Road Killed – For the third straight road game, the Washington Capitals scored the game’s first goal. And for the third straight road game, the Caps came away with no standings points.
Washington put together nearly a perfect first period of road hockey against the Penguins on Thursday night in Pittsburgh, getting an early goal from Mike Ribeiro to take a 1-0 lead. The Capitals gave the Pens little in the way of scoring chances and successfully killed off the lone Pittsburgh power play of the frame.
But in the middle of the second period, the Caps began to come apart at every nail. Pittsburgh scored five goals and romped to a 5-2 win.
“We had a great first period,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “We were playing fine. [The Penguins] had 10 shots after 30 minutes in the game.”
“We had our third [actually, second] penalty with no power plays; I thought it was kind of a tough call on [Caps defenseman] Karl [Alzner]. You’ve got to be strong enough to survive it and we didn’t. They got a power play goal and then they got the next one right after.
“Similar to the other night, we leaked a little oil for five minutes after that. That’s all you need in the NHL right now.”
Washington is the only Eastern Conference team currently without a road victory. The Caps’ five-game road skid (0-4-1) is their longest since they dropped five straight away from Verizon Center from Nov. 15-Dec. 5, 2011.
The five-game road losing streak matches Washington’s longest since 2006-07 when it suffered nine straight setbacks (0-7-2) on the road from March 6-31, 2007.
With five points on the season, the Caps are in the basement of the Eastern Conference standings, four points behind 14th place Philadelphia and Buffalo, the two teams the Capitals have defeated this season. The four-point gap between the Flyers/Sabres and the Caps is the largest between any two teams in the Eastern Conference standings.
Sluggish Seconds – After putting together a strong first period in all three zones and taking a 1-0 lead, Washington again unraveled in the second.
“We definitely got outplayed in that second period,” rued Alzner. “The penalties didn’t help, but they played a lot better than we did. We weren’t strong enough on pucks, we didn’t work hard enough, things were bouncing, we weren’t bearing down enough. They capitalized on their chances just like last time we played them.”
The Caps maintained that 1-0 lead as the seven-minute mark of the second approached when Alzner was called for the iffy interference infraction on the Penguins’ James Neal in the neutral zone.
“Well, I’m not really allowed to say a whole lot as you know,” said Alzner when asked for his view of the fateful play that sent him to the box in the second. “You guys can say whatever you want for me, but it’s a real shame that that changed the entire momentum of the game. It’s just really, really too bad. It was a much better game before that.”
Ten seconds after Alzner was seated, the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin scored to make it a 1-1 game. The Caps pulled it together for a while, allowing just one shot on goal over the next several minutes. But when Pascal Dupuis’ shot squeaked through Caps’ goaltender Michal Neuvirth’s pads at 12:49 of the second, the Caps had no answer.
Oates pulled Neuvirth in favor of Holtby, and suddenly it seemed as though Pittsburgh was getting chances off the rush and from the middle of the ice, something that hadn’t been happening with regularity before.
Holtby stopped the first five shots he saw, and they came in a span of just 2:28. But with Joel Ward in the box for delay of game for sending the puck over the glass, Neal ducked below the defense, took a sharp feed from Chris Kunitz and deftly tucked a backhander through Holtby to make it 3-1.
Eleven seconds later, the Pens’ Brandon Sutter won an offensive zone draw against Ribeiro, snapping the puck back to Matt Cooke. Cooke wristed the puck past Holtby to make it 4-1.
Late in the period, Caps defenseman Roman Hamrlik – playing for the first time since Jan. 24 after sitting out seven contests as a healthy scratch – took a hooking minor. Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby scored on that power play to enable the Pens to take a cushy 5-1 lead into the third.
“I thought we were playing really good hockey and I just thought they were goals that kind of deflated us,” said Oates of his decision to pull Neuvirth. “Looking at them on the tape I’m sure definitely one of the goals, Michal would want back. They kind of hurt us and we’ve been struggling and [I was] looking for a change of momentum.”
Pittsburgh scored its five second-period goals in a span of 12:39. Four of the goals were scored in 6:47. Three of them came within 3:05. Two of them were just eleven seconds apart.
Caps captain Alex Ovechkin was visibly peeved after the game. He gave short, clipped answers to a handful of questions in a span of less than 60 seconds.
Asked what was wrong with the team’s performance in the second, Ovechkin’s response was two words: “Didn’t play.”
Informed that Alzner had told reporters that he believed the team was playing without emotion, Ovechkin concurred.
“Yeah,” he shrugged. “No emotions, nothing. You can see how we played third period.”
By the third period, the Pens were on cruise control and the Caps – although they played better – weren’t going to mount a four-goal comeback in 20 minutes on the road.
After coming in cold from the bench, Holtby faced a dozen shots in just 7:11 in the middle period, surrendering three goals. Pittsburgh had as many shots on goal (five) in the first as it had goals in the second period.
Last Sunday in Washington, the Pens blew open a 2-2 game in the middle frame by scoring three goals on three shots on goal in a span of just 7:03 in the middle of the middle stanza.
Pittsburgh has outscored the Caps by a combined 8-1 in the second period of their two meetings this season. The Capitals have now been outscored by a combined 19-6 in the middle period of their 11 games this season.
“I don’t know if we get complacent in the second period because we think we’ve had a good period and it’s going to come easy,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer. “I don’t know. We’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got to stay mentally strong throughout the whole game and find ways to keep ourselves mentally checked into games and ready to play throughout the entire 60 minutes.”
Killing With Kindness – Washington allowed three power-play goals to the Penguins, marking the fifth time in 11 games this season that the Caps have surrendered multiple power-play goals in a game.
The Capitals have allowed at least one power-play goal in eight of their 11 games this season. Washington’s only perfect penalty-killing nights this season have come when it has faced three or fewer shorthanded situations in the game.
Washington has surrendered an NHL-high 15 power-play goals on the season. The Caps have killed 70.6% of opposition power plays to rank 27th in the league in that department.
Power Surge – The Caps are 4-for-9 (44.4%) on the power play in their last four games, and they have scored a power-play goal in three consecutive games for the first time since a four-game run from Dec. 30, 2011 to Jan. 7, 2012. The Capitals were 5-for-7 (71.4%) with the extra man during that stretch.
The last time the Caps lost three straight regulation games in which they also scored a power play-goal in each was Nov. 20-24, 2008.
First Strike – The Caps scored the game’s first goal, marking just the second time this season that the Penguins surrendered the game’s first tally.
Pittsburgh entered the game with a 13-3 advantage in first-period goals this season.
The Capitals are now 0-4 when they score the game’s first goal in 2012-13.
Green Blueline – With Kris Letang sidelined because of a lower-body injury, Matt Niskanen still out of the lineup with an injury and Ben Lovejoy traded to Anaheim on Wednesday, the Pens had to install defenseman Dylan Reese into the lineup for Thursday’s game.
Reese, a Pittsburgh native, was a seventh-round (209th overall) choice of the New York Rangers in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, saw his first NHL action of the season on Thursday. The Pens inked him as a free agent last summer.
Already playing with two rookie defensemen in Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo, the Pens iced a decidedly green blueline on Thursday, at least in terms of NHL experience.
The aforementioned trio along with Derek Engelland entered the game with a combined total of 265 games worth of NHL experience, less than half that of both other Pittsburgh blueliners Brooks Orpik (595) and Paul Martin (560).
As you’d expect, Martin (28:08) and Orpik (23:14) logged more ice time than the other four on the night.
Turning The Tables Back – Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury opened his NHL career by winning each of his first seven starts against Washington, posting a 1.98 GAA and a .939 save pct. in the process.
The Caps then started getting the best of Fleury on a routine basis; he was just 2-6-2 with a 3.53 GAA and an .885 save pct. against Washington in a span of three seasons starting with 2008-09.
Fleury has now started to tilt the tide back in his favor. In his last four starts against the Caps, he is 3-1 with a 1.75 GAA and a .916 save pct.
Washington hasn’t helped itself much in its recent games against Fleury, Pittsburgh’s all-time franchise leader with 231 wins. The Caps’ 25 shots on goal in Thursday’s game are the most they have managed in their last six games against him.
Streak Stopped – Thursday’s loss in Pittsburgh was Washington’s first in regulation in the Steel City since Feb. 18, 2007. The Caps had been 9-0-1 in their previous 10 visits to Pittsburgh.
By The Numbers – For the 11th time in as many games this season, Mike Green led the Caps in ice time at 25:05 … Ovechkin teed up 11 of the 46 shots Washington attempted … Ovechkin led the Caps with three hits … Washington won only 26 of 62 (42%) face-offs on the night and are now 24th in the NHL in that department with a 47.3% circle success rate on the season.Posted in: Sports