For most of the game on Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Capitals had a hard time moving the puck. When the puck was in the defensive zone, Washington had a hard time gaining possession and getting it out. When they did gain possession, they had a hard time getting the puck through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone.
In a 2-1 loss to the Flyers, goalie Martin Jones played great. Philadelphia's penalty kill managed to blank Washington's power play and a Capitals team missing three top-six forwards was only able to put one goal on the board.
While all of those factors contributed to the result on Saturday, the game was truly lost because of possession. The Caps just could not get or maintain possession of the puck enough to prevent the Flyers' two goals or to generate any sustained offense.
"[The Flyers] played really well in the offensive zone tonight," John Carlson said. "They were slamming walls, they were making it tough to get it out with possession and I think we turned it over a little too much but I think that when we did, couple that with them playing good in the o-zone, I don’t think we did a good enough job getting it into their zone. Too many turnovers and just kind of kill ourselves in that regard and when we did get it in, we manufactured a little bit. They played a good first two periods and we didn’t do ourselves any favors."
For the first and second periods, Washington managed a Corsi-For percentage of only 34.38 and 38.46, respectively. Their inability to gain possession in the defensive zone led to both of Philadelphia's goals on the night.
In the second period, Vitek Vanecek came up with a great save on Cam Atkinson in the slot and the Caps swarmed to the puck. As Martin Fehervary tried to chip the puck up to Evgeny Kuznetsov for the breakout, Kuznetsov lost control of it and the Flyers pounced on the loose puck and sent it down low into the zone to maintain the offensive pressure. Soon after, Derrick Brassard fired a one-timer to beat Vanecek for the 1-0 lead.
Later in the second, the Flyers cycled the puck along the boards, keeping it away from the Caps' defense until Sean Couturier was able to score on the rebound. Philadelphia won the puck battle along the boards, they won the puck battle in the slot and they won the puck battle for the rebound for the goal.
"I think our line specifically had a tough time getting out," Nic Dowd said. "I think I lost a lot of draws in the D zone tonight, which is tough. That gives them possession right away, so that makes it challenging. But I just think we weren’t communicating well enough with our D, helping our defensemen out. It’s tough when the guys go back and they’ve got guys on their back and trying to make plays to get out of the zone and you kind of have to be their eyes for them. I think the forward that is going to be low has got to help out and the other D has got to help out. We didn’t do a good enough job and they swarmed really hard."
The issue, however, was not just limited to their own end. Washington also struggled to push the puck up the ice resulting in the breakout being cut-off in the neutral zone and the puck coming back the other way again. And the longer the puck is in your end of the ice, the less offense you are going to generate.
“I think we didn’t spend a lot of time [in the offensive zone] because they were in our zone the whole time," Dowd said. "But I think when we did get down there, we were slow to get up the ice whether or not that was F2 and F3 helping out F1 or that was our D-man getting up the ice."
"I thought in all three zones they were just quicker than us," head coach Peter Laviolette said. "When your opponent is quicker than you in the defensive zone, you're going to give up shots, you're going to give up zone time. When they're quicker in the neutral zone, they're going to put the puck behind you and go their way and when they're quick in the defensive zone it's going to be difficult to generate offense because they're closing quick, they're not allowing time and space."
When Laviolette says quick, this is not just a question of effort. Philadelphia was quick in its puck movement and quick to challenge the Caps with an aggressive forecheck.
"Their D-men or their forward, whoever it was, were moving pucks right away and you could see it at their best, our worst, it would go in and the puck would immediately come out and then it would be in the neutral zone or back into our zone and I think it just puts a lot of pressure on us defensively," Dowd said.
He added, “They have a hard forecheck and they were turning a lot of pucks over and they were having a lot of success extending their time down there and I think that’s what hurt us."