For the second game in a row, the Capitals relinquished the win on a third period power play goal. Last night's dagger from Ilya Kovalchuk cut particularly deep considering the circumstances: a late-contest 5 on 3, the second of the period, handed to the Devils as the Caps' penalty kill unit was less than a minute into their fifth assignment in an eight minute span.
It also marked the fourth time this season that a late power play goal delivered the Caps an L. Washington has found itself shorthanded 71 times this season, 7th most in the league. Correspondingly, they have the 6th-worst penalty kill with 76.1 percent efficacy and have given up 17 goals while shorthanded this season, just one fewer than league-worst Detroit.
From the 2009-10 season through the 2011-12 season, the Caps were 86-0-8 when heading into the third period on top. So far this season though, they've blown their lead three times in the third and are batting .500 with a lead after two.
At practice on Tuesday, two days after Sunday's loss in similar fashion, Joel Ward said that the team has been struggling to play a full 60 minutes. Playing shorthanded, mental lapses and the secondary effects of taking too many penalties were all cited as the culprits.
The trend repeated itself Thursday.
"Especially in the third period when it's a tight game," said Caps PK specialist Jay Beagle after the 3-2 loss to New Jersey last night. "Some guys are sitting on the bench for eight minutes and not playing and then all of a sudden they have to go out and try to score a goal. It definitely kills momentum."
The Caps have found themselves shorthanded 25 times in the third period, second-worst in the league. Last night's game winner on the two-man advantage put the Caps ahead of all teams with five goals allowed off 5 on 3's. And while the team is aware of the problem, they don't seem to be sure of how to fix it.
"If you’re going to play the same way like we play all the time with no penalties, I don’t think anybody’s going to beat us,” Alex Ovechkin told reporters today in practice.
"How many times are we going to have this conversation? It's on us," said head coach Adam Oates on Thursday night. "There may be one or two that you might question but we still have too many penalties."
The lesson in last night's bout is one the Caps are growing tired of having to learn.
"Besides that first ten minutes in the third we played a great hockey game," said Karl Alzner, whose 5 minutes, 17 seconds on the PK led the team. "We take what we've been taking out of every game, which is that we're right there. We just need to figure out a way to finish out the game because we haven't been doing it."