WASHINGTON — It’s now or never for the Capitals.
After losing to the St. Louis Blues 5-2 on Friday night in a game that fell out of reach quickly, the Capitals find themselves on the fringes of the hunt for a playoff spot. The game represented a chance to gain some ground on the idle New York Islanders, who hold the second Wild Card in the Eastern Conference. Instead, they dropped a disappointing game against a sub-.500 team.
Issues with turnovers created several breakaways and odd-man rushes that allowed the Blues to outscore the Capitals by three despite trailing in both shots on goal (34-22) and puck possession (65.4% Corsi For percentage).
“There was a couple of bad ones tonight where we throw it across the defensive zone and it gets picked off and they come in and they a get a point-blank chance,” head coach Peter Laviolette said in his postgame press conference. “There’s some, but for me it was more, it was just the details of the game that weren’t sharp and crisp enough. They have to be. The game is about details and you have to be sharp with your details and we just weren’t.”
The Capitals have reached the point of the season where they can’t afford to be missing any details. They were the better team than St. Louis on paper, especially with Blues goaltender Joel Hofer starting just his third career NHL game. After beating the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout Wednesday to move ahead of them in the standings, this was a game the Capitals could have used to gain some momentum down the stretch.
“We have no wiggle room, if any, right now so the fact that we weren’t able to come out and be ready for this one and try to move up the standings is unfortunate,” forward Conor Sheary said. “So, at this point, we gotta get rolling and if we don’t it’s gonna end quickly for us.”
Sitting at 73 points, they have just 12 games left on their schedule and need to climb over both the Islanders (78) and Florida Panthers (75). Florida has two games in hand and New York owns one of the 10-easiest remaining schedules in the league according to Tankathon. The Capitals have a light schedule over the next week before finishing the regular season with eight of their final nine games against playoff opponents.
Disappointing play over the months of January and February put the Capitals in the position where they’ve been fighting for their playoff lives for the better part of the last eight weeks. It’s put a lot of pressure on them to leave the arena with two points every night, but all they can do over this final month is flush bad results and build off good ones.
“We talked about it after Buffalo,” Laviolette said. “It’s a big win. It’s two points, right? You’ve got to move the page and you’ve got to get on to the next one. So we’ll go over this and look to get better as we head on the road here, but we’ve got to turn the page on this one, too. We’ve got to take a look at it and teach a little bit on things that we can do better.
“But in the same sense, we can’t dwell on it for too long. We’ve got a big game coming up, so every day you’ve got to put it behind you. No matter what the day has, you’ve got to keep pushing here. So that’s the mindset that we have to have.”