Hurting at Home – Washington’s current five-game homestand offered the club an opportunity to pile up some points where the Capitals have thrived at piling up points for the better part of five seasons. But for whatever reason, the Caps have struggled on the Verizon Center sheet for several weeks now.
Those struggles came to the fore on Tuesday night when the Caps squandered a 2-0 lead on their way to a 3-2 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, the NHL’s worst road team. Even with tonight’s victory, the Canes’ total of eight road victories in 30 road contests this season is the lowest in the NHL.
“We played hard enough again,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter, “but we made mistakes on our back end tonight. It cost a breakaway goal and the winning goal was our back end making mistakes in pinching and jumping up at the wrong time and it cost us the game.”
Washington played hard enough, but it didn’t play smart enough. As has been the case so often this season, turnovers, mental miscues and missed assignments doomed the Caps and forced them to settle for a point when they desperately needed two.
The Capitals’ two-goal lead was their first of the four games on this homestand, but it was short-lived.
Forty seconds after Jay Beagle’s first goal of the season gave Washington a 2-0 lead, Carolina’s Jiri Tlusty answered when he got behind the Caps’ defense and was able to tap in a perfect pass from Jerome Samson.
Carolina drew even a few minutes later on Chad Larose’s 12th of the season, and the Canes took a 3-2 lead early in the third on a breakaway goal by Brandon Sutter. Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman swiped and missed at the puck at the Carolina line, enabling Sutter to scoop it up with speed and break in alone on Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth.
Brooks Laich converted on a give-and-go play with Marcus Johansson with just 2:52 left in regulation to ensure the Caps a point, but too many Caps got too deep in the offensive zone in overtime, resulting in a 2-on-1 in the other direction. Sutter fed rookie blueliner Justin Faulk for the overtim game-winner, and Carolina had its third consecutive win over the Capitals.
“I thought we played a good game,” says Laich. “I thought we skated and what did we end up with, 47, 50 [actually 49] shots? I’m sick and tired of giving up easy goals. We’re giving up goals that they don’t have to work to score and it’s killing us.
“This time of year, you can’t judge yourself by your intentions, it’s by your results. It’s a game we had to have. It’s tough to take right now, but we’ll move on.”
Washington has now lost three straight on home ice for the second time this season. The first was from Nov. 25-Dec. 1, a span that bridged the coaching administrations of former Caps coach Bruce Boudreau and Hunter.
The Capitals have won four of their last 11 home games (4-5-2).
With one game left on the homestand, the best Washington can do is go 2-2-1 for the five games. The caps have struggled on the road all season, and squandering points during this homestand means they’ll need to start winning road games more regularly to maintain their playoff hopes.
“We’re getting to that point,” says Wideman. “We’re making it really hard on ourselves going down the stretch here. We’ve got to start winning some hockey games here or we’re going to have to string together the last seven or eight of the season. We’re going to have to start winning.”
Mistakes Were Made – All four of Carolina’s goals were the direct result of a turnover, a poor decision and/or a missed assignment. In the locker room after the game, the Caps rued those errors.
“Turnovers and missed assignments,” sighs Laich. “Just not playing the situation. You look at [New Jersey’s Zach] Parise’s hat trick [on Firday] night and he didn’t have to go through one check to score three goals. The goals tonight [were] a breakaway goal and 2-on-1. Those are easy goals. If you’re going to give up goals, you want to make them work for it and drive through guys and have to scramble to score a goal. We can’t just let them shoot pucks into empty nets.”
“It seems like whenever they score it’s too easy,” echoes Beagle. “It’s an easy goal. We’re giving them easy goals from either a turnover or missed coverage. I was guilty of a couple turnovers tonight, too. We just can’t make it easy on them, especially with a team that works that hard. We’ve got to get it deep and make them come 200 feet. They made us pay.”
“I think obviously the [Sutter] breakaway one was an easy goal,” says Wideman. “The last play there was a 2-on-1 [in overtime]. I think we gave up some pretty good scoring chances. We had a lot ourselves, but we gave up some quality chances again.
“We’re making mental errors. The play at the blueline [on the Sutter goal] was a mental error. You can’t make those at any time. You can play your best game all night, and play solid and one mistake can cost you a hockey game.”
“It’s tough when you have a game plan and you want to stick to that game plan,” says Caps winger Troy Brouwer. “Every game it’s up on the [dry-erase] board: work on our turnovers, limit our turnovers, and they seem to be the death of us every night. We’re trying the best we can. I thought our work ethic was great tonight, putting pucks to the net. I didn’t like how we dropped a two-goal lead. At the same time we were able to battle back late in the game and get a single point. It’s not what we were hoping for, but it’s better than nothing right now.”
Streak Stopper – Brouwer’s goal at 13:59 of the first frame gave the Caps a 1-0 lead and ended a shutout streak in which Washington went 133 minutes and 59 seconds without scoring a goal.
Brouwer’s tally also ended a stretch of 152 minutes and 47 seconds in which Washington had not scored against Carolina, dating back to Dmitry Orlov’s goal at 1:12 of the third period of the Capitals’ 2-1 win over the Hurricanes at Verizon Center on Jan. 15.
Power Outage – In its last six plus periods of hockey, Washington has drawn exactly one power play. That lone man-advantage in more than 120 minutes of work came in the first period of tonight’s game when Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason was whistled for delay of game when he flipped the puck over the glass in his own end of the ice.
Hot Hand – Carolina captain Eric Staal picked up an assist on the Canes’ first goal to extend his scoring streak to 12 straight games (seven goals, 14 assists).
Staal’s 11-game assist streak is a franchise record, breaking the standard set by Dave Keon in the franchise’s first season of existence, 1979-80.
With 16 games remaining this season, Staal now has 59 points (19 goals, 40 assists). He has reached the 40-assist level for the sixth time in his career and needs 11 points to reach 70 for the seventh consecutive season.
Down On The Farm – The ECHL South Carolina Stingrays were in action on Tuesday night, hosting the Trenton Titans at North Charleston Coliseum. The Stingrays skated off with a 4-2 win.
Joe Pereira, Daniel Koger, Brett Flemming and Tyler Shelast scored for the Stingrays. Philipp Grubauer stopped all 13 shots he faced in the first two periods to earn the win, but yielded the crease to Billy Sauer in the third. Sauer stopped 14 of the 16 shots he saw in relief.
The 33-23-4-1 Stingrays are third in the ECHL’s South Division, eight points behind first-place Gwinnett.
By The Numbers – Washington’s 49 shots on net is a single-game high this season … Mike Green led the Caps in ice time at 25:14. Laich paced the forwards with 22:09 … Laich led the Caps with seven shots on net. He had none blocked and didn’t miss the net at all, either … Matt Hendricks led the Caps with five hits … John Carlson led Washington with six blocked shots … The Caps won just 27 of the game’s 71 draws (38%).