After seven games, the Washington Capitals have four points, which puts them in a three-way tie for fourth place in the Metropolitan Division. But the Capitals have played seven games, one or two games more than four of the other five teams at the top of the division have played.
Through four games on the five-game home stand, the Capitals' (2-5-0) play has been lackluster, with one win and three losses during regulation. Such a slow start is reminiscent of the team's 2-8-1 record at the beginning of the 2012-13 season.
"We have got to take care of our own end better," head coach Adam Oates told the media after the 2-0 loss to the New York Rangers Oct. 16. "And you know what? We do. We got to play better in our own end. Obviously we want to score and get down the ice, but until we cross the blue line, we can't."
Of the 30 teams in the NHL, the Capitals rank 27th in goals against, averaging 3.43 goals against per game. What is causing this defensive lapse with the Capitals?
"Probably a lot of little things, and it's different guys at different times," Oates said. "But I don't think it's necessarily a coverage breakdown, but I think we could be a little bit more aggressive and closing in on guys, the second man getting in there, winning some battles and then knowing what we are supposed to do with the puck when we get it. I think a lot of times we get that first play and then don't put it in the right spot."
Oates said it came down to the players needing to know what to do and being more aggressive on defense. The theme from the team after the Rangers game was: "We have to do better."
"The preparation in the locker room has to get better," Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby said after the Rangers game, according to JaspersRink.com. "It's as simple as that."
Although it might not be as simple as Holtby indicates, there is some truth to his comments.
It is evident in the Capitals' numbers. The Capitals are tied for fourth in the NHL with nine goals against during the first period. If you combine the first-period scores of all the games played thus far, the Capitals have been outscored, 9-4. The only period during which the Capitals have not given up more goals than they've scored is the second, when they've scored eight and given up eight. During the third period, the Capitals have tallied four goals and allowed seven.
One aspect of the Capitals' play that has been a team strength is the power play. Washington has converted 30.8 percent of man-up opportunities, which ranks third in the league. The Capitals are tied for third in the league with eight man-up goals. Although the power play has been solid this year, the penalty kill started off slowly -- but it has been better lately. The Capitals rank ninth in the league with an 84 percent penalty kill rate.
The Capitals will host the Columbus Blue Jackets Oct. 19 to wrap up the home stand. After the Blue Jackets game, Washington will go on a five-game road trip. In order to gain some traction in the division, the Capitals will have to play better on the road than they did at home.