Five thoughts on the Capitals’ 3-2 loss in Vancouver

October 29, 2013

Roberto Luongo stops Alex Ovechkin’s penalty shot attempt during the first period at Rogers Arena Monday. (Rich Lam/Getty Images)

With a chance to rebound from a sloppy showing in Calgary and bring this four-game trip to a close on a positive note, the Capitals squandered a one-goal lead in the third period and fell, 3-2, to the Vancouver Canucks. The team is off Tuesday as it travels back to Washington.

Five thoughts on the loss in Vancouver.

1. Ovechkin’s penalty shot. Seventy-nine seconds in would have been a perfect time for the Capitals to seize the momentum Monday night, especially considering their starts as of late. But Roberto Luongo stopped Alex Ovechkin’s penalty shot attempt after the latter was tripped by Alexander Edler while on a breakaway.

“I make a great move, beat him, but I didn’t finish it up,” Ovechkin said. “It’s all my fault.”

Ovechkin was held without a point in consecutive games for the first time this season, with none against the Canucks or Flames. The Capitals’ star winger also seemed a bit off the mark and was only credited with four attempted shots, three on net. His best look came off a rush with Marcus Johansson in the second period when he caught the left post.

Vancouver Coach John Tortorella talked about limiting Ovechkin after the morning skate. Based on Ovechkin’s involvement in the game — in part because of the amount of time he and the first line spent in their own end — the Canucks were successful in that. It may have even looked a little Rangers-esque, which shouldn’t be surprising.

That penalty shot was just the eighth of Ovechkin’s career. Of those tries, he’s only scored twice: against Martin Brodeur on Oct. 9, 2010, and against Ray Emery on Jan. 17, 2010.

2. Powerless play. When the Capitals began this trip they owned the top-ranked power play in the league and the unit seemed downright unstoppable. The power play has now gone 0-for-10 in the past three games.

Realistically, the Capitals weren’t going to continue to produce at that impressive 30-percent-plus clip all season on the man advantage, and they did rely on it for their offense too much early on. But swinging completely to the opposite direction is far from a desirable middle ground. The biggest power play that went by the wayside in Vancouver was one with less than eight minutes left, when Kevin Bieksa was called for high sticking with the Capitals trailing 3-2. Washington hardly threatened and only recorded one shot on goal on that man-advantage.

Teams are bound to study the Capitals’ power play given the success it had last season and in the initial stages of this year. The challenge is staying a step ahead of the opposing penalty kills, which in Vancouver did an effective job of preventing those down-low plays the Capitals have thrived on and taking away the shooter in the slot.

3. Penalties. While on the topic of special teams, the Capitals penalty kill thwarted all six Vancouver power plays Monday night and is now on a streak of 25 consecutive kills. Helping Washington to have solid shorthanded efforts recently, though, was the fact that the team did not take more than three penalties in any of the previous seven games.

With six different minors against Vancouver, the Capitals took a toll on every member of the lineup that kills penalties and left others (read: Ovechkin) uninvolved in the contest. It created something of a vicious cycle with Washington’s inability to get out of its own zone, and depleted players would take more penalties.

“Too many. You wear your players out. The rink gets tipped. They get momentum. All the things you don’t want to give another team, especially on the road,” Coach Adam Oates said. “We’re spending too much time in our end, even though we got the lead, maybe that’s where the penalties come from. We wear our guys out, wear our defense out and that turns into momentum swings and zone time for them. We got a little tired.”

4. Third line. I’ve written a lot about the third line on this trip, but it’s hard not to considering that no matter how lopsided the play becomes or how a game plays out, that group continues to be the most consistent of the forward units at both clearing their own zone and sustaining offensive pressure at even strength.

Both of the Capitals’ two goals in Vancouver came from solid work by the third line. Jason Chimera scored his third goal in as many games, his fourth of the season, by going to the net and having his stick on the ice so that when Mike Green’s shot trickled through Luongo it banked off the blade and into the net.

“It’s one of those things, you go to the net, it lands on your stick and it goes in. You need those kind of goals,” Chimera said. “We’ve got to have a better effort overall. It’s nice to score goals, but it doesn’t mean much if you don’t win hockey games.”

Then in the third Chimera outworked two Canucks to keep the play moving up ice along the boards and poked the puck free to Mikhail Grabovski in the slot for a pretty shot. Oates said last week he wanted to see Grabovski find a way to fit with big grinding wingers Chimera and Joel Ward. Given that they’ve combined for six of the team’s 12 even-strength goals in the past four games, it looks like they’re figuring out how to get everyone in the unit involved.

5. Faceoffs. The Capitals lost the battle in the faceoff circle in each of the four games on this trip through Western Canada, with Monday’s loss holding the biggest disparity as they won only 33 percent (17 of 51) draws. Washington is ranked 19th in the league with a 48.6 percent success but the problems arise when losing many draws in a short period of time.

In the second period in Vancouver, the Capitals won three of 13 faceoffs and in turn spent most of that 20 minute span chasing the play. During the first in Calgary they won six of 20. Of the four players who have taken over 100 draws this season, only Mikhail Grabovski is winning the faceoff more than 50 percent of the time with 77 wins out of 146 attempts for a 52.7 percent success rate. The rest of the group goes Eric Fehr, 58 of 109 for 46.8 percent; Nicklas Backstrom 93 of 204 for 45.6 percent and Brooks Laich 57 of 129 for 44.2 percent.

Washington wants to play a possession-based game, but when they’re starting shifts by trying to regain control of the puck that’s valuable time and energy they’re spent without it.

“If you can start with the puck 40 or 50 times out of that, that gives you maybe an extra four, five minutes of possession in the game. That means we’re attacking, they’re defending, they’re facing their own net and over the course of a game that can really add up. We’ve got to do a better job of that,” Laich said. “Last couple games for myself, personally, it’s been tough, but you just try now when you’re going through a tough time, try and tie up the draw and rely on your wingers to win it and build up from there.”

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