control the puck cleanly through the neutral zone, resulting in just five high-danger chances in five-on-five play all night according to Natural Stat Trick.
“I think we started off maybe a little sluggish, then that second half of the first I thought we were good,” defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk said. “I thought we had moments where we were very good. In that third, they got some more chances probably than we would have liked but to see it through to overtime and obviously we want to get that second point and obviously that’s disappointing. We had chances, just weren’t able to get it over the line.”
The Capitals have shown bursts of the team they can be on the offensive end. They have players with prolific scoring backgrounds like Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Players such as Dylan Strome and new addition Rasmus Sandin are enjoying career years in the scoring department. T.J. Oshie has been on a tear with 12 points over his last 11 games.
Consistency, whether it’s been game to game or shift to shift, just hasn’t been there.
“They’re a good team,” right wing Tom Wilson said of the Devils. “They’re one of the top teams in the league. They play fast. There’s times in this game where we were for sure the better team. We just need to do that a little more consistently, string together some more shifts like that. There were times in this game I felt like we were pushing, we were pushing, we were pushing and then there’s a couple momentum killers but yeah, good to get a point but we gotta find a way to win it.”
Washington’s roster looks very different from what it did two weeks ago after the series of moves they made ahead of the trade deadline. With the addition of Sandin coupled with call-ups of players such as Vincent Iorio and Gabriel Carlsson, the coaching staff is introducing new players to the system while trying to make incremental improvements at the same time.
Despite the results Thursday, head coach Peter Laviolette saw some things he felt his younger players could build on.
“We're a younger group,” Laviolette said. “There's a lot of good things that we did. There's things we can go back and show them and continue to try and teach and work with them. There were some mistakes we made with the guys that have been here for a while as well. New Jersey is a team that's quick. They turn things around really quick and they can capitalize coming back the other way. You've really got to play a clean game. It seems like when we turn the puck over or we missed an assignment, they had some pretty good looks and pretty good chances.”