The latest reminder came Wednesday in Philadelphia when the Caps dropped a 3-2 Metro Division match to the Flyers, a game in which Washington whiffed on five power play chances in the final 40 minutes of what was a 2-2 game for the first three of those opportunities, only to surrender Kevin Hayes' game-winning shorthanded goal late in the second period.
"I think we we're just a little too passive," says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom of the power play. "Even if we're a one-man advantage, we got to be a little bit more desperate. It's all about execution. If you execute plays, good things happen. We weren't on the same page tonight."
"I've got a lot of confidence in our group," says Caps right wing Tom Wilson. "When things are going well, we take pride in it. But I think right now it's as simple as getting the job done or not. That's a game that we probably win if we find a way to get one or maybe two. We got a lot of talent out there and we just got to make sure that we're executing. We all got to step up and someone's got to execute and get puck in the back of the net."
Washington's penalty killing unit is ranked third in the league, and it has yielded multiple power-play goals in the same game only four times in 45 games this season. But three of those occurrences have come in the last eight games, a stretch during which the Caps are a decidedly ordinary 4-4-0. The Capitals' penalty killing outfit has a 73.1 percent success rate during that stretch, well beneath its full season mark of 83.7 percent.
But the Washington power play has been wallowing in mediocrity for a longer period of time, and right now, it's the larger issue. The Caps' extra-man unit has struck for two multi-goal games in the team's last six contests - both against Carolina - but that represents more than half of the unit's total output since the beginning of December. In their last 17 games, the Caps are 7-for-51 (13.7 percent) with the extra man. Evgeny Kuznetsov has three of those goals, T.J. Oshie has two, and Alex Ovechkin and Lars Eller have one each. Ovechkin's came on a feed from Dmitry Orlov, so that one and Eller's came from the Caps' second unit.
One of Kuznetsov's came off the rush, and one of Oshie's was a 4-on-3 strike in overtime. That leaves three power-play goals in 17 games from Washington's top unit getting set up and attacking, a critical component of the Caps' attack for the last decade. And that's the problem.
"Obviously it is not a secret," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "Since the beginning of December we have not been where we need to be at, in terms of statistically converting. We've converted on some 6-on-5, which were odd men situations for us. In terms of our power play and where it ranks in the league, it needs improvement there. We [have] too good of players for that to happen. Execution and then when it comes right down to it, you have to outwork the opponent. Those were things that fell short tonight. As a result, that's one of the reasons we came up short."
The Caps' power play has become too stagnant and too predictable, with not enough movement. Entries have been problematic, and on too many nights - including Wednesday's game when the Flyers won six of seven draws while the Caps were on the power play - the Caps rarely start with possession in the opponent's end of the ice.
"I think you have to continue to look at things," says Reirden, "and evaluate criteria that are important to power plays and what has been areas of important criteria for the success we've had over the last few years and number of years with this team. Look at the amount of entries, the amount of recoveries, the amount of turnovers, those numbers were not in our favor tonight. Like I said, you don't need to score every time, it is not possible to score every time, but you have to give momentum to our team, and we gave it to the opposition tonight, especially at the end of the second."
Washington has a bevy of talented and skilled players with which to work, so this shouldn't involve any tearing down and rebuilding, but rather some tweaking and recalibrating.
"For a couple games there, we were getting a lot of chances," says Wilson. "And sometimes they aren't going in. And then if that happens, sometimes you start forcing things to try and make something happen, and you chase it a little bit. And that's exactly probably what you shouldn't do.
"Maybe we should just kind of get pucks to the net and hopefully bang one in. We got one of the best coaches around the league looking over our power play film, and we believe in the group. So, we'll fix it and hopefully as the hockey gets more important, we'll be hitting our stride."
Sitting - Nick Jensen's turnover led to the Flyers' first goal of the night at 3:24 of the first, on Jensen's second shift of the game. He took three more shifts after that, but was parked for virtually the entire second half of the initial period. Jensen logged only 3:22 in the first, and his 13:04 total for the night was his second lowest in 45 games this season.
On an extended defensive-zone shift late in the first, Lars Eller was boxed for tripping Flyers forward Jakub Voracek, and Washington winger Richard Panik simultaneously incurred a 10-minute misconduct.
"He shot the puck after the penalty and had a verbal exchange with the referee, and that was a 10-minute [misconduct] there," says Reirden. "That's another area for me. We need everybody. We don't need to be missing a player and overplaying guys, so that when you do get your power plays in a back-to-back situation, you get your guys fresh. Otherwise, now we had 10 minutes where we had to play without him.
"You have players that aren't executing properly to start a game, you have to sit them, and now you've got to go down to five defensemen for the rest of the first period. So it's things like that. There have been some good lessons that have been explained to our team, and you have to go through.
"Obviously, sitting here with 30 wins, we're doing a lot of good things, but games like this you've got to make sure that you're taking the proper messages and the proper lessons out of it and get better, because we're still a team that's looking to grow and get better."
First Blood - Washington has surrendered the game's first goal in 11 of its last 14 games, including Wednesday against the Flyers. Although the Caps have earned 13 of their 30 wins after yielding the game's first goal, they - like every other team in the league - are much better and much better off playing with a lead.
Seven Up - Backstrom's six-game assist streak came to a stop on Wednesday in Philly, but he netted Washington's first goal of the game - his ninth of the season - to extend his scoring streak to seven straight games (one goal, six assists).
Green Blueline - Philadelphia blueliner Matt Niskanen played in his 924th career game on Wednesday night against his former Caps teammates, logging 23:52 - including a team high 6:41 in shorthanded ice time. Niskanen has far more NHL experience than the rest of Philly's Wednesday night blueline corps has combined.
With blueliners Justin Braun (groin) and Shayne Gostisbehere (knee) out of the lineup against Washington, the other five Philly blueliners who suited up along with Niskanen on Wednesday have combined for a grand total of 695 career contests in the league.
Wednesday's game was the Flyers' first game back after concluding a dismal six-game, 12-night road trip with a 5-4 overtime loss to the Hurricanes in Carolina a night earlier. Philly went 1-4-1 on the trip and dragged a four-game losing streak (0-3-1) into Wednesday's game. The Caps missed an opportunity to exploit the Flyers' youthful and relatively inexperienced group of defensemen in that contest.
Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears dropped a 2-1 decision to the Atlantic Division-leading Hartford Wolfpack on Wednesday, missing an opportunity to pull even with the Wolfpack atop the divisional standings.
Hartford forged a 1-0 lead in the first, but the Bears drew even late in the second on Philippe Maillet's eighth goal of the season at 15:59 of the middle period.
The game appeared to be headed for overtime until Hartford's Vinni Lettieri scored at 19:06 of the third, giving the Wolfpack the win on a night when the Bears limited it to just 15 shots on net for the night.
Vitek Vanecek made 13 saves in the Hershey nets, falling to 12-6-1 on the season.
The 21-11-2-3 Bears will be back in action on Friday night when they head up to Wilkes-Barre Scranton for a date with the Baby Penguins.
By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Caps with 24:47 in ice time … Ovechkin and Backstrom led the Caps with four shots on net each, and Ovechkin and Wilson led with six shot attempts … Radko Gudas led the Caps with five hits against his former Philly teammates … Carlson and Nic Dowd led the Caps with two blocked shots each … Washington endured a miserable night on the dot, winning only 15 of the game's 51 face-offs (29 percent).