It isn’t just that the Capitals dropped a third straight contest - including two at home to inferior opponents - it was the team’s lack of effort that had Washington coach Bruce Boudreau so steamed.
Erik Cole had a hat trick and Dwayne Roloson stopped 34 shots, but plenty went wrong that was the Caps’ own doing in a 5-2 loss Tuesday at Verizon Center.
“I’d like to play again right away, and at the same time I’d like to have a [practice],” Boudreau said. “They’re lucky they don’t have a practice [Wednesday].”
The Caps are now 18-3-1 on home ice but 0-2 in the past five days. At least a 3-0 loss to Columbus could be excused because of goaltender Steve Mason’s performance.
Their latest defeat was about lackadaisical effort in the defensive end and an unwillingness to put in the necessary work to score goals.
“When we didn’t have the puck, instead of having pressure defense, which we talk about all the time, we were, ‘Oh, somebody else will do it,’” Boudreau said. “‘Get the puck up to me and I’ll go score, but I’m not going to worry about doing much checking.’ When that happens, you’re not going to win.”
A porous effort from his top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin convinced Boudreau to make a change in the third period. He dropped the reigning league MVP to the second line and put Brooks Laich with Backstrom and Semin.
“They weren’t very good,” Boudreau said. “When you’re best players aren’t your best players, you’re in trouble. It is one thing if you’re not very good, but we count on these guys. They’re the ones who get the bulk of the ice time. I don’t know what Alex [Ovechkin] got today, but I bet it was 25 minutes [26:05].
“Alex, what does he have - one point in the last four games? And that’s an assist off [Michael] Nylander’s foot. He’s the best player in the world and maybe he’s on a little downturn, but he’s got to play like the best player in the world.”
Added Ovechkin: “I think we play first 10 minutes, but we don’t score goals and they play great defense. I think we didn’t play with energy, and it started with me, our line and myself. I don’t know what to say - I think our line played terrible.”
Steve MacIntyre’s first NHL goal gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead. Defenseman Denis Grebeshkov slid a pass to his partner MacIntyre for a long-range one-timer that surprised Washington netminder Jose Theodore at 12:59.
After Semin took his second offensive zone penalty of the period at 13:45, Erik Cole gave Edmonton a two-goal advantage 25 seconds later. Defenseman Sheldon Souray put a blast from the top of the zone off Theodore, and Cole tapped home the rebound while being cross-checked to the ice by Caps defenseman Milan Jurcina.
The Caps held a 19-9 advantage in shots after 20 minutes. Save for a few chances early in the period, many of them were from long range and hit the Oilers logo on Dwayne Roloson’s chest.
“We didn’t have any traffic,” Ovechkin said. “To get goals, you have to have traffic. I think this is big key for our game.”
Lack of effort on defense was a problem at times in the first period, but Gilbert Brule’s goal 2:15 into the second was a blatant example. A lazy pass from David Steckel was intercepted by Kyle Broadziak, and he sent a pass to Brule, who skated past Steckel and Donald Brashear and deposited a nifty backhand shot behind Theodore.
Tomas Fleischmann got the Caps on the board at 7:40 of the middle period with an extraordinary individual effort. Defenseman Mike Green, who had sprung Semin for a chance seconds earlier, hit Fleischmann near the defensive blue line, and he proceeded to carry the puck into the offensive zone alone against four defenders.
Fleischmann split Grebeshkov and Tom Gilbert with a crafty flip to himself to avoid a pokecheck before potting his 13th goal of the season.
The Oilers made sure there would be no third-period comeback for the Caps when Broadziak ripped a shot off Cole’s foot and into the net at 3:19. Green cut the lead to two with 3:09 left on the power play for his 11th goal of the season, but it was much too late for the Caps.
“We tended to do a little too much individualism and we’re not creating nothing,” Green said. “We got a lot of shots, but they weren’t quality shots.”
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