Capitals seek consistency as Metro race tightens

WASHINGTON – For the Washington Capitals, Saturday’s game with the Philadelphia Flyers was poised to be a key matchup. While the main attraction was Alex Ovechkin, who remains within two goals of 700, the team had the chance to face off in a potential playoff and improve on what’s been a so-so start to the second half of the season.

In the end, the game lived up to the promise of being significant in result, but it wasn’t in the way Washington hoped.

Entering the second period of Saturday’s game tied 1-1, Washington gave up seven unanswered goals, including three early over a span of 1:45. The night ended in a 7-2 loss and a lackluster effort that’s become something of a pattern of late.

Since the bye week, it’s been a tough stretch for the Capitals, who are 3-3-0 in their last six games, five of which they saw themselves trailing at one point or another. In three of those, Washington faced multi-goal deficits, and all of those – despite comeback efforts – resulted in regulation losses. 

“We’re where we are in the standings, but I’ve said it and said it a number of times that we’re not where we need to be,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “[Saturday’s 7-2 loss] was a really good example of it. So if you’re going to lose in all areas of the game, then you’re not going to pull out wins. We didn’t deserve that win. We deserved what we got.”

The Caps’ inconsistency isn’t exactly something that can be attributed to one issue; in fact, there are several problem areas that need fixing. Offensively, the main issue is the power play, which is 4-for-21 since the break. On the other side of the puck, their defense is struggling, as the team has given up at least three goals in six of their last 10 decisions.

Their woes have led to several changes to the lineup, including shuffled defense pairings and different assignments on the man advantage, from Ovechkin being moved to the right side to defenseman John Carlson being swapped out for Dmitry Orlov.

Washington has even made changes in goal, giving rookie Ilya Samsonov more playing time as Braden Holtby continues to struggle and have a career-worst season in net with a .893 save percentage and 3.21 GAA.

Despite tweaks and changes to their systems, the Capitals continue to fall into the same tendencies, and the main solution is to address the lack of proper execution by putting together a full 60 minutes and simplifying their overall game, according to Carlson.

“I think we’ve had enough dominating efforts from our team like we’re capable or used to. We’re clawing back, we’re showing a lot of fight, a lot of resiliency making some great plays and putting together some great stretches of hockey, but I just don’t think we’re where we need to be in terms of a full effort,” Carlson said. “I think certainly we’ve been talking leading up to this game and meeting and now we’ve just got to continue to find ways to keep ourselves accountable and figure it out.”

Washington still sits among the top teams in the league, their once-comfortable cushion is slipping away; the Bruins have claimed first-place in the league thanks to a six-game winning streak, and the Penguins are just four points out of first in the Metropolitan Division.

The Capitals will look to respond when they face the New York Islanders on Monday, a game they believe will give them the chance to put changes in motion as they brace for the postseason.

“I think [we’re] definitely not panicked, but we would really like to see a better, consistent game out of ourselves,” Carlson said.

You can catch Ovechkin’s pursuit of 700 goals when the Capitals host the Islanders Monday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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Sammi Silber is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow her on Twitter @sammisilber.

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