Feb. 23 vs. New Jersey Devils at Verizon Center
Time: 12 noon
TV: Comcast Sports Network, NHL Network
Radio: 106.7 The Fan and Caps Radio Network
New Jersey Devils (10-3-4)
Washington Capitals (5-10-1)
Washington concludes its season series with the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon when the two teams play for the second time in three days at Verizon Center. New Jersey authored a 3-2 come-from-behind victory over the Capitals on Thursday night in the District.
Thursday’s loss marked the third time in a span of just 11 games that Washington has lost a game in regulation in which it owned a lead after 40 minutes of play. Prior to the first of those instances, the Caps had gone nearly four years without losing in regulation when leading after two periods (94-0-9).
On many nights this season, Washington has done more to beat itself than its opponent has done. Thursday was one of those games.
Nursing a 2-1 lead in the third period on Thursday, the Caps took five minor penalties in a span of just 7:56. Ilya Kovalchuk’s game-winner came on a 5-on-3 power play, and it was the fifth 5-on-3 goal the Caps have allowed in seven opportunities against this season.
Washington has surrendered the most 5-on-3 goals in the NHL this season. In their previous 164 regular season games over the past two seasons, the Caps allowed a total of six 5-on-3 power-play goals against.
“It’s no secret why we’re losing these games,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer. “It’s because we seem to take untimely penalties and they seem to capitalize on them. Lately, our [penalty-killing] has been good, it’s just those games where we take an abundance of penalties and we get ourselves in a hole. You can’t recover when you give them four minutes of 5-on-3 in a span of eight minutes.”
Brouwer nailed it. The Caps are 5-1 this season when they do not allow any power-play goals. They’re 4-2 when they are faced with three or fewer penalty-killing missions, and they’re 1-8-1 when they have to kill four or more penalties in a game.
“You have tough nights,” says Caps coach Adam Oates, “like [Thursday] night was a tough night. But that wasn’t the culture, that wasn’t the system. That was penalties. We made mistakes with our focus. So there’s a difference.
“If we were making dumb plays because we were trying to fall into old habits, I’d address it. I don’t think that’s what it was. Focus, penalties. We deserved them. That’s on us. We’ve got to change that. But in terms of how the team’s playing, I still feel that since first time in New Jersey, we’ve had a chance to win every game.”
The Caps killed off New Jersey’s first 5-on-3 of the third period, but then allowed an even-strength goal less than half a minute later. That Alexei Loktionov goal capsulized three common Caps mistakes this season: losing defensive-zone face-offs, allowing shots to get through from the point, and permitting juicy rebounds. The result was a goal that took away the good momentum the Caps had built by killing off the lengthy two-man advantage.
“The killers did a great job of killing off that 5-on-3,” says Brouwer, “an extended 5-on-3. Nicky [Backstrom] is blocking shots, [John Carlson] is blocking shots.
“We did what we needed to do. We got some momentum from it. We got a lot of excitement on the bench, and then a couple of seconds later they’re able to score a 5-on-5 goal from a little missed coverage and the lack of a block of a shot. Just because the penalty kill is over doesn’t mean we can let up defensively. We had the lead at the moment, and we needed to come out of that PK with more momentum and still with the lead.”
In losing Thursday’s game, the Caps missed a golden opportunity to draw two points closer to the top spot in the Southeast Division. Both Carolina and Tampa Bay lost in regulation on home ice. Had the Caps been able to get two points on Thursday, they’d be only four points from the division lead.
Instead, the Caps are still in the bottom spot of both the Eastern Conference and Southeast Division standings, and they’ve played a third of their lockout-shortened 48-game slate.
Seven of Washington’s 10 regulation losses this season have come in games in which it has permitted either the game-winning goal or the final lead-changing goal on the opposition’s power play.
“Ever since we played New Jersey in New Jersey at the beginning of the year,” says Brouwer, “we feel we’ve been playing really good hockey. We’ve been in a lot of games, deserved to win a lot of them and have given away a lot of points.
“There are five [points] off the top of my head that I can count. If you have those five points, then you’re in the playoff position, you’re in the hunt for the division. Hopefully we can put some wins together here so those five points we don’t look at at the end of the season and see as the difference in being in the playoffs or not.”
Braden Holtby gets the start for Washington on Saturday against Johan Hedberg for New Jersey. Holtby will be starting his sixth straight game, a career high for the regular season. He is the first Caps goalie to start as many as six straight games since Michal Neuvirth got a half-dozen starts in succession from Feb. 24-March 6, 2012.
Tomas Vokoun had the Caps’ longest run of consecutive starts in goal last season with 10 from Dec. 28, 2011 to Jan. 17, 2012.
Hedberg is 13-6-2 with three shutouts, a 2.31 GAA and a .917 save pct. in 23 career appearances (21 starts) against Washington.
With its win over Washington on Thursday, New Jersey vaulted into a tie with Montreal for the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings. The Devils had gone through a short period in which they had been somewhat flat, going 1-2-1 over a four-game span after starting the season on an 8-1-3 spree.
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