If two games are a fair indication, the Washington Capitals under Dale Hunter will play a lot of low-scoring, one-goal games.
That’s exactly what the Capitals got again Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins: a close game where there wasn’t enough offense and a couple notable breakdowns that allowed for a 2-1 loss at Verizon Center.
The Caps are still adjusting to a new system but managed only fits and spurts of sustained offense and mustered just two shots in the third period and none in the final 5:32.
“It’s tough to win with one goal,” goaltender Tomas Vokoun said. “It’s definitely not easy when things are not going well and obviously we’re not getting the pressure in their zone and we’re not scoring.”
It’s impossible to question the effort or intensity after this defeat, the Caps’ 10th in 13 games (3-9-1), as they came out flying and throwing the body around. Alex Ovechkin’s physical presence — perhaps back to the old days of using his body as a forechecking weapon — combined with smart play by John Erskine and other heavy hitters helped Washington set a tone.
“I think that’s the best jump we’ve had in a while,” defenseman Dennis Wideman said. “We still had some confusion and some breakdowns in our own zone. We gave them quite a few shots; we’d like to shore that up a little bit, but we still got to create more offensively. We didn’t get enough shots again.”
Shots — and quality scoring chances were lacking. And when the Caps did get into position, nothing was going right.
On one occasion, Ovechkin put the puck on Nicklas Backstrom’s stick with an empty net waiting, but his shot hit the crossbar.
“It was a tight game again; we just didn’t get the goals,” Wideman said. “We had a couple there; Nicky had an empty net. That could’ve changed the game.”
When the Caps broke down in the neutral and defensive zones and Chris Kunitz took advantage of the space, all it took was one fluttering shot past Vokoun to provide the game-winner. Vokoun credited Kunitz for making a nice play when given space, and Hunter explained that happened because defenseman Erskine fell down.
“He tripped and fell and that’s what opened it up. That’s it,” Hunter said. “That’s part of the hockey where you do trip on the ice and fall and unfortunately it went in.”
Mike Knuble said earlier in the week that the Caps, moving forward, will have “such a fine line between winning or losing.” In this game, it proved to be true yet again.
“We’re still having a tough time manufacturing enough shots,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “But I think that’s going to come, where we’re starting to get a little better in our D-zone — a few too many odd-man rushes. But yeah, capitalize on their chance. That’s what happens when you play a good team.”
It was the Caps’ first regulation loss to the Penguins since March 9, 2008. The Caps had gone 11-0-2 against Pittsburgh in the past 13 meetings.
It’s also the first regulation victory Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has recorded against the Caps. He was 2-6-3 coming in, with both previous wins in a shootout.
While many players talked about the need for patience with the system, leading goal-scorer Jason Chimera, who potted his 10th Thursday, preached urgency about that but was optimistic about the work ethic.
“It can’t be down the line. It’s got to be now,” Chimera said. We got to get people stepping up and scoring some goals and doing the little things. … If we keep effort like that, the wins will come.”