Capitals talk about need to ‘loosen up a bit’ heading into Game 5


If you’re a Washington Capitals fan you have no doubt seen this movie before.

Entering Game 5 against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night, the team is facing elimination against its long-time arch nemesis and postseason tormenter after what was a wildly successful regular season. It is a scene that has played several times over the years, and if the Capitals are going to flip the script and erase all of those disappointing memories they are going to have to win three consecutive games starting tonight.

Before Saturday’s game several members of the Capitals talked about the need to clear their heads, stay loose, and not grip their sticks too tight heading into what is, at the moment, their biggest game of the season.

Said defenseman Matt Niskanen, via Stephen Whyno of the Associated Press, “you can’t play well if you’re tight. Those sprinters, they’re loose. Your body works better. You have to clear your head.”

Starting goalie Braden Holtby said it is still a confident group and that the team realizes they are “gripping our sticks a bit tight and we just need to loosen up a bit.”

The most interesting comment, though, may have come from defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

“With the history in this locker room, what’s happened in the past, it can cause you to grip your stick a little bit tighter.”

You might be noticing a theme in those comments.

What is so fascinating about Shattenkirk’s comment referencing the past is that he has only been a Capital for a couple of months and never experienced the things that happened to the team in the past. The fact that he’s referencing the past is, if nothing else, interesting and would seem to suggest that all of that stuff is at least on the minds of the players.

It’s also interesting because following the Capitals’ Game 4 loss in Pittsburgh (a game where the Capitals once again seemed to carry the play only to lose thanks to a great goaltending effort from Marc-Andre Fleury and a handful of self inflicted mistakes on the part of the Capitals) coach Barry Trotz was asked if his team’s struggles against the Penguins come down to “something mental.”

“Not really,” said Trotz. “I just think it’s more right now we have to find a way to get an extra goal. We have to get An extra save. I thought our top guys weren’t as good as they needed to be tonight.”

The Capitals have tried pretty much everything in this series to this point to get that extra goal or save. They benched their Vezina Trophy winning goalie in Game 2. They have used seven defensemen. They benched Brett Connolly, a 15-goal scorer during the regular season, for Paul Carey. They are apparently going to play Alex Ovechkin on the third-line on Saturday, most likely in an effort to double-shift him. They have outshot and outchanced the Penguins by a significant margin in just about every game. The results, so far, remain the same.