By Adam Vingan
Those who follow the Washington Capitals on a regular basis have probably noticed two things in recent years:
- The Caps never seen to put their opponents away when they can and let them hang around longer than necessary.
- If the Caps do happen to build a lead, they tend to blow it en route to a disappointing loss or nerve-wracking win.
These two points point to one thing: the Caps lack killer instinct.
Killer instinct is simply defined as a primal urge to succeed in times of danger. It’s almost subconscious, a ruthless aggression that manifests itself organically. For some reason, the Caps have a tendency not to tap into this mentality.
For example, in Saturday’s 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators, Washington was seemingly on its way to a dominant victory. Two quick goals from Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson had the Caps rolling, but a late goal from Peter Regin gave the Senators momentum heading into the second period. Over the next 40 minutes, the Senators outshot the Caps 26-12 as the latter figuratively held on for dear life. Luckily for Washington, it escaped with a victory, but it was a victory that should have been as easy as it seemed it would be during the first period.
Early on during Thursday’s 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, it seemed that the Caps once again lacked killer instinct. An early 4-on-3 power play led to just two shots on goal and a four-minute double minor to Braydon Coburn lasted all of 39 seconds when Alex Ovechkin took an interference penalty. On the ensuing 4-on-4 play, Claude Giroux scored on a breakaway to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Just like that, it seemed that the game had already started to slip through the Caps’ collective grasp.
The Caps scored two quick goals to end the first period with a 2-1 lead and after a scoreless second, it seemed as though the final 20 minutes would be tense. Washington, however, made sure that didn’t happen. For the first time all season (and the first time in a while, period), the Caps found that killer instinct. Roman Hamrlik, Ovechkin and Joel Ward scored within the span of 2:25 to put a tight 2-1 game out of reach with a 5-1 score. With just four shots between Hamrlik and Ovechkin’s respective goals, the Caps had three goals and the game back in their hands.
“These were the kinds of games that in the past, we’d have a 5-1 lead, we’d end up winning 6-4,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said to the media after Thursday’s game. “We wanted to keep it at 5-1 and not worry about making it 6-1, but making sure it stayed 5-1.”
Despite improving to 6-0-0, Thursday’s win was not a complete game for Washington, but when they needed it the most, the Caps tapped into their unified, vicious psyche and showed the Flyers no mercy. It’s obvious that the Caps are dangerous. Now imagine them harnessing that ruthless aggression.