Too often this season the Capitals have played their best hockey when desperately trying to fight their way back into a game after falling behind.
Which brings us to Saturday’s game against the NHL’s hottest, and perhaps best, team.
The Boston Bruins came into Saturday’s game against the Caps on a 13-0-1 roll with a chance to clinch the Atlantic Division title, move ahead of the St. Louis Blues in their chase for the Presidents’ Trophy and put a dent in the Caps’ playoff hopes.
They accomplished all three.
“We knew how desperate (Washington) was,” Jarome Iginla said after scoring a pair of goals in the Bruins’ 4-2 win at Verizon Center. “We know where they are in the standings and how hungry they would be. We tried to match that desperation and intensity early.”
[MORE: Caps angry after Bruins loss]
Quite honestly, there was nothing to match. The Capitals played the first 30 minutes like a team afraid to make a mistake.
John Tortorella once said playing safe is death and that approach was the wrong one for the Capitals to take against the Bruins.
“We knew they are a physical team, but we have to take a hit to make a play,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. “You could see we were not a desperate team in the first two periods. We can’t play like that.
“The third period is an example. When we get a hit to make a play we’re a totally different team out there.”
Ovechkin recorded a team-high five shots but was held without an even-strength goal for the 14th straight game – the longest drought of his NHL career – as the Capitals played like a team that had already clinched a playoff berth. Not a team desperately trying to break a four-way tie in their hunt for a wild-card playoff spot.
“Our attention to detail was lousy in the first 30 minutes,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. “I think we were waiting to see how they were coming out. From missing passes to going on the ice not knowing the clock, decisions where to go. Everything.”
For two days the Capitals talked about playing a patient game against the Bruins, who have allowed an average of less than two goals a game during their 14-0-1 stretch.
Oates estimated the Caps failed to make 25 passes when they had time and space to make a play and he said it’s too late in the season – the Caps have just eight games remaining -- for that to happen.
“I wasn’t happy with a lot of aspects early in the game,” Oates said. “I thought our forechecking was lousy.
“I’m shocked by our start. I understand when guys are in your face you’re under duress. But when you have time and your partner’s open, put it on his tape. You never expect so many consecutive plays when you make the wrong decision, the wrong pass or a bad pass.”
The Caps’ disjointed play began on their blue line, where Dmitry Orlov was reunited with Mike Green because of Jack Hillen’s upper body injury, and John Erskine returned to the lineup alongside Patrick Wey.
The Caps were unhappy enough with those pairings to reportedly recall Julien Brouillette from the AHL Hershey Bears. Brouillette, who had a goal and an assist in his first two NHL games just before the Olympic break, is expected to replace Erskine Sunday night against the Nashville Predators.
The Capitals will need to come away with two points if they hope to keep pace in the race for the Eastern Conference’s wild card playoff spots.
“We have no choice,” said left winger Jason Chimera, who netted his 14th goal of the season to draw the Capitals within 3-1 but took an undisciplined slashing penalty in the third period. “We need to strap our boots, do more 5-on-5 and our best players need to be our best players.
“We can’t just rely on the power play. It starts with our best players and goes right on down.”