Why can’t the Washington Capitals hold a 2-goal lead?

Why can’t the Washington Capitals hold a 2-goal lead?
Why can’t the Washington Capitals hold a 2-goal lead?

WASHINGTON, DC -- The old cliché states that a two-goal lead is “the most dangerous in hockey” because teams have a propensity to blow them. The Washington Capitals appear to be in the midst of an 82-game case study to prove that cliché correct.

The Capitals have blown 13 two-goal leads this season. According to Adam Vingan of NBC Washington, six of them have been two-goal leads the Capitals held in the third period.

Their record in these games is 5-3-4, as they blew two 2-goal leads in a single game against the Florida Panthers on Feb. 27.

That record includes Tuesday night’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings, which was a textbook example of the way the Caps have given away points all season. Dwight King scored 45 seconds into the third period on a goal that Jaroslav Halak “wanted back,” according to Adam Oates, which is coach-speak for “left a rebound inches from his five-hole."

That cut the lead to 3-2. The Kings smelled blood, the Capitals had PTSD about previous blown leads, and Los Angeles had a 4-3 lead by the 12:55 mark on goals by Marian Gaborik and Dustin Brown. The Caps rallied and earned a point on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s first NHL goal – shorthanded, with the goalie pulled – but gave away a valuable point in blowing that third period lead.

I’ve asked the Capitals players and coaches over the course of this season why this keeps happening. The answers have ranged from John Carlson’s “no idea” to Adam Oates’ “I wish you could tell me.”

Defenseman Karl Alzner was more eloquent in describing how things went down against the Kings.

“We take our foot off for a second. Tonight, we shut our brains off for a second and good teams do that to you. We’ve done such a good job over the last few games here of maintaining pressure. So it’s frustrating we went back to old habits,” he said.

“We tried to make plays we shouldn’t be making. You over-check because you want to make sure you snuff out any chance that they get. It’s little things. But it’s correctable.”

Forward Dustin Penner has been with the Capitals since the trade deadline. He hasn’t witnessed many of these lapses, but has seen enough.

“We got a little content with the lead. Maybe that’s indicative of a young team,” said Penner. “Just staying calm in those situations.”

(Surprisingly, the Capitals have on average the seventh youngest team in the NHL at 26.67 years old.)

The 2-goal lead problem is a perfect symbol of this Capitals team under Oates. It’s a team that manages to sugarcoat its failings well. Their defense can’t shut down opponents, but their offense keeps them in games. They can’t win 5-on-5, but the power play makes up the scoring difference. They blow 2-goal leads and leave 10 points on the table, but hey at least they rallied to take 14 out of a possible 24 points, like they did against the Kings, right?

Right …?

“We had control of that game,” said Alzner. “We had two points in our hands. The fact that we don’t have it now is frustrating. Hope it doesn’t come down to that.”

As tight as the conference playoff race is this season … yeah, it probably will.

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