Can We Start Again - Conor Sheary scored the game's first two goals for Washington on Monday night in its game against the Boston Bruins, staking the Caps to an early lead and adding to it. But the Caps found themselves stuck in the tall grass of a penalty tangle late in the first, and a pair of power-play goals in the final minute and a half of the first frame enabled Boston to even the score heading to the second.
The Caps were way off their game in the second - playing slow, throwing pucks away and getting stuck in the mud. The visitors took full advantage, scoring four times - a total of six unanswered goals in just over 15 minutes of playing time - an outburst that left the Caps with a fourth straight setback (0-2-2) at night's end, 7-3.
Since the calendar turned to 2022, the Caps are winless and they've yielded 18 goals in those four losses, with a dozen of them coming at 5-on-5. After a bad beat such as Monday's, teams generally want to get back at as soon as possible, to play another game and try to wash away the foul taste of defeat.
The Caps don't have that luxury; they'll be sitting with this one for four days. Their next game isn't until Saturday afternoon when they face the Islanders in New York. They had a 10-day holiday break late last month. They had four days between games last week, and most players have had unintentional breaks for reasons of injury and/or COVID-19 protocols.
"I think we've had too many breaks," says Caps center Nic Dowd. "Guys have had too many breaks. I think guys want to play hockey and we're sick of these breaks. I mean, I am, honestly."
The Once Over Twice - Sheary's two goals give him 10 goals in just 31 games on the season, and he becomes the third Capital to reach the double-digit mark this season, following Alex Ovechkin (24) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (12). Sheary has now hit the double-digit mark in goals in six of his seven NHL seasons.
Sheary now has five goals and 10 points in his last 11 games. Since he came to the Caps at the start of last season, his total of 41 points (24 goals, 17 assists) in 84 games ranks seventh on the team.
Monday's two-goal game was Sheary's second of the season; he scored a pair of goals in the Caps' 4-0 win over the Sharks in San Jose on Nov. 20.
Easy To Slip - In seven of Washington's last nine games, either the Caps or their opponent has let loose of a multiple-goal lead. This trend started back on Dec. 15 in Chicago when the Caps rallied from a 3-1 deficit to claim a point in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Blackhawks. Two nights later in Winnipeg, the Caps let a 2-0 lead slip away, but still managed to rally for a 5-2 win.
The Caps came home from that trip and were up 2-0 over Los Angeles late in the second period on Dec. 19 in the District, and three unanswered goals from the Kings left the Caps with a 3-2 loss.
Immediately after the holiday break, the Caps jumped out to a 3-0 lead over Nashville in the first, only to see the Preds score three goals in the second to tie. Washington rallied for a 5-3 win in that Dec. 29 contest.
In their first game of the New Year against New Jersey on Jan. 2, the Caps were down 3-1 late in the third period before rallying to force overtime, earning a point in a 4-3 loss.
On Saturday in Minnesota, the Caps forged a 2-0 lead in the second period but couldn't hold it, and they came home with a 3-2 shootout loss. And of course, on Monday they fell 7-3 to the B's after taking a 2-0 lead in the first.
The circumstances are different in each game, and each game takes on a life of its own, but it's a troubling trend nonetheless. Washington has scored the game's first goal in 26 of its 37 games this season, leading the NHL in that category. But the Caps haven't been able to derive full benefit from scoring first so frequently; their 16-6-4 record when doing so ranks 20th in the NHL.
"It's not worrisome," says Dowd. "But we're at the point this season where that has to get fixed, right? And we're a veteran team. It's not like we're a group of guys that do not know how to hold on to the lead. So we just need to get back to that and realize if we're beating a team 2-0 or 2-1, that it's okay for us to win a game like that. I think that's what's important."
By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Caps with 22:35 in ice time … Ovechkin led the Caps with four shots on net and eight shot attempts … Martin Fehervary led Washington with five hits … Trevor van Riemsdyk paced the Capitals with five blocked shots … Nicklas Backstrom won 16 of 23 face-offs (70 percent).