The difference between a bad call and a lack of discipline was an inch. Maybe two.
As the puck fluttered over the glass in the third period Thursday night, the Washington Capitals were handed yet another delay of game penalty in a season full of them. Whether Jay Beagle’s clearing attempt actually went over the glass in the defensive zone or not was a matter of debate.
“They said it went over the glass into the bench,” center Mathieu Perreault said. “From where I was sitting on the bench I don’t think it went over the glass. It was like right on the corner of it, like it was so close. It’s a tough call.”
The Caps had a couple of “tough” calls go against them in a 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils, but even considering that, five consecutive minor penalties in under eight minutes is a recipe for failure.
“How many times are we going to have this conversation? It’s on us,” coach Adam Oates said. “We talked about it at the end of the second period. They were yelling at the end of one of the calls we got in the second period, so we talked about being disciplined and playing, watching out sticks. One of them or two that you might question, but we still had too many penalties.”
Eight total, including right wing Troy Brouwer’s 10-minute misconduct at the final horn. But it was the series of five in 7:56 that doomed the Caps, who again occupy the basement of the NHL standings.
Forward Matt Hendricks went off for holding, then defenseman Tomas Kundratek was mistakenly called for Beagle’s puck-over-the-glass violation. Even killing that off, and Alex Ovechkin’s tripping penalty, Washington’s one-goal lead evaporated just past the midway point of the third period.
It didn’t even matter that Andrei Loktionov’s goal was at even-strength. The damage had been done.
“Some guys are sitting on the bench for eight minutes not playing, and all of the sudden they have to go out and try and score a goal,” Beagle said. “So it definitely kills momentum, and it’s hard to do.”
Taking more penalties is even harder to do. John Erskine’s hooking call and Tom Poti’s interference 52 seconds apart gave the Devils another five-on-three penalty kill, and Ilya Kovalchuk blasted the game winner by Holtby.
“Enough power plays they were bound to score one with the guys they have on the ice,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “They finally got the look they needed with the guy they wanted to shoot. It was pretty deflating. After the first five-on-three kill we had some energy, but we went right back to the kill again, it was very deflating for us.”
Even with more than eight minutes left, the Caps weren’t able to mount another charge like they did in the second period to take the game over. The penalties just took a disastrous toll.
“It’s frustrating for all of us because we had a good game going, we were playing good hockey and you don’t want to lose that way, even though our penalty killing – Karl and John [Carlson] were fantastic back there,” Oates said. “And our forwards that killed did a great job, but sooner or later it’s tough and those are minutes that we don’t have available at the end of the game, energy we don’t have available.”
A few players declined to talk about the barrage of penalties in the third period because they didn’t want to say something that would draw the ire of the NHL.
“I’m not talking about penalties,” Brouwer said. “I don’t feel like getting fined. I’m sorry.”
Alzner said he couldn’t explain the breakdown of penalties “without getting in trouble too much.”
Perreault was slightly more forthcoming, while also being diplomatic.
“It’s hard to say bad calls,” Perreault said. “They’re trying to their best out there, but [the penalties] just killed us. It just killed the momentum. We got guys that are sitting on the bench for so long. It’s awful.”
It’s awful for the Caps to continue lamenting the same problems over and over. General manager George McPhee blamed penalties for the team’s slow start two weeks ago, but Thursday night against the Devils, Washington committed the most in one period all season.
“It’s frustrating and we talked about it before we went out for the third period,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “We’ve got to be more disciplined. It’s not good enough.”