Caps digging early holes with first-period struggles

Capitals forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and Anthony Mantha

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Capitals are tired of playing catch-up.

Amid a slow start to the 2022-23 campaign, they’ve developed a habit of falling behind early in games. The Capitals have trailed first in 12 of their 20 games to date, ranking 31st in the NHL with only nine first-period goals. During their current four-game winless streak, they’ve been outscored in the opening frame by a combined score of 9-0.

“It’s frustrating when you go down early,” head coach Peter Laviolette said at practice Sunday. “The two previous games, it’s frustrating when you go down early like that. Those were big holes to climb out of. I give our guys credit because we have spent a lot of energy but, like I said last night, I’ve been there before and it’s not a place where you want to be where you’re chasing games down two goals or down three goals.”

Not much has broken the Capitals’ way early on this season; they lost a slew of skaters to injury during the first month before entering one of the toughest blocks of their schedule. Monday marked the first time the team went two consecutive days without a game since Oct. 25-26.

But the results are the results. The Capitals sit seventh in the Metropolitan Division with 17 points toward the standings despite playing more games than anyone else in the division. They’re on pace to finish with 70 points, which would be their lowest total for a full, 82-game season since 2006-07.


With their season already about a quarter of the way through, the Capitals understand they can’t afford to keep playing from behind.

“The biggest thing is we’ve been chasing a lot of games,” Sheary said. “It feels like we’re down 1-0, 2-0 almost the last three or four games at least. But a lot of games we’re chasing the game. I think if we can get ahead and start to learn how to play with a lead and hold a lead, those are the little things I think will help us be successful moving forward.”

The Capitals have had offensive success in the second and third periods, scoring 25 and 21 goals in those frames, respectively. Those periods have helped keep them in games, but first-period holes have proven almost insurmountable. The Capitals still have yet to win a game in which they trailed after the first with a record of 0-5-2 in such games.

“What we’re doing right now is obviously is not good enough,” winger Anthony Mantha said. He added that he didn’t want them to get too caught up in the players they’re missing, saying, “We have enough talent in this room to win games. Unfortunately, we’re not doing it right now. It’s on who’s in the lineup to step up and to make a difference.”

Washington has come out aggressively in recent games, trying to put opposing teams on their heels and control the puck by dictating the tempo. However, they’ve also made themselves more vulnerable to mistakes becoming costly ones. Sheary believes the key to getting off to better starts is disciplined hockey.

“I think you just gotta simplify the game early on,” Sheary said. “If you’re high risk and giving up odd-man rushes and stuff like that. I think that gives teams opportunities to jump ahead. Discipline is a huge thing in the first period. We’ve given up a few power-play goals recently and so that’s a big thing. But overall, just simplify things and just bring good energy, do the little things right and things will start bouncing our way.”