Welcome back to the Morning After, your home for in-depth Washington Capitals game analysis.
GAME 16: DEVILS 3, CAPITALS 2 (5-10-1, 11 points, 5th in Southeast, 15th in East, 30th in NHL)
Again with the penalties. Seven minors in the game, including five consecutive in 7:56 that allowed the New Jersey Devils to come back and win.
“Some of them [were] tough, I think, but we’ve got to make sure we stay out of the box, especially when we had a lead there coming in the third,” said center Nicklas Backstrom, whose boarding of Adam Larsson was balanced out by the Devils defenseman’s cross-check. “We’ve got to make sure we stay away from those penalties, but it’s a couple of tough calls too, I think.”
From coach Adam Oates down, the Caps weren’t too happy about some of the officials’ decisions in the penalty-filled third period.
“I thought maybe a couple of calls are tough calls,” Oates said. “I didn’t think [Alex Ovechkin’s tripping] was a call. But bottom line is, that’s too many.”
A few players bit their tongues about the officials, most notably right wing Troy Brouwer, who was given a 10-minute misconduct at the end of the game for jawing at them.
“I’m not talking about penalties,” Brouwer said. “I don’t feel like getting fined. I’m sorry.”
Asked if all the calls in the third period were legitimate, defenseman Karl Alzner said: “I’d have to watch them again. I don’t know for sure.” When asked to explain the breakdowns on the penalties, he made sure not to say too much.
“I can’t really explain it without getting in trouble too much,” Alzner said. “It just happened, yeah.”
Center Jay Beagle, who put the puck over the glass but hid from going to the box for delay of game, similarly had little to say about the penalty epidemic.
“I have no clue,” Beagle said. “I would rather not comment on it because I don’t want to get in trouble.”
Center Mathieu Perreault, who scored a goal and took a holding penalty, said, “some of the calls, it’s hard.”
But goaltender Braden Holtby didn’t blame the penalties or the officials.
“To be honest I didn’t see many of the penalties. I saw a couple of them and and I don’t think you can fault the refs on them,” Holtby said. “They have a job to do. It doesn’t matter if it’s five, six in a row on one team. They have a job to do and I don’t think they’re the reason at all.”
Thursday night marked the seventh loss the Caps suffered this season in which the game-winning goal was scored on the power play. Ilya Kovalchuk’s five-on-three rocket was the only power-play goal the Devils scored in six chances and 9:03.
Washington’s penalty kill was pretty good. An extended five-on-three earlier in the third yielded no shots.
“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.”
Holtby was good on the penalty kill for most of the night, too.
“It’s my job. I get up for PKs. That’s where I’m excited,” he said. “I get to face some shots and be a difference in the game. And tonight obviously I couldn’t do that.”
That’s only after Kovalchuk whizzed one by him. Given how many open looks the sniper got, the Caps just about knew it was a matter of time.
“You definitely think the percentages go up after they get to keep working on it,” Alzner said. “You get to figure out where the gaps are in the killers and they finally found it there when they can roll across the top for that one-timer. So I don’t ever think that it’s going to happen for sure. But you assume it’s going to happen eventually after you get enough.”
Holtby appreciated Carlson getting his body in the way of a few of Kovalchuk’s one timers. He needed that.
“I was just hoping that he didn’t get too many because that situation, it takes away all my sight,” Holtby said.
With 8:20 left and New Jersey working on a man advantage for over a minute (again), Kovalchuk managed to blast it home.
“They got a good PK. They block a lot of shots,” Kovalchuk said. “But we’re, I think, eighth on the power play this year. So we always try to find a way how to score and how to shoot the puck. So one went through. It’s good.”
Asked if he saw Kovalchuk’s shot, Holtby shook his head and mouthed, “No….”
You won’t hear Backstrom, Beagle, Alzner and Carlson complaining about the grueling penalty-killing minutes. Beagle “hid” from being put in the box for delay of game because he wanted to be on the ice.
Alzner played 5:15 of his 19:57 short-handed. Carlson played 4:40 of his season-high 30:34 short-handed. But it’s not the physical strain that does it.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of movement, so in terms of my breath and energy I wasn’t too, too bad,” Alzner said. “But mentally when you have to keep going back out there and kind of disrupt the flow of the game like that, that part’s hard. It’s hard for the guys on the bench more than the guys on the ice.
Ovechkin played just 6:09 in the third period, Perreault 2:51. Wojtek Wolski took one 42-second shift. It’s no wonder the Caps struggled to get back into a flow after the penalties were over.
“It’s hard because you got guys that are sitting on the bench not going because you got your PK guys. And it just kills your momentum,” Perreault said. “Like we were playing a good game, we were up 2-1, we were right where we wanted to be at and all of a sudden the penalties just took us out of it.”
Before that third period, Ovechkin was flying. He drew two penalties on breakaways and missed the net on another.
“He missed three breakaways,” Oates said. “So he’s doing some good things. Obviously we want him to score. I know he wants to score. And those are Grade-A opportunities. I was fine with him.”
The Caps’ captain did not speak to reporters after his eighth game without a point this season.
Teammates praised Ovechkin’s effort when asked.
“Yeah, it was nice. We need him to do that every single game,” Alzner said. “We need that. Him coming down the wall with speed, shooting the puck from the side, that’s his bread and butter. So whenever he’s doing that it’s great for him, it gets him in the game that much more and it gets us fired up to see that. Because it’s usually pretty nice what he does with the puck. So that’s the way it’s got to be every night if he can.”
Added Brouwer: “The team played great tonight, all the guys. We had good chances, we had a lot of chances to score. Good in tight around the net, our PP was good again tonight, penalty kill was good. A lot of positives out of this game, and there was just one negative.”