Welcome to the newest feature here on Capitals Watch: Morning After. It’s a shortened season, so there’s less time to pick over the details of each game, but as Brooks Laich said recently, it also means: “it’s not like the NFL, but in a way that every single game is gonna be scrutinized so much more.”
So, welcome. I’m essentially stealing my colleague Rich Campbell’s “Initial Thoughts” blog idea, renaming it and doing it with the Caps instead of the Redskins. The idea is to give you, the reader a full meal of details and analysis from the most recent game.
Enjoy your breakfast:
GAME 7: MAPLE LEAFS 3, CAPITALS 2
TORONTO | Blame it on the penalties. That was the message from coach Adam Oates and a few of his players after the Caps blew a third-period lead for the second straight game.
There were no penalties (by either team) in the third period, but eight minors in the first two periods by the Caps threw everything off.
“Obviously penalties, they ruined the flow of the game, especially for forwards,” defenseman John Carlson said. “They like to get in the groove, even if it’s every sixth or seventh shift, that’s still their groove. We just, penalty after penalty and granted, I think that a lot of the penalties our guys were still working. It wasn’t laziness and just tripping people. It was more that kind of game from the refs, I think.”
Was it? Let’s look at the penalties, in order:
Jeff Schultz for high-sticking, Jason Chimera for hooking and unsportsmanlike conduct, Matt Hendricks for interferences, Troy Brouwer for hooking, Chimera again for hooking, Brouwer again for delay of game and Jay Beagle for holding.
That’s four stick fouls, one for mouthing off at referees and one for flipping the puck over the glass.
“For some of the plays guys have got to be maybe a little bit more focused on their sticks, the holding, obviously a little bit unlucky shooting it in the stands but they still add up,” Oates said.
And they weren’t the kind of necessary penalties that were smart to prevent a quality scoring chance, like the one defenseman Mike Green took in overtime at the New Jersey Devils.
“Yeah that’s very frustrating, guys have got to be in control of their sticks for sure,” Oates said.
Toronto would have blown the Caps out of Air Canada Center if it had a functioning power play. The Maple Leafs could hardly get anything going, getting just one goal on eight attempts in a total of 12:11.
But just spending so much time on the kill wore down the Caps. Those forced to play short-handed expended a lot of energy, but right wing Joey Crabb and others argued it was worse for those who had to sit on the bench for long periods of time.
“What happens is your legs, a lot of guys won’t be able to get in the game,” center Mike Ribeiro said. “It’s just hard. Obviously if you get a penalty and it’s good for your team that you got a penalty, then we’ll go there and kill those ones. But if you have to kill six, seven penalties a game, it’s going to cost you games like it’s been doing to us.”
Oates said the kind of choppy game that resulted from all the special teams situations “doesn’t really suit us.”
He has pointed to conditioning a lot this season as a reason for his team’s performance falling off late in games. Not this time.
“No, I don’t think so, not tonight,” he said. “I would just say if anything penalties, guys used a lot of energy for that.”
Goaltender Michal Neuvirth looked human the past two games. The collapses were not his fault, but he should’ve had the Maple Leafs’ second goal Thursday, in addition to at least one Tuesday.
Neuvirth made 37 saves on 40 shots, including some huge stops that kept the game from getting out of hand.
“He played good,” Oates said. “Made a big save on the breakaway we needed.”
What Neuvirth excelled at during his first three starts was bailing out his teammates when they made mistakes. That’s what separates him from Braden Holtby right now.
But with three games in four days, don’t be at all shocked if Holtby gets the start Friday against the Philadelphia Flyers.
OK, back to the penalties for a second. It was bad enough that all the short-handed time drained the Caps, but now they have to turn around and face the Flyers at Verizon Center.
Asked about the back-to-backs and fatigue, players brushed it off. Ribeiro said: That’s tomorrow. You think about today now.”
Carlson said: “Everyone’s doing it. It’s not like there’s a handicap schedule. We can’t look at it like that. This is our job, this is what we do. It’s another game tomorrow and thankfully for us it’s another chance at getting back on track.”
How the Caps got off track was by blowing two third-period leads in Ontario. That’s “unacceptable,” Crabb said. The past two games were the only times in the past 105 that Washington led after two periods and didn’t get at least a point.
“We had the lead there and we coughed it up again,” Hendricks said. “We need to have that killer instinct, we need to go for that next goal.”
What is a killer instinct? For one, it’s the opposite of Dale Hunter hockey, which the Caps still have to unlearn a little bit. And it’s also continuing to press.
In the first nine minutes of the third period, the Caps had no shots. They didn’t register their first of the period until after the Maple Leafs tied it.
That’s not going to get it done.
“We need to find a way to win and lock the game down,” forward Marcus Johansson said.