Same But Different – Tonight’s 2-1 hockey game between the Caps and Penguins at the Verizon Center was eminently more exciting than Tuesday’s 2-1 hockey game between the Caps and St. Louis Blues in the same venue, although the result was the same. Washington came up on the short end of Thursday’s battle with Pittsburgh, and the struggling Caps have now dropped four straight and 12 of their last 17 (5-11-1).
Thursday’s loss dropped Washington to 12-11-1 on the season. The Caps have tumbled to 10th in the Eastern Conference standings, pending Montreal’s Thursday night results from its West Coast game in San Jose.
Many of the elements missing from Washington’s game in the team’s listless latter half of November have returned, most notably passion, energy, physicality and more defensive wherewithal. The chief element still lacking from the Caps’ arsenal is the team’s ability to put pucks in the net, or even towards the net.
“We had a few chances again,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter. “We played too much in our own end. We have to get the puck out quicker where we have possession of the puck and move the puck quicker out of our own end so we don’t play as much time [in our end]. I think it’s very tiresome to the guys. By the time they get it out [of our zone], they almost have to dump and change. We have to spend less time in there.”
The Caps went into the final frame even at 1-1, but Pittsburgh scored what would prove to be the game-winner early in the third period.
Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz took a pass from Tyler Kennedy at the Washington line. He skirted Caps center Marcus Johansson and then got a break when Washington blueliner John Erskine stumbled, giving Kunitz a clear shooting lane to the net. The Penguins winger shot a chest high shot that eluded Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun, who was unable to flag it down with his blocker.
“Ersky tripped and fell,” ruse Hunter. “That’s what opened it up. That’s part of hockey where you do trip on the ice and fall, and unfortunately it went in.”
Washington’s lone goal on the night came at 1:20 of the second period and was a result of speed and diligence. Right wing Joel Ward outraced a Pittsburgh defenseman to negate an icing call, and he and linemates Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera cycled the puck around along the wall and below the goal line in the Pittsburgh end. Chimera carved out of the corner to the right of Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and roofed a backhander to put the Caps on the board.
Washington’s best chance for a second goal came later in the second when Nicklas Backstrom took a feed from Alex Ovechkin and rifled a shot that glanced off the crossbar.
“We had a few chances there that could’ve made a difference and a couple of mistakes that w e caused that killed ourselves,” says Ward.
The pace and tempo of Thursday’s game was far greater than that of Tuesday’s snoozefest with the Blues. But regardless of that, the Caps know they need to get more pucks to the net. They’ve managed a total of just 36 shots in the two games on this homestand.
“We’ve got to keep that up for a full 60 minutes,” says Caps left wing Jason Chimera. “We need to get over that hump. We need a big goal from somebody to get over that hump. We played hard; the effort is there. We’ve just got to get more pucks to the net. We’re in their zone, we’ve just got to get more pucks to the net.”
Washington outhit the Penguins 43-28, but often times the team that wins in the hit column is the team that doesn’t possess the puck as much as its opponent. That was the case in this one, as Pittsburgh attempted a total of 69 shots on net to just 42 for Washington.
“It was something new for us,” says Ovechkin, who attempted just one shot on the night (he got it on goal) but did make some strong set-ups. “It’s a new system and a new level. I think when you get a cycle, you have to go to the net. It’s just a period of time. Goals are going to come; it’s not like we’re going to score every game one goal. It’s never going to happen to this team. But again, when we cycle it one guy has to go to the net. And you can see when we cycle and go to the net, we have scoring chances. But again, we have to get used to it.”
St. Louis attempted 47 shots to Washington’s 30 in Tuesday’s game. Earlier this season, the Capitals had games where they launched more shots themselves than the combined total of St. Louis and Washington on Tuesday.
“I thought we forechecked hard tonight,” says Hunter. “When we dumped it we went after them pretty good with big hits and stirred it up. We generated some chances. We had our chances; we just didn’t bury them.”
“They’re learning the new system. But we’ve got to move the puck quicker out of our own end. We’re spending too much time [there] and it wears down our offense.”
According to the tabulations of Neil Greenberg of The Washington Post and ESPN, the Caps had 14 scoring chances in Thursday’s game against the Penguins compared to just five in Tuesday’s tilt with the Blues.
No Offense – The Caps have now been limited to one goal in three straight games for the second time in a matter of weeks. Washington embarked on a three-game road trip in mid-November, losing all three games while being outscored 14-3, getting exactly one goal in each game.
That mid-November instance had been the first time the Caps were limited to a goal or less in three straight games in the regular season in nearly eight years. Washington was limited to one or zero goals in each of three straight contests was Dec. 27-31, 2003 when the Caps were outscored by a combined total of 13-3 in three straight setbacks.
Old School – The two teams came out hard in the first, and Washington landed 19 of its hits in the first period. Ovechkin recorded 10 hits on the night to lead the Capitals.
“They were pumped up,” says Hunter. “There were a lot of big hits out there tonight. Ovi was coming hard on the forecheck to go after their [defense] hard and make turnovers.”
The Sawbuck – Chimera’s goal was his 10th of the season, and it came in the 24th game of the campaign. It matches his total from 2010-11, when he tallied 10 times in 81 games.
Chimera has two of the team’s meager total of three goals its last three games, and he has scored four goals in his last five games.
Streak Stopped – Mike Knuble’s streak of 13 straight games with a point (12 goals, four assists) against Pittsburgh came to a halt tonight.
The Space Between – Pittsburgh’s win over Washington was its first in regulation since a 4-2 Penguins win at Verizon Center on March 9, 2008. Washington posted a record of 11-0-2 and outscored the Penguins by an aggregate 51-29 in the last 13 games between the two clubs.
Progress – The Caps managed to do what few teams have done this season, namely keep Penguins captain Sidney Corsby off the scoresheet. That is something the Caps have frequently had difficulty doing over the years.
In 22 career games against Washington, Crosby has totaled 13 goals and 35 points. He has had 13 multiple-point games against the Capitals. Washington has only held Crosby off the scoresheet entirely three times in those 22 games, but it has now done so in consecutive contests.
By The Numbers – John Carlson’s 25:25 paced Washington in ice time. Ovechkin’s 19:22 and 16:52 at even strength led all Capitals forwards … Dennis Wideman was on the ice for 4:21 of the six minutes in which Pittsburgh enjoyed the man advantage … Troy Brouwer led the Caps with three shots on net … Eleven different Capitals skaters blocked at least one shot … Washington won 37 of the 54 face-offs (69%) in the game. Backstrom (14-of-16, 88%) and Laich (14-of-21, 67%) led the way on the dot for Washington … Evgeni Malkin led the Penguins with seven shots on net … Brooks Orpik paced the Pens with five hits