Preview: Capitals - Lightning
For the most part, Adam Oates and his players believe they are playing well enough to be better than 0-2-2 in their last four games and 2-4-3 in their last nine.
But they all agree that heading into tonight's game in Tampa against the Lightning [7:30 p.m., CSN-Plus] there are specific areas that are costing them games. To be specific, they are taking untimely penalties; struggling on the penalty kill and having coverage breakdowns in their own end.
Too many men in the box: In seven of their past 10 games the Caps have given their opponents four or more power plays. Only seven teams in the NHL have committed more minors than the Caps [170 minutes].
“The most frustrating thing for me are the details,” Oates said. “A bad line change really frustrates me. Putting the puck in the stands frustrates me when you have time. Too many men penalty drives me bananas because in 19 years [as a player] I never did it. It’s concentration, that’s it, pure concentration.”
How can it be fixed, Oates was asked.
“Well, hopefully they’re accountable to themselves and realize, ‘Oh, my God, what did I do?’ And the next time the situation occurs they’ve fixed it. That’s how guys mature and progress, and the guys that don’t, sooner or later they’re out of the league.”
OK, well that’s pretty much to the point. For what it’s worth, Mike Green leads the Caps in minor penalties with 18 of them, followed by Alex Ovechkin , Troy Brouwer  and Steve Oleksy .
Penalty kill: Back on Nov. 6, the Caps owned the No. 1 penalty killing unit in the NHL at 91.5 percent. Today, they rank 17th at 80.5 percent.
“Our penalty kill has to get the job done,” said Brooks Laich, who kills alongside Brouwer. “Trying and doing good things isn’t acceptable. You have to get the job done.”
One reason for the decline is stated above. The Caps are simply giving opponents too many power plays. But there’s more. They’ve been allowing too many shots from the point to get through screens and behind their goalies. Three of the Minnesota Wild’s five goals on Saturday came from point shots.
“It’s not always the big boomers hurting us, it’s the floaters,” Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said. “I think we need to do a better job of getting in the lanes and blocking more. I don’t think we block enough shots right now.”
Under Dale Hunter two years ago the Caps finished sixth in the NHL with 1,302 blocks. This season they rank 16th in the league with 603, led by John Carlson , Alzner  and Green .
“It’s easier said than done,” defenseman John Erskine said. “We’re not goalies out there. Sometimes the puck is coming too quick.”
Defensive breakdowns: It seems like once a game the Caps are allowing a goal because of a missed assignment in their own zone. On Saturday Wild forward Nino Niederreiter was left all alone in the slot on his second-period goal as Ovechkin and Jay Beagle stood nearby.
“The last four or five games we’ve been sloppy in the defensive zone,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said.
The old school of thought was to simply clear opponents out of the crease. But that is no longer the way NHL teams think.
“It’s nearly impossible to move guys in front of the net [without taking a penalty],” Alzner said.
“I think it makes it harder for the goalie if there’s two guys standing in front,” added Erskine. “Looking around one guy is easier [for a goalie] than looking around two big guys.”