Washington’s offensive woes continued on Friday night in New Jersey. For the fourth straight game and the sixth time in the last seven games, the Capitals were limited to fewer than two goals. The result was predictable, a 2-1 loss to the Devils in the first game of a five-game road journey.
“It sounds like a broken record,” says Caps defenseman John Carlson, “but we need to do something better. We need to get more out of everyone for 60 minutes. We know what we’re capable of and we know what kind of team we have in here and our potential. We know this isn’t good enough.”
The setback extended Washington’s losing streak to seven games, one shy of their longest slide in the last seven seasons.
“Look what’s happening,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “Look at our results. It’s the same mistakes. But we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot. We played a decent game. It was a good game, a good, hard fought game but we got behind and we couldn’t catch up.”
The Caps again made life difficult on themselves early in the game, more difficult than it needed to be for a team seeking its first win in two weeks. Martin Erat was whistled for an offensive zone boarding call at the 2:31 mark of the first, putting the Caps down a man before they could get every player on the ice for the first time.
Washington managed to kill the Erat minor, and he came out of the box and led a rush into the Devils’ zone. Erat set up Nicklas Backstrom for a shot from the slot, but the shot attempt missed wide to the near post. Erat got the puck back and dished to Dmitry Orlov at the left point – a feed that jammed Orlov just a bit – but as Orlov was trying to settle the disc, New Jersey’s Stephen Gionta stripped him of it and pushed it to Jaromir Jagr in the neutral zone. Jagr bumped it right back to Gionta, who tore down the right side with a burst of wheels. Gionta fired up high, and the puck caught Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth up high and bounced into the Washington net to give the Devils a 1-0 lead at 4:57 of the first frame.
“I’ve got to look at it,” says Neuvirth, “but obviously you don’t want those to get through your body. That wasn’t the start that we wanted, for sure.”
“It might have been two inches inside him,” says Oates of Erat’s pass to Orlov. “Quite honestly, [Orlov] shouldn’t have been going so hard because it’s not a breakaway. So he should have been a little more under control. The pass could have been a little better, a little bit of execution.
“The first goal is a great example of [us making] a mistake when we had total control of the puck. And it’s not effort. I don’t want to say it’s focus, because it’s in the middle of a shift and obviously we want to score. You’re shooting yourselves in the foot. It’s frustrating. I’m sure it’s frustrating for them, it’s frustrating for us.”
Jagr also set up New Jersey’s second goal, a power-play strike early in the second. Orlov went off for holding – the Capitals’ third infraction in the game’s first 21 minutes – at the 41-second mark of the second period. New Jersey retrieved the puck from its own end and worked a pretty passing play to double its lead. Travis Zajac passed to Jagr in the slot, and Jagr carried down low to Neuvirth’s right. Jagr then slipped a pass to Adam Henrique at the opposite post, and he tapped it in. The back door power-play goal gave the Devils a 2-0 lead at 1:45 of the second period.
“We made a mistake up ice,” laments Oates. “And then we were like an inch off all the time. You’ve got a player [Jagr] who’s got 1,500 points who knows how to take advantage of inches. He embarrassed a goalie, which he has done many times but it’s really the plays that lead up to it. It’s composure, it’s focus, it’s mistakes. It’s the same stuff.”
Washington took five minor penalties in the game’s first 40 minutes, killing four of them successfully. The Caps had a power play chance late in the second and another just prior to the midpoint of the third but were unable to break through on either opportunity.
Finally, the Caps managed to end a lengthy offensive drought when they halved New Jersey’s lead just after the midpoint of the third period. Rookie Caps winger Tom Wilson came out of the left wing corner with the puck and passed to defenseman John Erskine at the left point. Erskine took wrist shot that went through a maze of players and clicked off the stick of Caps left winger Jason Chimera and into the net behind Devils goaltender Cory Schneider. Chimera’s 10th goal of the season came in his 300th game as a member of the Caps, and it cut the New Jersey lead in half.
The Caps weren’t able to manage the equalizer, failing to record their first win in a span of two weeks. The loss dropped the Capitals to three points behind the Devils. The Caps currently occupy seventh place in the Metropolitan Division standings.
“It’s on everybody,” says Oates. “We had three shorthanded breakaways; we didn’t score. [Schneider] held them in; he made the saves when he needed to. We need saves, too. We need execution. The mistakes are not blatant but they are still mistakes. This is the NHL and you get burned.”
Neuvirth made 28 saves on 30 shots and deserved a better fate.
“It’s big time frustrating,” says Neuvirth. “No one likes losing. It’s really tough to win in this league and you’ve got to be prepared for every game. We lost tonight but I thought we gave good effort. We’ve got to prepare ourselves for tomorrow.
“It would be better if we were winning. I thought I had a decent game. Maybe the guys needed a little better effort for the win.”
Not So Special – The Caps’ special teams were such a strong point early in the season, but Washington’s power play and its penalty kill have both been miserable during the team’s current tailspin.
“Another terrible recipe,” says Oates of the Capitals’ special teams. “The power play is not good enough. Maybe because they’re tired, maybe it’s because we put too much pressure on them, maybe because it’s late in the game.
“The penalty killing has got to be better. We make mistakes.”
Washington is just 1-for-24 (4.2%) on the power play in its last eight games. That lone goal was a 5-on-3 tally from Ovechkin in a 4-1 loss to the Rangers in New York last Sunday.
The Caps’ penalty killing corps has also struggled mightily of late. Washington has surrendered at least one power play goal in eight of the 11 games it has played since the turn of the calendar. The Capitals have been dented for 11 power-play goals in 40 penalty killing missions during the month of January, a kill rate of just 72.5%.
“I don’t think there is one thing,” says Caps’ defenseman Mike Green, when queried about the team’s special teams struggles. “I think that definitely is what wins games in this league, is the specialty teams. We’ve just got to have to confidence to go out there and know that we can score and shut down teams.”
Hurting – Caps center Mikhail Grabovski left the game with a lower body injury midway through the second period of Friday’s game. Grabovski got tangled up in a bunch of bodies in front of the New Jersey net just before the 10-minute mark of the second period. He stayed down for a few seconds, then labored his way off the ice and did not return.
His status for Saturday’s game against the Canadiens is unknown.
“We’ll have to wait and see how he is in the morning,” says Oates of Grabovski. “Hopefully [he’s] not too bad. Hopefully he can ice it overnight and we’ll see how it is. But it’s part of the deal. Guys get hurt and we’ve got to be able to handle that.”
The Caps have a roster spot available if they should need to call a player up from AHL Hershey in the event Grabovski is unable to answer the bell on Saturday. Washington is currently carrying just 22 players.
Helping Hands – Erskine and Wilson picked up the assists on Chimera’s goal in Friday’s game, both players notching their first points in a while.
Erskine’s assist was his second of the season and his second point of the season as well. He picked up his first helper back on Oct. 22 against the Jets in Winnipeg and had gone 19 games without a point before Friday.
Wilson’s assist was his fourth of the campaign and his first since Nov. 30 against the Islanders in New York. He had gone 23 games without picking a point before assisting on Chimera’s goal in Friday’s game.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears started their weekend on the road in Syracuse, playing the front end of a home-and-home set with the Crunch. The Bears skated off with a 4-1 victory over Syracuse in Friday’s game.
Casey Wellman scored Hershey’s first two goals (his 11th and 12th of the season) and Matt Watkins notched the second pair (his fourth and fifth) in a game in which the Bears never trailed. Bears defenseman David Kolomatis notched a pair of assists in the game.
Goaltender Philipp Grubauer stopped 29 of the 30 shots he faced to help the Bears to victory, running his record to 5-4-1-1 on the season in the process.
The two teams meet again on Saturday at Giant Center to conclude the home-and-home set. The Bears also play host to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Sunday afternoon in Hershey.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals were on the road in Kalamazoo on Friday, taking on the K-Wings. The Royals fell short, dropping a 4-3 decision.
What had been a 1-1 game after the first 40 minutes opened up significantly in the third. The two teams combined for five goals in the game’s final 20 minutes, with all five markers coming in the final seven and a half minutes of regulation.
Marvin Degon, Sean Wiles and Josh Brittain scored for Reading while Riley Gill stopped 25 of the 28 shots sent in his direction in the Royals’ goal. Wiles was in on all of the Royals’ scoring as he also had two assists.
Reading visits Toledo on Saturday night and then returns to Kalamazoo for another meeting with the K-Wings on Sunday.
By The Numbers – Green paced the Caps with 23:32 in ice time … Carlson led Washington with five shots on goal in the game … The Capitals had 47 shot attempts in the game to 42 for New Jersey … Henrique led the Devils with eight shots on goal … Ryan Carter paced New Jersey with four hits in the game.