After a season during which they never seemed to find consistency or an identity, Sunday afternoon the Capitals went out, appropriately, with a whimper. Washington’s 1-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning marked the former’s 21st shootout contest of the season, a new NHL record. The last team to play in nearly that many shootout games was the 2011-2012 Minnesota Wild.
Rehashing their season after the game, the Capitals pointed to that statistic as representative of their lost year. Washington’s 10-11 record in those 21 shootouts displays the razor thin difference between playoff and non-playoff teams.
“The margin of error is very slim,” Washington Head Coach Adam Oates said. “So when you break it down I’m sure there are a lot of little segments, little points, little details we could’ve done a lot better. It’s stuff that you address.”
While winning less than half of those 11 shootout losses would have catapulted the ninth place Caps, who finished three points out of a wild card spot, into the playoffs, it was a seven-game losing streak in January that truly derailed their season. After that lengthy skid, the Caps scraped by at about the same clip that they did in the first half of the year, never winning more than four games in a row. Meanwhile, the rest of the Metropolitan teams, including Philadelphia, the New York Rangers and Columbus, gained ground in what proved to be the league’s weakest division.
“We’ve had this group of guys here for a long time, and we know what’s expected of us. I think everybody was thinking the exact same thing ‘We’re going to pull out of [the mid-year slump], it’s going to happen, we’re going to pull out of it.’ That we are going to be okay,” Caps forward Eric Fehr said. “And, it didn’t happen this time. Maybe shame on us looking in hindsight, but I think everyone in here had the confidence that we were going to be able to turn it around and do it without a big blowout [players only] meeting.”
In hindsight, the Capitals’ reasoning, or at least what their reasoning and mindset were according to Fehr, almost sounds like complacency. That lack of urgency after January’s seven-game losing streak is why the Caps are on the wrong side of the postseason bubble.
“We had a few winning streaks that were three maybe four games; not very many especially when you have a couple four, five game losing streaks, an eight game losing streak, you have to counter balance those with some winning streaks as well,” Troy Brouwer said. “We were never able to kind of get into a rhythm, throw together a good run of games, collect and stockpile points at any one time, we had to battle for them in little chunks here and there. As a result, we are handing out our jerseys and going home for the summer today.”
After throttling the Chicago Blackhawks in a completely meaningless game Friday night, the Caps actually had a chance to play spoiler in their final regular season game of the 2013-2014 season. However, Tampa’s desire for home ice advantage in their upcoming quarterfinal series against the Canadiens proved to be enough to propel them over the Caps. Securing two points against Washington means the Bolts will open their first-round series at home instead of in Montreal’s hostile Bell Centre.
Tampa’s urgency was evident from the first period. They spent extended shifts in the Capitals’ zone and outshot the home team 23-7 through two periods, though the score remained tied at zero.
The Capitals, playing for pride in front of a fan base that is becoming increasingly disillusioned with the organization, finally managed to rattle off seven shots within the first four minutes of the final frame, while the Bolts recorded only one shot by the mid-point of the period. Nicklas Backstrom had perhaps the Caps best chance to score on a redirect during a power play early in the third period, but was stoned by Anders Lindback’s pad save.
Braden Holtby, who turned aside all 32 shots he faced in regulation and overtime, stood tall throughout the game, particularly when he made a sliding save on Nikita Kucherov, who found himself alone in front of the Caps’ net.
With the score still knotted at zero after regulation and overtime, the Caps headed to their 21st shootout of the year. Lindback stoned all three Capitals shooters while defenseman Matt Carle notched the game’s deciding goal.
The Capitals will gather one more time before the offseason for their final day of media availability on Monday morning at Kettler Iceplex in Arlington, Va.