ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) The simple thing the Washington Capitals want to get out of their four-game Western Canadian road trip doesn’t tell the whole story.
Player after player said the Capitals are looking for a perfect eight points out of games at the Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets. More specifically the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners want to develop more consistency all over the ice.
Washington’s 3-1-1 record through five games is nothing to shake a stick at, but they’ve had second-period lulls, defensive breakdowns and poor special teams play.
“At times we’re playing really great hockey and the way we want, and then the other times I think mentally we just kind of take a step back or try to do a little too much or think the game’s going to come easier,” right winger T.J. Oshie said Tuesday. “As long as we keep our foot on the gas, play a little bit more consistent game, a faster game, I think we’re going to be doing pretty good.”
Coach Barry Trotz shook up his top lines after a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday, putting Andre Burakovsky on right wing with captain Alex Ovechkin and all-star center Evgeny Kuznetsov and moving Oshie down to play with Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom. He kept the power-play units the same despite a 2 for 16 success rate that ranks the Capitals 22nd in the NHL going into Tuesday.
Trotz believes the power play and the penalty kill, which at 71.4 percent is 26th in the league, will get it together. But he’d like to see a more even game in all situations.
“It can be faceoffs, it can be wall plays, it can be just our structure though the neutral zone,” Trotz said. “We want to know what you’re going to get every day so that we can really lock down an identity so everybody knows exactly what they’re up against every night and how we play and there’s not a lot of deviation from it. With that, you get a lot of order and with that order you’re going to get some production.
“When you don’t have everybody on the same page, you’re not going to be that good.”
Trotz wants the Capitals to be a 60-minute team, and those middle 20 minutes have been a source of some frustration. Washington has been outscored 6-2 in the second period, a puzzling problem to say the least.
“For some reason we haven’t played as well as we have in the first and third periods,” Johansson said. “If we knew (why), it would make it a lot easier. We just have to play a full 60 minutes hard.”
The four-game trip starts with a major test Wednesday against 19-year-old superstar Connor McDavid and the Oilers. This will be the first time the Capitals face McDavid, who missed much of last season with a broken collarbone but is on top of his game, tied for the league lead in scoring with nine points.
Capitals players know how good McDavid can be but are wary of his high-skilled unpredictability that defenseman Matt Niskanen joked “hasn’t been coached out” of him yet.
“It’s always tough to know what he’s going to do because he’s so fast,” said Burakovsky, who played with McDavid on the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters. “He likes to just skate around you with the puck.”
The Oilers are so far one of the best teams in hockey because of McDavid and linemates Milan Lucic and Jordan Eberle. Washington had been one of the best defensive teams before the loss to the Rangers, so stopping McDavid and company will be a tall task.
“They’ve got a combination of skills on that line,” Niskanen said. “It’ll be a good challenge for us. It’s for sure going to be a different Oilers team than it’s been in the last couple years.”