NEWARK, N.J. | The Washington Capitals are going to struggle to win games without Alex Ovechkin if they continue to end up with more penalties in the offensive zone than goals.
New Jersey scored a pair of power-play goals in the final period, and the Devils benefited from another parade to the penalty box by the Caps in a 3-2 victory Wednesday night at Prudential Center.
“This has to be on the players,” forward Mike Knuble said. “Veteran guys like myself the other day and Brendan [Morrison] tonight and Alex [Semin] - it is not young guys who are letting us down, that’s for sure. It is the guys who are supposed to have experience. You have to take ownership of the dumb things you’re doing, and you’ve got to stop it.”
It was Washington’s first game this season without two-time league MVP Ovechkin, who is week-to-week with an upper-body strain. The Caps are now 1-4 in the games Ovechkin has missed in his five-year career.
The offense struggled without Ovechkin, but his absence wasn’t the biggest reason the Caps lost in regulation for the first time in 10 games. Taking four penalties in the final 20 minutes - including three while playing offense - spoiled what was looking like a great effort from Semyon Varlamov.
Given a chance to move out of Ovechkin’s shadow, some of the other key offensive players did not take advantage.
“Not only did they not stand out, they cost us the game,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “That’s a tough one to swallow. … I still look at our lineup and our top two lines offensively on paper, and we’re much better than their top two lines offensively on paper. We had the firepower - that’s not the question in my mind.
“So what is it then? Guys didn’t come to play. Whether they were feeling sorry for themselves because Alex wasn’t in - I don’t know.”
Nineteen seconds after Semin was tagged with the second of his three offensive-zone penalties on the evening, New Jersey’s Nicklas Bergfors gave the Devils the lead with a shot from the right faceoff circle at 11:20 of the third period.
Forty-four seconds after Morrison went to the box for hooking, Bergfors tipped in a shot from the right point to make it 3-1 at 15:10.
“It feels like the same thing when we’re losing,” Knuble said. “It was me the other night, and tonight it was somebody else. It is frustrating for everybody.”
Added Boudreau: “They’re automatic penalties, and it wasn’t like it was [rookie] Mathieu Perreault getting them or Tyler Sloan as a forward. When you go behind the net and put your stick on a guy, you’re going to get a penalty. … These guys know this, and they are just dumb penalties.”
Tomas Fleischmann made it interesting in the waning moments by scoring with Varlamov pulled for an extra attacker, but the damage had been done.
Sloan and Perreault teamed up for the lone goal of the first period. Captain Chris Clark kept the puck in the zone and connected with Perreault, who skated toward the middle of the ice before flipping a backhanded saucer pass to Sloan inside the left circle.
Sloan snapped a shot inside the near post that surprised New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur and bounced back into play so quickly that there were a couple of seconds of confusion before it was ruled a goal. It was only the second goal in Sloan’s 33-game career and Perreault’s first career point - quite a feat considering the guy in net has more wins than any other netminder in league history.
Perreault also assisted on Fleischmann’s goal for a two-point night in his NHL debut.
“I watched him play all last year, and he’s an exceptional player,” Sloan said of Perreault. “He sees the ice well, he’s a great passer and he works hard. He’s got great wheels. He was great tonight.”
Brian Rolston brought the Devils even in the second period with a bit of a fluky tally. Rolston had the puck behind the net and tried to center it, but instead of reaching Jamie Langenbrunner, it glanced off Caps defenseman Mike Green and angled into the net just inside the far post.
Varlamov finished the night with 29 saves and lost a regular-season game in regulation for the first time in his career (9-1-1).
“Third periods for our goaltenders - we’ve been asking way too much,” Knuble said. “They’re not guys who will complain about it, but if I was a goalie I would be shaking my head a little bit and thinking, ‘What are these guys doing to me?’ ”