November 25, 2020

GAME 24 RE-CAP: Offense still MIA in 2-1 loss to Penguins

For the struggling Washington Capitals, a little effort went a long way in last night’s game against their archrival, the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Unfortunately, the effort they showed was not enough, as the Pens played ‘chip and chase’ most of the third period and held on to a 2-1 victory, the first time the Penguins have beaten the Capitals in regulation in a regular season game since March 8, 2009.  The Caps were 10-0-2 against the Pens in regualtion over that time span.

The Caps, still adjusting to coach Dale Hunter’s new marching orders, managed a mere two shots on goal in the third period, trailing 2-1.

Pittsburgh got goals by Craig Adams and Chris Kunitz, sandwiched around Jason Chimera’s team leading tenth goal of the season — matching his season total from last season — a very nifty back-handed top shelf shot that any Hart Trophy winner would be proud of.

Hunter praised the effort from his team last night, and lamented some of the chances that got away. “The players competed and we had some chances. They’re a good team over there but it was a one-one game and [Pittsburgh] got a chance and they buried [it]. So that’s the way the game goes. We had a few chances around the net and we’re getting better at it, it just takes time.”

The new coach has stressed a defensively responsible game plan in his first two games, and the Caps have had troubles getting out of their own end to start rushes, as has been the case much of this tough stretch of losing.  By the time they’ve gotten the puck out of their zone, the forwards are too tired or are just at the end of their shift.  It makes for a contest where they get dramatically outshot, as was the case last night, with Pittsburgh holding a 35-17 advantage.

“We’ve got to do a better job of getting pucks to the net,” Jason Chimera, the lone goal scorer, said.  “We had a lot of cycle time, but didn’t get pucks to the net. They [Pittsburgh] kind of threw everything on the net. That’s why they had so many shots. We kind of waited for perfect plays. [We’ve] got to throw pucks to the net.”

That theme was prevalent throughout the dressing room.  Joel Ward said, “You need more shots on net to win a game. It’s a tough bounce we had in the third, starting on the PK [penalty kill]. We kind of managed to do [kill] that, we just didn’t get enough momentum going for it.”

Alex Ovechkin echoed his teammate’s sentiment, “It’s pretty disappointing when you lose that kind of game…We just didn’t score on the chances we had. We hit the post, I missed an empty net and [Marc-Andre] Fleury made a couple of great saves.”

Ovechkin managed just one shot all night, but did deliver a team-high 10 hits.  The former 65-goal scorer has but one goal in his last ten games.  “I think it’s a little period of time when we have to find our way back to get success, back to what we used to be,” he said. “We’re not going to lose every game. But we have to score more than one goal to win the game.”

The game-winning goal came at 2:36 of the third period.  Kunitz came down the right wing and John Erksine fell trying to defend.  Kunitz got off what looked to be a routine shot that slipped under Tomas Vokoun’s (33 saves) left arm and trickled into the net.

Vokoun defended himself on the play.  “It kinda went underneath my arm and trickled in,” Vokoun described.  “People say, ‘he scores’, but he was in a scoring area right in the middle of the [ice] in between [the] circles.  Other people are paid to play too and sometimes they’re gonna make good plays.”

“The guy’s by himself, he takes the shot.  Would I have liked to stop it? Absolutely.  If I went down and he beat me over the shoulder people wouldn’t say anything.  I stood up, read well that he’s gonna shoot it high and he just hit perfect spot and went through me.  People say all they want, but it’s not as easy as you think.”  Especially when his defender caught a rut and went down, leaving Kunitz all alone in the slot.

In a game like this, with playoff intensity, every little mistake matters.  Vokoun knows this.  Dale Hunter knows this, calling the goal one of those “hockey plays” that happens on a nightly basis.  With the Caps struggling to find any sort of rhythm or consistency on offense right now, one little mistake, one player losing his edge, one bad play, one missed opportunity; it all adds up.  Right now, it adds up to another loss.

What can the Caps take from the second loss in a row to start Dale Hunter’s NHL coaching career?  The intensity level, especially through the first half of the game, was excellent.  The Caps were credited with a whopping 43 hits on the night, this after two weeks ago being credited with just five.  For the most part, players looked engaged and ready to go.  But this team has never had a problem getting up for Pittsburgh.  How — and if — this translates to Saturday night against Ottawa is the big question.

What was still wrong?  They were outshot two-to-one and failed on two power play opportunities.  They still had the same problems trying to get out of their own zone.  The forwards did a better job helping out in their own end, but that just made getting through the neutral zone like skating though quicksand.  Hunter hopes that as the team gets a better defensive mindset and can get out of their own end better and quicker, they can then employ the dump, chase and crash offensive system he prefers to the run-and-gun of the Bruce Boudreau years.

Hopefully that comes sooner than later.  But Caps fans better expect a transition period of some ugly hockey games in the meantime.

CAPS NOTES:  John Erskine pummeled Arron Asham directly after Pittsburgh’s first goal.  The rugged defenseman, in his second game back from a shoulder injury, landed several heavy punches before Asham fell to the ice.  Erskine said after the game he felt no worse for the wear and the shoulder held up fine.  He also leveled Evgeni Malkin later in the period trying to cut through open space in the Caps defense.

John Carlson might be getting a phone call from NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan for an elbow he delivered to the head of Matt Cooke.  Carlson clearly lined Cooke up and followed through with the elbow, a textbook example of what the league is trying to get rid of this season.

The Capitals won the face-off battle, winning 69 percent of the draws.

Despite 10 shots between them, the Caps held Sidney Crosby and Malkin both off the scoresheet.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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