Not So Special – With two lengthy practices on Thursday and Friday prior to Saturday’s game against the Kings in Los Angeles, the Capitals worked on their systems and they worked on their special teams play. But in a game in which all of the goals were scored on special teams, the Caps found themselves on the short side of a 2-1 score.
For the third time in as many games, Washington came out flat in the first period. The Caps were whistled for three minor penalties in the first 20 minutes and were again outshot by a significant margin (11-4).
The two teams traded power play goals, with the Kings scoring on Ryan Smyth’s rebound put-back in the final minute of the first and Washington’s Mike Green evening the score with a bomb from the blueline.
Washington outshot its hosts 13-3 in the middle period but could not take the lead against Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. Early in the third, the Caps got a power play opportunity and a chance to go ahead.
Instead, the Caps were caught in a lull in their own end and the opportunistic Kings penalty killers made them pay. Brad Richardson eluded an Alex Ovechkin check and worked the puck in front to Michal Handzus, who had ample time and space to pull Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth out of position and fire the puck into the vacated cage.
“We had five guys back there,” says Caps center Brooks Laich, who was on the bench at the time. “I am not sure if it was Ovi or Greenie; one of them went to make a pass and it deflected off a guy’s skate and nobody really knew where the puck was. They had a guy in front of the net, they got the puck to him and he made a nice play and put it in the net.
“It’s tough because we worked on that stuff [at practice on Friday].
“I think everybody just turned away,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “I’ll have to look at it on the replay, but it looked way too easy. It looked like Alex let up on the hit and it looked like everybody else either thought there was a whistle or just gave up on that play. But that should never happen.”
That shorthanded strike proved to be the game-winner, although the Caps later had an excellent opportunity to even it up.
A hard-working offensive zone shift by the Caps led to LA’s Jack Johnson taking a cross-checking minor. Just over a minute later, veteran defenseman Sean O’Donnell joined him in the box when he flipped the puck over the glass, incurring a delay of game call.
Trailing by a goal, the Caps had a two-man advantage for 53 seconds. Boudreau called his time-out.
Washington passed and passed but managed just single shot during the two-man advantage. For the fourth time in as many games, the Capitals failed to convert on a 5-on-3 opportunity, and the best chance of getting the equalizer had slipped away. After the game, Boudreau was asked what was discussed during the timeout.
“What we had to do,” replied the Caps bench boss. “And again, that’s four in a row so obviously I’m going to have to change up the people that are out there because some of us aren’t listening to what we’re supposed to be doing.
Was this a case of not getting shots and making too many passes?
“Well, we got one shot and almost scored,” Boudreau declares. “So I would think the answer would be, ‘Let’s shoot some more.’”
“I think that was the difference tonight,” laments Green. “If we score there, we tie it up and then we go on and we usually have momentum after that and score another one. We lost a little bit of momentum and then we ran out of time and couldn’t do a thing.”
Ovechkin was asked whether he thought the Caps made too many passes instead of firing away on the 5-on-3. The Caps left wing hesitated before replying:
“I don’t know what to say.”
“I had a chance myself to tie the game,” rues Laich. “I had a wide open net and I missed it. I will take the blame for the power play not scoring. That’s my job, to score goals on the power play. If I put that in, it’s a tie game and a different result maybe.”
Saturday’s loss leaves the Caps with three consecutive regulation setbacks for the first time this season and for just the fourth time in Boudreau’s 184-game tenure as the team’s head coach. The Caps have never lost as many as four straight in regulation with Boudreau at the helm.
Three Straight – For the third time in as many games, the Capitals were held off the scoresheet in the first period of Saturday’s game at Los Angeles. Washington has now been outscored 6-0 and outshot 34-11 in the first 20 minutes of its last three games. Prior to those three contests, the Caps had outscored their opponents by a whopping 49-19 in the first frame of the first 38 games of 2009-10.
“We came out flat and [were] disgusted in the dressing room before the second and came out and did the simple things,” says Green. “And when we do the simple things and everybody’s on the same page, things go well for us. We were outworking them there, we got some power plays and we got the momentum. But it seemed like going into the third, we sat back a little bit again and tried to do a little too much. We didn’t shoot pucks when we needed to shoot and didn’t pass when we needed to pass.”
Seven of the Kings’ 11 first-period shots came on the power play. Los Angeles had just 19 shots for the game and only nine at even strength.
“I don’t think we played well in the first period,” says Laich. “We gave up three power plays and they come up with a 1-0 lead, especially having talked about it before the hockey game, being ready to go. To come out like that is unacceptable.
“After that, I thought we played well. I thought we turned the pace up.”
Washington has been blanked in the first period of three straight games for the second time this season and the first time since Dec. 7-11.
“I thought the last two periods were pretty good,” says Boudreau. “I think we limited them to about seven shots in the last two periods. It’s still no consolation when you lose but it’s a better effort than we’ve been getting the last couple of games.”
Today’s game against the Kings also marked the third straight contest in which Washington did not hold the lead at any point of the contest. The Caps led at one point in 37 of their first 38 games this season.
Missing Nick – Caps center Nicklas Backstrom has played 205 consecutive games since beginning his NHL career at the start of the 2007-08 season. But he left Saturday’s game after taking just two shifts in the early stages of the second period.
“I hope it’s not too serious,” says Boudreau. “I don’t think so. He had a migraine, from the report that I’ve gotten. It’s happened be before, so hopefully he’ll get the proper medicine and he’ll be able to go.
Backstrom’s absence put a heavy workload on Laich and Brendan Morrison. In the first period, Laich skated 5:39 and Morrison 4:15. In the second, Laich logged 7:40 and Morrison 7:08. In the final frame, Laich labored for 8:24 while Morrison skated 8:39.
“I’m not used to playing without Nicky,” admits Boudreau. “It throws your combinations into a little bit of … it uproots them, for sure. I put [Morrison] into that spot is what I did, and rotated four players and that was the way that we played it.”
“For Ovi and their line, it’s completely different,” says Green. “Alex needs Backie and Backie needs Alex. They feed off each other. Nicky is so good at controlling not only the puck and the play, but the game. He can slow it down and create stuff and tonight we missed that.”
Double Digits – Green’s goal was his 10th of the season. He becomes the seventh Capital to reach double-digit figures in goals scored this season. Eric Fehr (nine), Jason Chimera (eight), Mike Knuble (seven) and Matt Bradley (seven) are bubbling just under that figure.
Road Killed – Washington has killed off 87.7% of the opposition power plays it has faced at Verizon Center this season. The Caps rank fifth in the league in penalty killing on home ice, and they’ve been nicked for just eight power play goals in 18 games at the Phone Booth this season.
In 23 road games this season, the Caps have surrendered 23 power play goals. The team’s 74.4% road penalty kill rate is third worst in the NHL this season.
L.A. Olympians – The Kings landed three members of the Team USA entry that will compete at the Vancouver Olympics Games in February. Goaltender Jonathan Quick, defenseman Jack Johnson and Kings captain Dustin Brown will all represent their country at the upcoming Olympics.
Los Angeles will also have defenseman Drew Doughty (Team Canada) and center Michal Handzus (Team Slovakia) at the Vancouver Olympic Games.
By The Numbers – Kings defenseman Jack Johnson led all skaters on both sides with 9:56 of first-period ice time. LA’s Ryan Smyth paced all forwards on both side with 8:14 … The Caps were shorthanded for 4:39 of the first period and Green was on the ice for 3:11 of that. No other Cap came within 50 seconds of Green’s first-period penalty killing ice time … The Kings’ Brown was credited with five first-period hits and Washington’s Ovechkin with four … Green led the Caps with seven hits on the game; the Kings’ Matt Greene paced his team with eight … Boyd Gordon was 7-for-9 (78%) in the face-off circle.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears started a busy holiday weekend with a 3-2 win over the Baby Pens in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Friday night. The victory ran Hershey’s winning streak to eight straight.
The Bears returned home on Saturday and downed the Binghamton Senators by a 5-3 score at Giant Center to extend their winning streak to nine games.
Boyd Kane got the Bears started at 1:08 of the first, scoring his 14th of the season with help from Andrew Gordon and Zach Miskovic. Later in the first, Chris Bourque made it 2-0 with help from Keith Aucoin and Sean Collins.
Aucoin set up Alexandre Giroux’s 13th of the season late in the second to make it 3-0. After the Sens got on the board, Hershey’s Oskar Osala regained the Bears’ three-goal lead with his 10th of the campaign in the final minute of the middle frame. Francois Bouchard and Miskovic supplied the assists.
Binghamton scored once shorthanded and once on the power play to pull within one in the third before Aucoin iced it with an empty-netter in the final minute of regulation. Bryan Helmer and Patrick McNeill earned assists on the insurance tally.
Goaltender Braden Holtby made 31 stops to run his record to 9-1-1 on the season. He has a 1.45 GAA and a .949 save pct. for the Bears. Holtby was the game’s No. 1 star; Aucoin was second and Bourque third.
At 26-8-0-2, the Bears hold a 13-point bulge in the AHL East Division standings. Hershey hosts Adirondack on Sunday.