“We could have played much harder, and for whatever reason it didn’t come out.” Karl Alzner, on the Caps intensity after falling behind early.
Coming off arguably their most complete win of the season, a 4-1 victory over a good St. Louis Blues team, the Washington Capitals had every expectation of playing well against Metropolitan Division arch-rival Pittsburgh Wednesday night.
Unfortunately, nothing was further from the truth.
The Capitals were out-shot 40-18, four different Penguins scored, including Sidney Crosby, and Marc-Andre Fleury was barely tested en route to a 4-0 Penguins shutout that was as deflating and demoralizing as one would expect.
“We obviously came out pretty good, had a power play [early] - they get one and it kind of deflated us,” head coach Adam Oates said, “and we seemed to fight uphill battles after that the whole night.”
The Caps (12-9-1) did indeed have the early advantage, benefitting from a tripping call against Pens forward Craig Adams, just 3:24 into the affair. But following the failed power play, where the best opportunities came while the Caps skated 6-on-5 during the delayed call, the Pens (14-8-0) got an offensive zone draw. Sidney Crosby, who drew a ton of boos during introductions — and literally every time he touched the puck – won the draw cleanly back to Paul Martin at the point, and the defenseman flung the puck toward the net and past a surprised Braden Holtby, who reacted as if he never saw the shot.
It was the start of a tough night for Holtby, who despite making 36 saves in the game, admittedly wasn’t at his best.
On the sheer number of shots, Holtby remarked, “I don’t feel like it’s too much. I feel like I can handle that.” He later acknowledged though, that the soft first goal sort of set a tone for the night. “You get goals like the first goal that just have eyes when you throw them at the net — sooner or later you’re going to get luck on your side. But in saying that, even though there is a high shot total, I thought I could have done better in the game today.”
Describing the shot, Holtby said, “Kind of saw the release, knew it was kind of going glove side somewhere. Didn’t really know where. That’s one of those that just sometimes go in. I’d like to see again if I could have found a better lane to see the puck. But that’s shoulda, woulda, coulda, you know?”
The goal against seemed to deflate the entire Caps team, as the Penguins then dominated play for the next couple of minutes, keeping the play in the Caps end. Then, attempting a breakout, Michael Latta had his pocket picked at center ice by Beau Bennett, and Bennett beat three Capitals skaters into the offensive zone and snapped a shot clean past Holtby to give the Pens a quick 2-0 lead. By that point, the Penguins had outshot the Caps 13-2 and by the end of the first period, the difference had grown to 17-6, and the Caps had gone 0-for-3 on the power play.
Alex Ovechkin, who had two shots on goal but another eight that either missed or were blocked, assessed the early turning point in the game. “I think we gave up two goals – I think we play well first five minutes [of first period], get a power play, hit the post and you know, they score goal right away after that play. And you know, in the second period we make a little push but it was not good enough.”
Nick Backstrom was even less diplomatic. “They got two early goals and they controlled the game, I think, after that.”
“They were better than us today.”
When asked if this was a case of the Caps getting down quickly and not be able to match the Penguins’ intensity, Karl Alzner replied, “I don’t know if it’s ‘We couldn’t’. We didn’t. And that was the problem. We could have played much harder, and for whatever reason it didn’t come out. Maybe we were hoping for things to just kinda happen for us and get bounces and stuff and just have our momentum come from that. They made us work for whatever little stuff we did get but it wasn’t enough.”
A frenetic second period saw Pittsburgh continue to own most of the play, but the Caps showed some signs of life. That is, until 18:26 of the frame, when the Caps took a too-many-men penalty. The back-breaker came with a mere 29 seconds left in the period, as Crosby finally solved Holtby off a pass from James Neal, who moments earlier frustrated Troy Brouwer to the point of Brouwer taking a full two-handed swing at Neal’s legs. Fortunately for both, the axe-swing failed to connect.
Oates took responsibility for the botched line change that lead to the goal, but the damage to the scoreboard was done, regardless.
Neal put the icing on the cake for the Pens in third. He walked in alone on the right wing, skated to the left, and whipped a wrist shot past a flat-footed Holtby to make it 4-0.
The Capitals are off until Friday, when they host the Montreal Canadiens at 7:00 pm at Verizon Center.