TORONTO — Though the Washington Capitals went 8-4-1 in the month of November, they’re probably very happy to see their playing days during the month come to an end.
The Capitals were forced to play three sets of back-to-backs during the month, all requiring travel. It’s the most they’ll face this season and the last of which came Saturday night in Toronto. Their fatigue was obvious as the young Maple Leafs skated circles around the more experienced Capitals in a 4-2 win.
Blaming the schedule is the last thing any professional athlete or coach would want to do after a loss but the Capitals may have reason to complain. Per On the Forecheck, the Capitals have the 10th most miles to travel for their schedule in the NHL this season and the most of any Eastern Conference team.
And on Saturday, all that travel caught up with them.
The night before, the Capitals looked strong in a 3-1 home win over the Buffalo Sabres but Saturday, the 2015-16 Presidents’ Trophy winners looked anything but as sloppy penalties and a complete lack of energy lead to predictable results. It was the third game in four nights for Washington.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz called his team’s play in the first period “lethargic” and said while the schedule may have caught up with them a little bit, that was still no excuse for his team’s poor play.
“Three games in four nights and American Thanksgiving took a little edge off us,” he said. “We’ll just leave it at that.”
Goalie Braden Holtby was far less forgiving in his assessment of the team, saying the Caps were “completely embarrassed” by a young Toronto team, and that is was “not acceptable in our culture here.”
“We didn’t look like the Washington Capitals out there at all,” the 2016 Vezina Trophy-winning netminder said. He did his best to keep his team in the game by stopping 33 of 37 shots against but it was ultimately the team’s lack of energy that sunk them.
The Maple Leafs, particularly blue line leader Morgan Rielly, have said repeatedly this season that they want to—and believe they can—play alongside any team in the NHL despite their lack of experience. And sure enough, they did just that.
Does a performance like the Capitals deserve an asterisk beside it given their grueling schedule this month? Perhaps. This is a team that rose above adversity a number of times last season and with a core lineup largely unchanged, should have been able to find ways to win in their three back-to-backs in November.
Saturday loss was reminiscent of their 5-1 loss against the Carolina Hurricanes two weeks ago, one day after the Caps had slugged out a 3-2 overtime win over the Chicago Blackhawks.
In their second back-to-back this month, they lost to the white-hot Columbus Blue Jackets on the road mid-week before returning home the next day to mop the floor with the division rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins 7-1.
“Back to backs, those are the ones you have to grind them out,” said Holtby.
This is still a very good Capitals team that should be considered as contenders both in their division and their conference. With four days off now and only one set of back-to-back games in December, they won’t have any opportunities in the near future to blame the schedule for their play.