Going into the lockout shortened season, many speculated that players’ endurance levels would be somewhat of a factor in the first few games. The Washington Capitals have proven this to be the case as, for the second time in as many games, they were unable to maintain the high energy level of play they sustained for the first half of a period or so. Tuesday night, the Caps were back at it on the ice, trying to erase a sloppy and disorganized 6-3 loss in Tampa Bay on Saturday night. The game, this time against a visiting Winnipeg Jets team on the second leg of a back-to-back, bore a similar storyline to the game this past Saturday. The Caps started off on a good note. They seemed to have a better understanding of the new offensive forechecking system that Adam Oates has installed, creating turnovers deep in Winnipeg’s zone, resulting in a couple of scoring chances. Ultimately, it was Matt Hendricks who cashed in on a beautiful tick-tack-toe play that started with a cross ice pass from Alex Ovechkin to Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom majestically threw a slap-pass down to the goal mouth where Hendricks was able to redirect the puck into the net with his skate. Washington also seemed to have a nice flow to their power play, and although they did not score on it until a meaningless goal late in the third period, they seemed to have good puck movement and were able to generate chances.
Ultimately, it was conditioning and endurance that lead to the Capitals demise Tuesday night. After weathering the first half of the first period, Winnipeg began to show signs of life, and the Capitals showed signs of fatigue. Washington began finding themselves doing much of the same as on Saturday night when they were caught out of position, turning pucks over in their own zone, and losing one-on-one battles in the corners and for lose pucks. When Joel Ward was sent to the penalty box for tripping, Winnipeg was able to cash in as Evander Kane threw a lose puck in the corner to the front of the net, where it ultimately ricocheted off of John Carlson’s skate and into the back of the net. Only moments later, Carlson was called for delay of game, and Winnipeg again cashed in on the power play.
It was after this that things really took a turn for the worse for Washington. They came out for the second period lacking energy and purpose. Winnipeg began taking advantage of the seemingly tired Caps and generated odd man rushes on multiple occasions, including the third goal of the game. Evander Kane was able to race past John Carlson and fed a pass to the low slot that beat Karl Alzner and Blake Wheeler was able to tab in the third Winnipeg goal of the night. A fourth goal in the waning seconds of the middle period only added more confusion as to how a team that hadn’t played in three days could look so tired next to a team that played the night prior. It was clear that at least as of Tuesday night, the Capitals lack the conditioning so far to compete later in games. They looked as though they were the team that traveled halfway across the continent and played an overtime game the day before. Perhaps it is that they are still adjusting to the new system or perhaps it was that they have spent more time on learning this system, than conditioning to run it properly. One thing is clear however, if they don’t begin to find and extra gear and a consistent endurance level, they may find that their season has skated off without them.