Make no mistake about it. The Washington Capitals just played in a trap game. They also lost that trap game to make it worse. On Super Bowl Sunday the Capitals hosted a pretty bad San Jose Sharks team. This coming after the Caps defeated the Boston Bruins, in Boston, on Saturday afternoon.
That not being a small feat. Here we are in mid February and the Bruins have lost on home ice in regulation just two times. Twice, and the Capitals are one of those teams. To be fair, the Bruins were the better team in that game, but a win is a win. Doesn’t matter how the W comes, just so it comes.
After that game confidence had to be high, from both the team and the fans. You would look at the schedule and see the Capitals then go home and play a Sharks team that is at the bottom of the standings before you play in some big, big games later in the week.
You play the top team in the league one day. You play a bottom of the league team the next day. The a couple of days later you play the team that is tops in your own division in the Hurricanes. To look a little further you play the Panthers after the Hurricanes, then you turn around and play the Canes again, this time in Carolina.
If this isn’t the definition of a trap game I don’t know what is.
There is just one problem for me. The Washington Capitals are not good enough to fall into trap games.
What the heck does that mean?
There are teams that can easily fall into and lose in trap games. Those are the top teams. The Bruins, the Hurricanes, the Maple Leafs, the Lightning, and the top teams out west. We can actually look at the Leafs as good examples.
It seems as if Toronto has made a tradition of falling in trap games this season. The Leafs have 72 points on the season. That puts them ten points up on the Capitals, and they are in a playoff spot by twelve points. They don’t have to worry much about falling out of the playoffs.
But this is a team that has lost to some bad teams this season. Toronto, off the top of my mind, has lost to Arizona twice, Columbus, at least once, Anaheim, Montreal twice and San Jose. Some of those games were in overtime, but that is a lot of points dropped by a playoff team. If they were all in regulation that is fourteen points that the Leafs should have that they do not have. You can’t and will not win every game so they shouldn’t have all of those points, but they should have a good majority of them. I can only imagine how annoying it is for Leafs fans that they lose games like that.
The Maple Leafs are a playoff team, they will make the playoffs, they don’t have to worry about that so much. The Capitals are in a much more difficult position. They’re not in the playoffs by a good margin. While a good team like the Leafs can fall into traps and still have a good lead on the non playoff teams the Capitals can do no such thing.
Washington needs every single point they can get. As I am writing this, the Capitals have a two point lead over the New York Islanders, the first team out of a playoff spot, and a one point lead over the Penguins, who are the second wild card team. The Pens have three games in hand, that is very much not good.
The small amount of good news is the Caps have one game in hand over the Isles, but you need to win games in hand, and they just dropped one of the easier ones they will get.
The Caps have a two point lead one the Isles, a four points lead on the Panthers, who they will play later this week and a six point lead over the Sabres who have four games in hand. If you want to go all the way down to Detroit I suppose you could. The Red Wings are eight points back, also with four games in hand. If they were to win all of those four games they would be tied with Washington. That is probably a big IF though.
The Capitals are closer to falling three spots out of a playoff position than they are jumping up into a divisional playoff spot. They are eight points away from the Rangers who are currently third in the metro, they are six points up from the Sabres who are fifth in the wild card race, the Caps being first in the wild card.
This is where my argument starts. This Capitals team cannot fall into trap games. This team is not good enough.
This team is not even close to being in a spot where they can look at the schedule and say, “OK, this is an easier one. We can take it easy tonight.” I don’t know if they said that against the Sharks. I’m willing to bet a good amount they in fact did not say that. But if you watched their performance you could guess they had that thought somewhere deep in their minds.
Being out here on the west coast I have seen a good amount of Sharks games. That is not a good team. The Capitals have been trying to convince us that they are going for a Stanley Cup. Well, in a game between these two the bad team nearly doubled up the “Cup contending” team in some important stats.
The game finished 57-38 in shot attempts. Scoring chances were 33-17 after the final horn and the high danger attempts ended 16-9 in San Jose’s favor as well. And oh yes, Washington lost the game 4-1 too.
The effort was not there. San Jose was winning races and battles for a lot of that game.
We can be real too. We have mentioned plenty of times here, the Capitals beat the Bruins not even twenty-four hours before this game. At the same time the Sharks had two days of rest before this one. Advantage SJ there.
That advantage could explain why they out hustled and had a much better looking effort that the Capitals. That could possibly explain why in the second period the Sharks out attempted the Caps 24-9, out chanced them 11-2 and had more high danger attempts by a count of 8-1. It didn’t get much better in the third either, in a game where the Caps were down going into the final frame.
But this is the position the team has put themselves in. Fair or not. You can blame injuries if you would like. The season goes on. The calendar does not care. This is a Capitals team that went 12-3-1 in late November through late December. Other than that hot stretch they have gone 16-18-5, and they are 8-8-2 in their last 18 games.
This team is simply not good enough to fall in trap games. They need every single win and point they can get, and they just threw one away against a bad team.
Now the Capitals play two of the next three against the Hurricanes who have been the best team in the league since the 26th of November. They have 51 points since then, the Bruins have 47 points.
They also have to play the Florida Panthers who have gotten themselves back in a playoff race. Since the start of the new year the Panthers are 10-5-2, good for 22 points. To compare the Capitals are 7-8-1 in that time and have 15 points, putting them 24th in the league.
It’s an eighty-two game season. You will lose games. You’ll lose annoying games. Games that you look back and shake your head at. Just ask the Maple Leafs.
But when you are in the position that the Capitals are, you cannot lose the game against the Sharks the way they did. It was a bad team, on your ice and they outplayed you for a vast majority of the game.
If you play well and you get goalied, then oh well. If you have a good effort and you can only get one goal and the team you play gets two or three lucky bounces, then that’s hockey. You just can’t lose a game vs a bad team, at home, when you are calling yourselves contenders, by getting out worked for most of the game.
The Capitals are just not good enough to put up that kind of an effort vs a team like the Sharks.
Will it cost them? Hopefully not. The Capitals in my mind are still good enough to beat any team on any night, the Bruins game being a great example.
Effort is something that this team has not given consistently since they won the Cup in 2018. It’s a major reason why they keep getting knocked out in the first round. Teams just out work them. The Hurricanes for large chunks of 2019. The Islanders owning them in the bubble. The Bruins in 2021.
It’s just a theme with this team. They showed it again vs the Sharks. They need every point they can get. They had two easier ones within reach, and they dropped them thanks to a poor effort. Lets hope we do not see many more of these this season. It could be the difference in playing playoff hockey and not.