The Washington Capitals will play a total of 16 sets of games on back-to-back nights this season. At some point, hopefully they'll start picking up at least the odd point here and there on the second night of some of those sets.
Playing for the second time in as many nights and the fourth time in six nights - with travel involved for all four games - the Caps saw their three-game winning streak halted at the hands of the Sabres in Buffalo on Tuesday in a 3-1 setback.
For the third straight time in the second of back-to-backs, Washington mustered exactly one goal's worth of offense in support of Philipp Grubauer, who could sue for non-support and win easily. The Capitals have supplied him with a total of eight goals worth of support in five starts this season, and they've managed a total of just five goals for Grubauer in the four starts the German netminder has made on the second night of back-to-back games this season.
"We all feel terrible for him," says Caps center Nicklas Bcakstrom. "He's been playing awesome the games he has been in. We wanted to give him a win, but unfortunately that wasn't tonight. But we will give him a win, because he deserves it. He deserves better."
That much is certain.
"Hundred percent," echoes Washington winger Tom Wilson. "It's really frustrating. He works really hard in practice, he is a great teammate and he is a hell of a goaltender. It really sucks when you can't get him that win. He is going to keep showing up for us and we're going to hopefully win for him soon."
While the Caps have forged a perfect 4-0-0 record in the front end of back-to-backs this season, they're now 0-4-0 in the back half, and they've been outscored 17-5 in the process.
Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | November 7
"Even if we played last night," says Backstrom, "we should keep that momentum from the night before. We had an all right start, but they outshot us. After two periods, we were still in it. We should have done something better; made more goals."
The Caps have not owned a lead at any point in the second of back-to-backs, and they've scored one goal in the first period of those four games. Each of the last three back half games has produced exactly one goal over 60 minutes.
"We need more offense," says Backstrom. "Maybe we need to go to the front of the net a little bit more, maybe shoot the puck a little bit more and create those second chances. I can just speak for myself, but I've got to be better."
The Caps are roughly a fifth of the way through their season, and they're a quarter of the way through their back-to-backs. After having four sets in the last 26 days, they'll face just one set in the next 33 days. But at some point, they've got to figure out the second half of back-to-back games and find a way to give themselves a chance to win. The points are simply too precious to squander.
It's still very early in the season, but with a doff of the chapeau to the late Yogi Berra, it gets late early around here. The Tampa Bay Lightning is currently the class of the Eastern Conference with 24 points. The Pittsburgh Penguins are second with 20. The four-point gap between those two clubs is the largest between any two teams on the 16-rung Eastern Conference standings ladder.
Video: Barry Trotz Postgame | November 7
The second-place Penguins and the 13-place Montreal Canadiens (15 points) are separated by all of five points, so that's five points separating a dozen teams, and the Caps are currently in the thick of that cluster with 17. Washington was less than 20 minutes away from earning at least a point in each of its last two back end of back-to-back games - at Calgary and at Buffalo - but ultimately came away empty-handed both times.
If points in October and November are the same as points in March and April - and they are - then good minutes early in games are the same as good minutes late in games. The Caps were outshot 15-4 in the first period of Tuesday's game against the Sabres, and Washington wasn't able to create a legitimately dangerous scoring chance until the second period was nearly halfway over.
"You come out, you see there is a little bit of a lull there at the beginning of the game," says Wilson. "It took them scoring on us [early in the second period] to wake us up a little bit. You can't have that in a back-to-back.
"Sometimes it's tough. You get in late last night, you're kind of tired, and you get out there and you've got to make sure that you're going off the get go, or you can get behind. We didn't come out with enough urgency. The entire game, we were generating chances here and there. I thought we weren't shooting enough; we weren't creating enough havoc around the net. But those are the games you've got to win.
Video: Caps 365 | November 7
Buffalo Soldiers - Give the Sabres some credit, too. Under first-year coach Phil Housley, they came out with energy and got the start they wanted, forcing the heavy-legged Capitals to play mostly in their own end for the bulk of the first frame.
It was a 1-1 hockey game headed to the third period, and the two points were up fro grabs. Benoit Pouliot's individual effort goal at 3:37 of the third was the difference-maker, and the Sabres' spackled-together blueline and Buffalo netminder Robin Lehner, who was pulled in his previous start, combined to thwart the Caps' late push.
"We were in a similar position not too long ago against San Jose where it's a tie game late and we end up getting nothing out of it," says Sabres center Jack Eichel. "Tonight, we were on the other side of it. It's nice to be there, and we should learn from it.
"We stuck with the game plan for 60 minutes and didn't deviate from the plan. Benny scored a huge goal, and we just continued doing the right things and found a way to win."
Video: WSH Recap: Ovechkin's goal not enough in 3-1 loss
Tough Sledding - Last season, Grubauer saw as many as 30 shots in only eight of his 19 starts and faced more than 35 pucks just twice. Thus far this season, he has faced at least 30 shots in four of five starts, and he has seen more than 35 shots in three games already.
Grubauer has played 324 minutes between the pipes for the Capitals this season, but he has played with the lead for just 34:04 of that time, all of it in his Oct. 9 against the Lightning in Tampa, his first start of the season. Since the third period of that game, Grubauer has played 273 minutes and 11 seconds consecutively without his team owning a lead at any point of any of those contests.
"I feel bad for Grubi, because Grubi has given us some really good games," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "We haven't given him enough support offensively to get a win or to get points."
Red Light Run - Alex Ovechkin netted Washington's lone goal on Tuesday - his 13th of the season - converting a sublime Devante Smith-Pelly feed late in the second period. Ovechkin is second in the league in that department this season, just one behind Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov (14).
Ovechkin has now scored in three straight games, and he has netted nine of his 13 goals at even strength. That puts him more than halfway to last season's career-low total of 16 even-strength tallies.
Late Scratch - Caps defenseman Madison Bowey was a late scratch for Tuesday's game against the Sabres. Bowey took warm-ups, but was left off the lineup sheet in favor of Aaron Ness at the last minute.
"He tweaked something - lower body - [Monday]," says Trotz of Bowey. "He actually went through warm-up and was able to go. We felt that long term - especially on back-to-backs when we're putting big minutes on our [defense], that we didn't want to risk putting him [in]. So we had a little bit of a cautious approach and put Ness in."
Ness played well in Bowey's absence, logging 14:16 in ice time on the night.
What Instigator? - For the second straight game, Wilson found himself dropping the gloves on Tuesday. He laid a clean hit on Buffalo center Sam Reinhart midway through the second period, and Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe took exception to the hit, challenging Wilson in the wake of the body check.
Backstrom mentioned after the game that he thought the scrap sparked the Caps somewhat, but that wasn't on Wilson's mind at all.
"I didn't really think about that," says Wilson. "The hit kind of came as the play developed, and I finished my check. I wasn't even thinking about fighting there. I just wanted to play with energy, and try to get the guys going that way."
Had Wilson stood up for one of his teammates in a similar fashion, we might have seen him get slapped with an additional minor for instigating; it's happened in the past.
"I don't know why I have to fight in that instance," shrugs Wilson. "To me, everything I've been told about instigating, that's what that is. It's frustrating from that standpoint, but everyone is human and it's a fast game. We'll shake this off and build on it and learn from it. We've just got to have a little bit more urgency from every guy."
By The Numbers - For the 14th time in 16 games this season, John Carlson led the Capitals in ice time at 25:34 … Ovechkin, Carlson and Dmitry Orlov led the Caps with five shots on net each. That trio accounted for more than half (15 of 25, or 60 percent) of Washington's shots on net in the game … Ovechkin led the Caps with five hits … Orlov, Brooks Orpik and Chandler Stephenson each blocked two shots to pace Washington.