The biggest storyline surrounding the Capitals coming out of the bye week is how much the team seems to hate lengthy breaks.
By now you probably have heard Washington has lost three straight out of the bye. In addition to that, there have been three stretches this season in which the Caps have had to wait at least five days for their next contest. They lost two of those three games and they did so in decisive fashion.
Caps played Oct. 21, lost next game on Oct. 26 at Vancouver 6-2
Caps played Nov. 25, lost next game on Nov. 30 vs. Los Angeles 5-2
Caps played Jan. 2, won next game vs. St. Louis 4-3 in overtime
This also is not a new problem. Coming out of the bye week last season, Washington lost its first two games back and then went on to lose eight of 14 before they finally got back on track.
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But why? Aren’t breaks in the schedule a good thing? After all, the bye week was negotiated for by the Players’ Association.
On Tuesday after practice, Barry Trotz tried to explain the difficulties of returning from the bye.
“The best way I can describe it is it's not different than someone going on a 2-week vacation. You come back to work and the first couple days, not really productive, right?
“You know how it is, when you get back, it's hard to get back in that routine.”
The bye week in hockey is different than what we see in football. In addition to no games, the players do not even practice. They do not get the benefit of a having a week of practice before the next game like in the NFL.
This year in Washington’s case, the Caps did not even get a chance to practice before returning to game action as they were forced to cancel practice the day before their game in New Jersey due to travel issues.
“You lose a little bit of that edge, a little bit of that sharpness,” Trotz said. “You lose a little bit of everything and then when it's over 20 guys, then all of a sudden it's difficult.”
Evgeny Kuznetsov also noted how the team struggles in January and February as an additional explanation.
“Physically we're pretty good and emotionally we're pretty good,” he said. “It's just those moments. If you look at the last 3 years I've been here, it's every year the same [expletive], same time. Always those 10-15 games in late January, early February it's always been wasn't great for us.”
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You do often hear about the “dog days” of a season when it suddenly becomes hard for teams to stay motivated every single night with half the season still to go. Now add in a bye week and you can understand why it may be hard for the players to ramp up the intensity level.
The added obstacle for Washington is they now face another break with the All-Star Game. Thursday’s game in Florida will be the team’s only game in a nine-day period.
With the Metropolitan Division standings as tight as they are, the Caps likely cannot afford another stretch of eight losses in 14 games like they suffered last year.
It’s interesting to see a team struggle after having too much time off. It’s a problem most people reading this probably wish they had. But it’s one that’s not quite as easy to overcome as you may think.
“I just think from the last couple years with the breaks in it, you understand that it's not just, hey you had a break, you should be fresh when you go on the ice,” Trotz said. “Unless you've played the game, it's hard to explain to people.”