Welcome back to the Morning After, your home for Washington Capitals game analysis in this shortened season.
GAME 25: HURRICANES 4, CAPS 0 (10-14-1, 21 points, 4th in Southeast, 14th in East, 7 points out of playoff spot)
Oftentimes reporters and players see a game differently. It happens.
On Tuesday night, coach Adam Oates appeared to have a different view of his team’s shutout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes than his players. Center Nicklas Backstrom called it a “terrible effort” and defenseman Karl Alzner said the “compete level” was lacking.
“Obviously, when you get behind the way we did, it get hard, but they didn’t have their first chance until four minutes left in the first period, so I can’t necessarily agree with that,” Oates said. “We were doing a lot things right. We had a lot of chances early, we didn’t score, they got a soft one and put us on our heels.”
In addition to saying the Caps didn’t battle hard enough, Alzner summed up this three game losing streak with some damning words.
“We’re scared to take penalties, we’ve got to be hitting more,” he said. “We’ve got to make it tougher on teams to play us because right now it’s pretty easy.”
Being easy to play against is not what any team wants to be described as. Hurricanes defenseman Joe Corvo said he and his teammates could sense a lack of confidence on the other side.
Asked about being tough to play against recently after claiming tough guy Aaron Volpatti off waivers, Oates said there are many ways to do that.
“You can try and be a physical team, an intimidating team, a speed team, a relentless team,” he said. “And I think that we’re kind of in that ballpark where I want to be a relentless team. That’s why there’s times where they got five guys back, you’ve got to put the puck behind their net and go get it.”
The Caps were the opposite of relentless on Tuesday night. They relented often, and it spelled doom.
Asked to expand on what he meant by the compete level lacking, Alzner said the Caps could have gone to the net more, closed quicker in the neutral zone and pinch better.
“We’ve got to work a little bit harder to slow guys up in the neutral zone, slow them down in the D-zone and that comes from battling just a little bit harder,” he said. “Maybe you can only stay out there for 25 seconds. It’s a hard 25 but that’s what you’ve got to do.”
The Caps were outshot 36-26 and, while they had opportunities to score, didn’t threaten to get back into the game after falling behind by two goals and then three.
But Oates was far from despondent or frustrated.
“I don’t feel that way. And that’s what’s hard,” he said. “It’s hard answering to you guys because tomorrow, the coaching staff will try to show them some positives, some negatives, where we could improve. I don’t feel like we got dominated, I don’t. But, it’s a loss and a hollow feeling.”
Each goal scored against Braden Holtby on Tuesday was interesting in one way or another, so let’s go one-by-one.
The first, at 3:55 of the first period, happened when Corvo banked a shot off the side of Holtby’s mask from below the goal line. Oates was right to call it a soft one.
“Caught me off guard, obviously I was trying to keep my place on the post and trying to read where he was going to pass it to,” Holtby said. “It was pretty creative on his part, I’ve never seen someone try that so it kind of caught me off guard.”
Holtby didn’t seem thrilled that Corvo shot it off his mask. The ex-Caps defenseman said he wasn’t going for the mask and in shot.
“I was aiming for like the back of him, his back, anywhere up there and it just so happened to hit his head,” Corvo said.
The second goal was a bit of a “fluky” one, according to forward Matt Hendricks. The Hurricanes dominated with their cycle game on the rookie defensive pairing of Cameron Schilling and Steve Oleksy and had plenty of time and space.
“I somehow break a stick so it turns into a power play for them,” said Hendricks, who was all over the ice but limited in what he could do on the play. “And it goes in. I couldn’t tell if it went off a body or not.”
Riley Nash did deflect Jay Harrison’s shot past Holtby.
“It was just a shot going wide,” the 23-year-old goaltender said.” I don’t know if I could have been closer to him; I was trying to respect that back door pass and [Nash made] a nice deflection.”
Carolina’s third goal came as a direct result of Patrick Dwyer beating Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz to the puck to negate an icing. Oates wondered if Holtby should have played the puck instead.
Schultz owned up to his mistake.
“Just got beat back to the puck, went to the wrong side of the net and I got outmuscled behind the net they put it out front and scored. That was just a mistake on my part,’ Schultz said. “It was on me. I just went to the wrong side of the net for where the puck was coming from and the guy snuck inside on that close post and was able to get inside position on me and stop the icing and put it out front.”
Nash was trailing the play as he watched Dwyer get into the foot race with Schultz.
“I was just kind of coasting up the ice; I didn’t know if Patty was gonna get there or not, so I saved a little energy, probably taking the cheater way out,” he said. “But he’s always a fast guy, he beat him to the puck and then I just tried to find some open ice and get away as fast as possible.”
Dwyer made a perfect centering pass to Nash for the first two-goal game of his NHL career.
“He’s got great wheels and great skating,” Hurricanes captain Eric Staal said of Dwyer. “You want to make sure you’re going hard on the forecheck, and he was in there and able to get body position and then made a great pass after that. That’s nice to see from our bench, and it was a big goal for us.”
Nash was happy that Dwyer scored the empty-net goal with 1:21 left. “He deserved it,” Nash said.
Who starts in goal for the Caps on Thursday at Carolina? Holtby made 32 saves in addition to the three goals he allowed.
Holtby has started 13 of the past 14 games and is undoubtedly the guy. In that time he’s 8-5 with a 2.35 goals-against average and .928 save percentage.
But in his past two, he’s 0-2 with a 3.96 goals-against average and .889 save percentage. There was no hesitation for Oates to start Holtby on Tuesday, but might he go to Michal Neuvirth now?
Neuvirth stopped 10 of 11 shots he faced in relief Sunday against the New York Rangers. His last start was Feb. 7 at the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It wouldn’t be a Caps-Hurricanes game if not for some words about Alexander Semin. He picked up the primary assist on Corvo’s goal, his 11th point in seven games (three goals, eight assists).
After that, his game didn’t dip.
“He’s been solid. He’s a lot of fun to play with, makes great plays,” Staal said. “Tonight we just needed to keep it simple and do the right thing. We didn’t push too long of shifts, we didn’t push too hard in certain areas to do that little extra. You just needed to be smart and be sound and we were tonight, made good plays on the wall. If you do that consistently, that offense is going to come. He’s been a great player for our team.”
Semin had a rough shift when he took an accidental high stick to the face from friend Alex Ovechkin and then soon after got clipped by Holtby’s stick. The 29-year-old had a couple of cuts, but he was no worse for that wear and tear.
He did get caught twice, twice in the face,” Carolina coach Kirk Muller said. “One was a follow-through on a shot and the other one was in the corner there. Both accidental. Just, he got caught twice, which you don’t see too often.”