PITTSBURGH | Even when he disagreed with Braden Holtby that the Washington Capitals have lacked “intensity” this season, Matt Hendricks pointed out that on the road, things haven’t been good enough.
“We’re feeling out teams a little too much instead of trying to dictate our game. I think we need to dictate our game right away,” Hendricks said. “There’s no reason to sit back on the road and try to play a comfortable game. We need to be intense, we need to be physical, we need to do things that make us successful at home.”
Check and check Tuesday night at the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Caps didn’t get run over by the top team in the Eastern Conference, but they couldn’t manage to overcome a Pittsburgh bunch on a roll, losing 2-1 and failing to make up ground in their attempt to climb into playoff contention.
“This one’s really disappointing,” forward Eric Fehr said. “I thought we had this game. We worked really hard. We did a lot of the things we need to do to win games.”
Discussing the Caps’ playoff chances, Penguins color analyst Bob Errey said: “I don’t think they have a chance, to be honest with you.” It’s not quite that absolute, but each passing loss makes it more and more unlikely.
Matt Niskanen scored the game-winner in the third period just nine seconds after a four-minute Caps power play expired.
“Obviously we need to score,” Fehr said. “The puck ends up in our net shortly after we don’t score.”
The Caps didn’t have a quality chance for over seven minutes after Niskanen scored.
The Penguins extended their winning streak to 10 and kept the Caps from starting one of their own. Washington failed to pick up two points on a night full of favorable results in the East that could have cut the playoff deficit to five with 19 games to play.
“It was a winnable game,” coach Adam Oates said.
After the Caps’ morning skate at Consol Energy Center, Holtby questioned the team’s intensity when asked about the return of forward Brooks Laich. But he couldn’t put a finger on the reason.
“That’s just all of us. I mean everyone can see it. You can tell it’s just not there yet,” Holtby said. “We’re going to need it now because we’re in the playoffs right now. Every game we have to play like it’s a playoff mentality like we did last year.”
Intensity didn’t appear to be an issue Tuesday night. The Caps out-chanced the Penguins for long stretches and were in the game well into the third. Then, like its nine previous games, Pittsburgh found a way to win.
The Caps had plenty of chances on a four-minute power play thanks to boarding and unsportsmanlike conduct calls on Matt Cooke. The crowd cheered every time the Penguins cleared the puck out of the zone and then went crazy when Niskanen beat Holtby on the rush.
“That one is one I think I’m more than capable of stopping,” Holtby said.