The Caps, focused on staying in the moment, try to avoid playoff math

The Caps, focused on staying in the moment, try to avoid playoff math

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 1

EDMONTON — With 19 games left in their season, the Washington Capitals still sit within striking distance of a playoff spot. Their odds of making it in remain low, but they aren’t quite out of the race yet.

This is the time of the season when fans, members of the media and even some players — though they don’t like to admit it — start looking at the remaining schedule, doing some math and figuring out what it will take for a team to get across the line into the postseason. This is also the time when teams say that they’re taking things one game at a time, without looking ahead or overthinking their place in the standings.

That’s true of the Capitals, who are insistent upon that mentality heading down the stretch.

“We’re just going one, today,” Coach Spencer Carbery said Monday morning before Washington opened a five-game road trip in Winnipeg. “That’s kind of been our approach of late, just trying to — I get setting the tone, the travel, looking ahead, it’s five games, all this. ‘If you can get a certain amount of points out of this road trip,’ I understand that, and we’ll leave that for the outside world. We’re just trying to focus on winning one game and playing well in Winnipeg tonight. Then we’ll figure things out tomorrow.”

It didn’t work out that night. The Capitals were handed a 3-0 loss, marking the sixth time they’ve been shut out this season, and were a step behind the pace throughout the game.

“There’s a lot of things that we can learn from in this game,” winger Beck Malenstyn said afterward. “It’s obviously a top team in the league, and we want to be at that same level. Something for us to look at, go to practice tomorrow and iron some things out. … I think it was close tonight. It’s not maybe as bad as it seems, but there’s definitely some things we can fix.”

And when Washington took the ice for practice Tuesday, before playing the Oilers on Wednesday, the focus was exclusively on what needs to be better against Edmonton, without peeking ahead to Thursday’s game in Seattle.

As external discussions largely focus on the path to the playoffs and what it would take for the Capitals to get there, inside the dressing room, the players and coaching staff remain steadfast in their approach. That path, for what it’s worth, is a difficult one. Washington plays the majority of its remaining games against teams that currently hold a playoff spot.

“Of course,” winger Max Pacioretty said when asked if it’s really possible to only think about one game at a time. “I can’t speak for everyone, but you learn that as the years go on. Nothing’s guaranteed [about] tomorrow, whether it be playing another team or our health or even our lives. I don’t look at anything any other way, and especially with the position we’re in, it’s even more important to have that mind-set. We’re playing against a team that is — if you’re worried about tomorrow or a week from now, they’ll make you pay.

“ … I guarantee some young guys probably look at standings at night and other teams’ schedules and try to do the math as to what has to add up. But the difference between these games right now is that extra five, 10 percent, so if you’re going to go out there with the full intentions to win a hockey game, you’ve got to be fully invested in that one game itself.”

“We understand the ramifications of every game we go into, but honestly, I think with that pressure, it probably does make it a lot easier,” Malenstyn added. “You’re able to come into every game understanding the importance of those two points and what those are going to do for us moving forward. We’re not in a position where we’re by any means out of it, but we definitely want to keep working to stay in that fight.

“We’re right there on the cusp, so I think it definitely allows you to kind of stay in the moment and understand the importance of every night.”

In recent weeks, as Washington has started to string a solid run of form together, bad nights have become one-offs. The Capitals aren’t perfect every night — look no further than the 8-3 loss in Detroit two weeks ago or a 5-2 loss at home to the Arizona Coyotes on March 3 as proof — but they’ve rebounded from bad games with a good performance in the next one, without letting poor results turn into a downward spiral.

That ability to bounce back will be particularly important when Washington faces the Oilers, who feature two of the best players in the league in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, on Wednesday. The Capitals may be taking things one game at a time, but they’re also running out of runway to make a strong push.

“I think we’ve taken that challenge on all year and really been able to put our best foot forward coming out of these situations,” Malenstyn said. “For us, obviously, it’s not bad game, regroup, have another one, regroup. We really do want to start putting those stretches of wins together, and it starts with [Wednesday] night. It’s going to be a great hockey team that we’re playing. But for us, we go back, we look through what we probably wanted to change [Monday] night in Winnipeg. And you know what? There’s a lot of things we could’ve done better.

“It was an uncharacteristic game from our group. I definitely think we’re going to get our best effort, and if we can continue to do that and build off that, I think we can put a good stretch together.”

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