Braden Holtby is tired of sugar-coating losses as moral victories.
And when people suggest to him that the Capitals were the better team in their 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night at CONSOL Energy Center, their fifth defeat in seven games, he bristles.
“We’re not the better team if we lose,” Holtby told reporters after Tuesday night’s loss. “I think that’s an excuse we’ve been making all year. We say we play good and it’s just the bounces didn’t go our way. If we don’t win we’re not the better team, simple as that.”
Earlier this season, when the Caps were struggling through a 2-8-1 start, coach Adam Oates kept talking about the big picture and that learning his new system was a process.
That all started making sense when the Caps turned their season around by going 8-3-0 from Feb. 9 to March 7, inching the Caps to within a game of .500.
But that’s when the bottom fell out.
Lopsided weekend losses to the Islanders and Rangers were followed by a 4-0 home loss to Carolina, dropping them four games under .500. They’ve split their four games since then and now sit 14th in the Eastern Conference and 28th in the NHL with a 12-16-1 record, seven points out of a playoff spot.
The Caps haven’t finished with a losing record since the 2006-07 season when they finished 14th in the East and 27th in the NHL with a 28-40-14 record.
So don’t go talking moral victories around Holtby.
“It’s far too late [for that,]” Holtby said Tuesday night. “We’ve done that far too much. Bottom line is we have to win games. I don’t care if we’re the worse team or the better team. It doesn’t matter on the score sheet. We need to win games.”
For the record, the Caps were outshot by the Penguins 36-29 on Tuesday. They were outhit 30-18. And they had 24 of their shots blocked, compared to the 13 times they got in front of Penguins shots.
The Capitals’ only goal of the night came on Alex Ovechkin’s power-play tally in the second period. On a four-minute advantage in the third period, the Caps managed just two shots on goal.
“That’s awful,” Ovechkin told reporters. “It kills.”
The Caps rank sixth in the NHL with 24 power-play goals, but they are tied for 17th in 5-on-5 goals with 51.
With that in mind, Capitals coach Adam Oates is expected to keep Brooks Laich on a second line with center Mike Ribeiro and Troy Brouwer Thursday night when the Capitals visit the Winnipeg Jets for the first of back-to-back games against the Southeast Division leaders.
“It’s hard,” Ovechkin said of Tuesday’s loss in Pittsburgh, “but the next two games are huge.”
The Caps are hoping to have defenseman Mike Green for Thursday night, but there remains concerns about Green playing in back-to-back games after missing 12 of the last 14 games with a groin injury.
If Green returns, he likely would replace Jeff Schultz, Dmitry Orlov or Steve Oleksy in the lineup.