Welcome back to the Morning After, your home for Washington Capitals game analysis in this shortened season.
GAME 29: PENGUINS 2, CAPS 1 (12-16-1, 25 points, 7 points out of playoff spot, 9 points out of 1st in Southeast Division)
PITTSBURGH | There was plenty for the Caps to regret Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center. Let’s start with not scoring on a four-minute power play in the third period that everyone in the building knew was the game.
“We had three good chances where the puck bounced over our guy’s sticks right at the wrong time,” coach Adam Oates said. “It’s a big PP.”
Then there was Joel Ward turning the puck over to Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen as Matt Cooke’s double-minor expired. Ward sent the puck to the front of the net, but he didn’t have a teammate there.
“At the end of that PP there’s no way we should give up a turnover, and that hurts,” Oates said. “We talked about it and at an important time of the game. Obviously everybody knows the clock, frustrating.”
But how about earlier when the Caps couldn’t convert on other power plays. Captain Alex Ovechkin scored with the man advantage at 8:14 of the second, but he and his teammates had two other chances that went by the wayside.
Ovechkin lamented a pass from Mike Ribeiro that didn’t get on to his stick as it should have.
“Chances always there. Sometimes a little bounce, a little moment stops, [we] score goal,” he said. “The first power play that we have in the second period, Ribs give me a pass, but it hit ice and was a bobble. It was hard to hit it. In perfect world it’s hundred percent goal.”
If the Caps were 100 percent on the power play in the first two periods and the start of the third, they would’ve had a 3-1 lead on the Penguins. But it’s impossible to expect that kind of success rate, even from a power-play unit that entered the night ranked third in the NHL.
“Our power play has been tremendous for us,” forward Brooks Laich said. “Most nights it gets the job done, and tonight we did get one on the power play.”
But the Caps didn’t get one when it really mattered. The Penguins rotated through 11 penalty killers, frustrating the power play with some pressure. But Ovechkin said there was more the Caps could have done.
“We just don’t move the puck well, and if we move the puck, the guy’s still standing,” he said. “We don’t move our bodies to find the right spot and empty spot. It’s tough, hard loss but it happens.”
Braden Holtby had a regret Tuesday night, too. As the Penguins went down on the three-on-two rush following the Caps’ four-minute power play, Sidney Crosby passed to Cooke and then Cooke to Niskanen.
Niskanen put it top shelf past a diving Karl Alzner and Holtby.
“That one is one I think I’m more than capable of stopping,” Holtby said.
The 23-year-old goaltender had some rebound control issues early but felt stronger as the game went on. Niskanen’s goal stopped the good vibrations.
“He’s a right-handed shot, he got it kind of in the middle of his body,” Holtby said. “I squared up to him and then he made a shift to the right side a bit, to his right side. I wasn’t quick enough in regaining my position and gave him that slight area to shoot at, and he made a nice shot right above Karl. Karl did a great job trying to get in front of it. Usually when a D-man does that they’re shooting high because they don’t want to get it blocked. He made a nice shot.”
Holtby kept the Caps in the game for stretches when the Penguins made it a shooting gallery. But giving up Niskanen’s goal with 8:02 left stings.
One thing the Caps were able to defensively even in allowing 36 shots is they kept many of them to the outside. Pittsburgh had the puck in high-traffic, high-quality areas, but defenders did a good job limiting the star power of Crosby, James Neal, Chris Kunitz and Co.
“You do your best. That last time we played the really helped us out a lot to figure out what they do, you see they like to have their third guys swing out high by the blue line and come through the middle,” Alzner said. “They get a lot of good chances from right down the middle, so a couple things we keyed on was knowing that guys are going to try to make those plays. Guys did a good job of containing [Crosby] for the most part and he still gets two assists. I don’t think anything was too glaring that we let him do.”
It looked like defenseman Jack Hillen was Crosby’s shadow for much of the night. He took an interference penalty 1:35 into the game but also contained the Penguins superstar.
“Any really good player, great player – he’s a great player – any time you play against guys like that you’ve got to take away time and space,” Hillen said. “If you give them time they’re going to make plays with the puck. I just tried to use my skating to try to shut him down the best I could. They’re going to get some chances; that’s just how good they are.”
With two assists, Crosby now has 19 points in the past 10 games, all Penguins victories.
For Pittsburgh, this was just another way to win during this streak. It wasn’t the Penguins’ prettiest effort, but they got it done.
“We were a little bit sloppy in some areas but it’s not going to be perfect every night. That’s the key,” Niskanen said. “We’re finding ways to win and one thing when it’s not going perfect every night you can always play good defense. That’s one thing that everybody’s been committed to and we’re getting better at. We’re always going to give ourselves a chance if you’re committed to that. We’re finding ways to win, getting good goaltending and hockey’s pretty darn fun right now.”
The Penguins put together a 10-game streak for the third straight season. Crosby said it has greater importance because of the lockout-shortened 48-game schedule.
“I think the good thing for us is we’re playing so many games. I don’t think anyone’s thinking a whole lot about it,” the captain said. “We’re just going out there and playing the way we need to. We’re obviously missing big parts of our hockey team, so we’re keeping it simple and trying to find ways to have success and hopefully wait for these guys to get back.”
For Washington, this was the fifth loss in seven games. The Caps didn’t lose ground on the Carolina Hurricanes, who got blown out by the Florida Panthers, but in not picking up two points, they wasted a valuable opportunity.
More on that later. The Caps practice at Consol at 1 p.m. before flying to Winnipeg.