Lack of discipline remains Capitals' Achilles heel

Published: Mar 03, 2014 12:58pm EST
By Jeff Kryglik, Sports Writer for Konsume Sports

Please Note: This article was updated Mar 03, 2014 @ 12:58pm EST

 

WASHINGTON - If you happened to watch the first 50 minutes of Sunday's NBCSN 12:30 PM ET hockey game, you may have left your television envisioning a Capitals victory over their much maligned Metropolitan Division rival. 

The Flyers came out on top 5-4 in overtime fashion as Washington let go of their 11th two-goal lead of the season and now have a record of 18-0-3 when leading after two periods - 21-8-3 when scoring first during the 2013-14 season. Philadelphia is also now 5-6 when games head to overtime as the Capitals have fallen to 12-10. 

Questions about this Capitals team continue to mount as the trade deadline looms Wednesday and there are still a lot of uncertainties throughout this roster. With the pieces still trying to be put together with just 20 games remaining, many are wondering if the season is even salvageable at this point. 

Long story short, it is. Washington is just two points out of third in the Metropolitan Division and would have climbed back into a playoff spot for the first time since Jan. 18 with a win over Philadelphia. As ugly as they have played and as sporadic as their offensive and defensive production has been throughout the season, there is still hope for a playoff berth in what is a crowded room around the No.8-11 spots. 

But Sunday's loss was the epitome of what the 2013-14 Capitals have been. A team that lacks discipline like Washington does has no staying power when it comes to a Stanley Cup playoff run - D.C.. is still looking for that elusive first hockey championship. Whether it's a simple goaltending mistake, a defensive lapse in communication or a jaded offensive approach into a game, Washington seems to run into one or more of these issues each time they take the ice.

And it all starts at the top with Alexander Ovechkin and slowly becomes a trickle-down effect. Sunday was not one of Ovechkin's best outings as the captain took 15 shots, none of which lit the lamp, he tallied no points and was the cause of the game-tying goal in the second period for the Flyers. Washington was on the power play and the Russian was complacent in his own zone. He thought John Carlson was coming around behind Braden Holtby to pick up a dropped puck. Ovechkin didn't look up and the Flyers scooped up the puck, leading to a short-handed blast into the back of the net. 

But Ovechkin wasn't the sole reason for the defeat. 

As good as defenseman Dmitry Orlov played Sunday as the young blue-liner scored two goals - the Russian native has netted three goals in 2013-14, all of which have come against the Flyers - his five-minute major penalty for a boarding call on Brayden Schenn, led to the demise of Washington over the last 10 minutes of the contest.

A hit on Schenn was the catalyst for a brawl in an earlier contest this season. Back on Dec.17, 2013, Tom Wilson received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for charging into what appeared to be a defenseless Schenn. Wilson was at the brunt of all of the scrums Sunday and it spilled over into Orlov's play.

Head coach Adam Oates has said throughout the season that he loves the way Orlov plays the game, but in order for him to mold himself into a top defenseman, he has to play smarter in Washington's zone. Sunday was another example of him doing just the opposite. 

Schenn hits Orlov and Orlov trails him and bashes him into the glass. Whether or not it warranted a five-minute major is one thing, but he has to play better on his own skates and know the ramifications of the situation. 

As Jay Beagle said yesterday, "It's tough to put your foot on the gas when you're killing [penalties]." 

He's right. 

A major penalty like that is deflating for several reasons:

1. While they only allowed one goal over the duration of the man-down situation, that length of time is exhausting to the penalty kill units as it is a lot to ask four guys to prevent scoring for such an extended period of time.

2. It kills any and all offensive momentum already built up earlier in the game. 

3. Losing a defenseman never helps, especially when the other two options to fill his void on one of the penalty kill units are a sluggish John Erskine and a young, inexperienced Connor Carrick. 

It was a game-changer and ultimately led to the demise of the Capitals.

As for the constant relinquishing of two-goal leads, the resounding answer across the board in more words or less is along the lines of: "I don't know." 

"I don't know what it is," Braden Holtby told reporters. "We didn’t play a game today that we should have won. We were lucky to get to overtime. When the game is on the line like that and we have the lead, we have to lock down and play defensive hockey.”

Defenseman Mike Green shared a similar sentiment.

"I can't give you an answer," Green said on blowing two-goal leads. "But it's something we need to recognize and be more aware of in those situations. Maybe it's something we've got to address."

Washington is a team that still looks like they are without an identity and it largely due to their lack of discipline. Sure, when a team gets what appears to be a comfortable cushion in a two-goal lead, it is natural to pump the brakes a little on the offensive surge. But, the Capitals completely remove themselves from the task at hand at times and they are fortunate to be 4-3-3 in such occurrences.

"We almost don’t want two-goal leads the way we’re playing with them right now," forward Eric Fehr said. "I don’t know what it is, if we shut our brains off for a little bit or think the game’s over."

And not knowing who they are with over two thirds of the season gone is something head coach Adam Oates has to be concerned about. As he watched the Flyers dictate the pace over the last 20 minutes, in particular 10, he knew his team was out of character.

"That's the kind of game [the Flyers] play," Oates said in terms of playing a physical,disciplined hockey game. "They're good at that. We're not."

These two teams square off at the Wells Fargo Center Wednesday night. Tensions will be high and the importance of the game will remain magnified. 

But if Washington wants to legitimize themselves as a playoff contender, they have to play more controlled against a physically-irritating team like Philadelphia. 


 

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Jeff Kryglik
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