March 28, 2023

The Washington Capitals were handed their worst defeat of the season on Sunday (Nov. 13) after the Tampa Bay Lightning put on a dominant display in a 6-3 win at Amalie Arena. While the result raises serious questions about the team’s readiness for a difficult playoff race, the nature of their performance was more problematic than the final score itself.

The Capitals found themselves under the cosh in the first period and entered the intermission with a 4-0 deficit to overturn. They allowed Mikhail Sergachev to run rampant early on, becoming the first defenceman to record a four-point period since 2019.

Washington improved in the back half of the game, albeit after Darcy Kuemper was replaced in net by Charlie Lindgren. All in all, it was a terrible night for the Capitals – and their reaction to the loss tells the story.

Capitals’ Lars Eller, Garnet Hathaway Furious After Defeat to Lightning

Forward Lars Eller was incredibly upset with the Capitals’ performance versus the Lightning. While he finished the game with one goal, three shots, and an impressive faceoff win rate (61.5%), he spoke candidly to reporters in the locker room.

“I think that’s the worst period we’ve played this year: we were horse****,” said an exasperated Eller. “We looked and acted like a team that is top of the standings and won ten in a row because we won one game [versus Tampa Bay]. We’ve got to bring a whole different attitude, effort, and battle mentality.

Lars Eller Washington Capitals
Lars Eller, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

We can do that and still be creative, make plays, and hold onto pucks, but today they came in and ran all over us. I think it starts with the effort and attitude – and it just wasn’t there. We were way too casual, and we’ve got to humble ourselves a little bit here.”

After the loss, the Capitals now find themselves sixth in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 7-8-2. They are only three points outside the wild-card spots but face an uphill battle after an injury-hit start to the season.

When asked to elaborate on his criticism of the team’s attitude, the 33-year-old added, “I think we should be very aware of where we find ourselves in the standings right now, and our attitude [on the ice] has to reflect that we’re fighting for our lives. Today, like I said, we were just casual and arrogant. I don’t know where that came from. It was tough to watch and be a part of. We have no business hanging our goalie out to dry like that. It’s not what I think our true identity is like, but today it was, and we can’t let that happen again.”

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Eller was not the only member of the Capitals to express disappointment. Garnet Hathaway also voiced his displeasure that the team left Kuemper exposed in the first period.

“Yeah, the score definitely isn’t a reflection of how Kemps played – I thought he played well,” said Hathaway. “If you look back at them, they had two power-play goals, and two were hit off one of our guys and went in. We didn’t start the way we wanted to, and they played a great game in their building. We pushed back a little bit, but it wasn’t enough.”

The Capitals’ performance was encapsulated by the play that resulted in the Lightning’s third goal. Nick Perbix was allowed to skate into the offensive zone and invited to hit a hopeful pass toward the crease. As Hathaway notes, Kuemper was beaten by an unkind bounce:

This topsy-turvy form has been a key feature of the Capitals’ season so far, a point the fourth-line winger addressed with the media: “It’s easy to look at [at the lack of consistency in the team’s result] now, after a result we’re not proud of. I think tonight was a special teams battle, and it would’ve been lot closer if we didn’t lose 2-0 on special teams.”

Capitals’ Goaltending: Can Kuemper-Lindgren Sustain Their Form?

With head coach Peter Laviolette stuck in Covid-19 protocol, assistant coach Kevin McCarthy led the Capitals in Tampa Bay and was left frustrated by what unfolded on the ice. “Overall, obviously, very disappointed with our effort, especially in the first period,” he said of the loss.

McCarthy was also forced to make an unpalatable decision in the first period, with Kuemper pulled after allowing four goals on nine shots. Lindgren, by contrast, stopped 24 of the 25 shots in the remaining 43:22 of play.

Charlie Lindgren Washington Capitals
Charlie Lindgren, Washington Capitals (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“You never like coming into a game like that,” said Lindgren of his relief appearance. “I feel bad for Kemps; he had a few bad bounces, and there’s not much he could’ve done. I felt bad for him, but you’ve got to go and play when your name’s called, and they definitely came out ready to play tonight. I think after the first period, we settled down a little bit. It still obviously wasn’t perfect, but our game was better – we still have a lot more to give.”

Before the loss to the Lightning, Washington ranked third in the NHL in goals saved above expected. In other words, their goaltending tandem has allowed fewer goals than expected to start the season.

That raises a simple question of sustainability: will Kuemper and Lindgren continue to perform at their current level? If the answer is ‘no’, the Capitals are in serious trouble because they already sit outside the playoff picture, despite receiving solid performances from their netminders.

Looking Ahead for the Capitals

The Capitals return to the ice on Tuesday (Nov. 15) at FLA Live Arena versus the Florida Panthers. Then they travel to St. Louis to face the Blues before returning to D.C. to welcome the Colorado Avalanche to Capital One Arena. They are under serious pressure to deliver improved results – and performances – in the week ahead. Plus, there are two plotlines to watch out for.

Eller was furious with what he deemed a lack of effort from his teammates versus Tampa Bay. He called on the Capitals to reconsider their attitude and take stock of where they sit at the table. We’ll see if the team can bounce back versus the 8-6-1 Panthers. Likewise, is the quality of Washington’s netminding sustainable? If not, trouble awaits. It’s still early in the season, but there is plenty to keep an eye on in D.C.

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