Time is running short for the Capitals. They have lost three of their last four games in regulation and another game ticked off the schedule. There are 16 left now and the next one is Tuesday night in Pittsburgh against a Penguins team they outplayed, but still couldn't beat in a 3-2 loss at Verizon Center on Monday night.
Washington had the better of possession after a rough start, threw more shots on reserve goalie Jeff Zatkoff than their own Jaroslav Halak faced (33 to 20) and earned four power plays to three for the Penguins. It should have added up to a win and two points. Instead, the Caps hit the road again in desperate need of a victory.
The home games against Vancouver and Toronto this weekend are obvious must-wins given the upcoming schedule. But they also need to find a way to beat the elite teams, too, if they want to make the playoffs. God knows Washington will see enough of them down the stretch. The Caps are now winless in their last seven games against the Penguins.
"Against Pittsburgh we've actually had some decent games against them that we clearly could have won," said Washington coach Adam Oates, who himself is 0-6 since taking over as coach last season. "And tonight's another one where we've got to figure out details to get it done. It's a clearly winnable game."
Chris Kunitz scored 46 seconds into the game after a neutral zone turnover. That's infuriating to a team desperate to curtail such mistakes. That's in part why they fell behind by two goals to Phoenix on Saturday before rallying for a dramatic victory. The devil is in the details and that's killing the Caps right now.
"You look at the game tonight, scoring chances I think would be in our favor. They're just a very opportunistic team," forward Brooks Laich said. "Controlling the neutral zone was a key for us today and two of the goals they got we didn't do it. The first one at the start of the game certainly, and then third one they get speed through the neutral zone and make a play and after that they capitalized on their opportunity. Other than that I didn't think they had a whole lot."
It didn't matter. The Caps have 70 points, are three behind Philadelphia for the final spot in the Metropolitan Division and remain one behind Columbus for the final wild-card berth.
The Blue Jackets were winning their game in the first period before a frightening scene when Dallas forward Rich Peverleycollapsed on the bench with a heart ailment and had to be taken to a local hospital, where he'd regained consciousness. The game was postponed and will be rescheduled. Something like that certainly puts a playoff push in perspective and thankfully Peverley is okay.
The Caps weren't aware of what transpired in Dallas in the immediate aftermath of their own game. All they knew was that a solid, gritty effort wasn't rewarded. Pittsburgh's best players were just good enough to steal two points and force Washington to find a way to win on the road again. The same thing happened last week when the Caps blew a 4-2 lead to Philadelphia, cost themselves a valuable point and had to see the Flyers again three days later. It didn't go so well in a 6-4 loss. The time for moral victories has long since passed.
"I thought we played very well offensively, we got everybody involved, we were cycling the puck," forward Eric Fehr said. "Not just cycling it but taking it to the net and making plays and we haven't done that in a lot of games in the last month. So that was promising but at the end of the day you don't get two points and that's what it comes down to."
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