As the Caps’ 4-1 third period lead quickly eroded on Tuesday night, the feeling of impending doom was all too familiar, the accumulation of years of blown leads and defeats snatched from the jaws of victory, of a team lacking “killer instinct” desperately trying to turtle their way across the finish line with two points.
“Uh oh. Here we go again.”
Except that feeling? That was your lizard brain unable to process all of the games you’ve watched to form a rational expectation and instead falling back on a familiar visceral feeling you’ve taken away from some of them, a version of “The Big Mistake” - “I remember being frustrated before, and I’m frustrated now, therefore this must be a frequent occurrence.”
The reality is that the Caps have, for the most part, been good with leads (and the speed with which you just thought of another game in which they weren’t just proves the point - quick, when’s the last time they unremarkably held a three-goal lead?). To wit, the Caps are 11-1-2 this season when taking a lead into the third period. Not great when looking at pure win % (at least when compared to the rest of the League), but a loss like last night’s is also not by any stretch common (and those 14 leads after 40 minutes are a League-high, giving opponents plenty of opportunities - no team in the East has spent more time defending a lead than the Caps).
In the Laviolette Era, the Caps are 37-3-2 with a two-period lead. Since winning the Cup, they’re 101-8-6. Add the Trotz Era and they’re 250-12-14, and for the entirety of the Ovechkin Era, they’re 478-21-38, an .890 win percentage that trails only the Golden Knights and Penguins.
“Here we go again - another lead after two periods, another win nine out of ten times.”
This year, the Caps are outscoring opponents 43-31 when leading (the eighth-best Goals-For percentage in the League, even after being outscored 4-1 while leading last night), and have been particularly good when up a single goal (outscoring their foes 24-10). Over the past three seasons (including this one), the Caps have the League’s best five-on-five expected goals percentage (xGF%) when leading by a goal. You get the point (and the Caps usually get two of ‘em).
To be sure, the Caps have had stretches where they’ve struggled to close out games, and they might be in one now. But don’t expect it to last.
Caps Coach Peter Laviolette: "We stopped playing. That is two games in a row that we've stopped playing in the third period. If you don't punch back, the only thing you are going to do is get punched and we got punched for 20 minutes. It's on us."— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) December 1, 2021
Tuesday night’s loss was brutal. The Caps were awful with the lead in the third period (for a second-straight game against a top opponent), and that’s tough to swallow. But, fortunately, it’s not something we have to choke down often... even if it feels otherwise.