“It very tough because the guys played a good game. Probably one of the better games we’ve played against that team. To come out on the short end of the stick is difficult. We did a lot of good things in the game.” Adam Oates
Every game that slips off the schedule is one less opportunity for the Washington Capitals to increase their chances to qualify for the playoffs. There are no moral victories at this point in the season, especially for a team on the outside looking in. On Monday, in front of a divided house at Verizon Center, the Caps lost another one of those opportunities, as they fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins early and eventually lost 3-2.
The Capitals are 0-6-0 against Pittsburgh under head coach Adam Oates.
It’s the Caps fourth loss in their last five games after four straight wins. With 16 games remaining on the schedule — staring at a game in Pittsburgh then a three-game west coast road trip — they are quickly running out of time.
Chris Kunitz scored twice for the Pens — their first and last goals of the evening — sandwiched around a Sidney Crosby goal. Crosby assisted on both of Kunitz’ goals and pretty much had his way with the Caps every time he stepped on the ice. The Penguins were able to take advantage of multiple defensive breakdowns by the Caps, despite being outshot 33-20.
Perhaps when Caps GM George McPhee made his comments about the Caps defensive systems allowing shots from the perimeter, the Penguins didn’t get the memo.
Eric Fehr and Nick Backstrom scored for the Caps. Backstrom’s goal tied the game at two early in the second period as the Caps unleashed a barrage of shots against backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff (31 saves).
But not three minutes later, Kunitz responded with his second of the game, his 31st of the season.
For the Caps, the loss is doubly frustrating as they probably played their best game in three weeks in terms of puck possession, but in the end, the Penguins were simply the better team.
“It’s a little frustrating to really have dominant time of possession and be playing well then find yourself down 3-2 and not being able to recover,” Fehr said. “We had a lot of good chances at the end, and it’s really unfortunate. I thought we threw everything at them, and we were good in the offensive zone. We created chances; we just couldn’t put that last one in.”
The Capitals are currently one point behind both Columbus and Detroit for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs and face the daunting prospect of playing in Pittsburgh Tuesday night. With games just falling off the calendar at this point, the Caps can’t afford any more moral victories. Only the ones in the standings matter anymore.
CAPS NOTES: Evgeny Kuznetsov made his long-awaited NHL debut Monday night. Kuznetsov started on the fourth line with Jay Beagle and fellow rookie Tom Wilson, but also took shifts on the first line with Alex Ovechkin and Backstrom, and also got some power play time in as well. Kuznetsov, donning sweater No. 92, played 10:22 in total, with 1:10 of power play time. He has two shots on goal and was credited with a blocked shot.
“I was a little bit worried the first time I stepped on the ice, but with each shift I got better and better,” Kuznetsov said of his performance. “I understood what I needed to do and how I needed to play…This is my first game, but a lot of players have told me that it’s just like the Russian rivalries. [They are] just like that ones we have in Russia, so I know what it’s like.”