Five thoughts on the Capitals’ 3-2 shootout loss to Florida

December 14, 2013

Troy Brouwer drops the gloves with Erik Gudbranson after the defenseman hit Eric Fehr in the head. (Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports)

The Capitals had a disorganized night in their own zone and couldn’t snag two points, falling 3-2 in a 10-round shootout to the Florida Panthers Friday. Eric Fehr was hit in the head by Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson in the second period, but returned in the third and would finish the contest.

Five thoughts on the loss in Sunrise.

1. “Somebody is going to respond”. Troy Brouwer saw Erik Gudbranson cutting through the neutral zone just as he sent the puck over toward Eric Fehr in the second period. The veteran right wing shouted at his linemate to try and give him a warning, but the 6-5, 210 pound defenseman made contact with Fehr’s head.

“I saw it was high, I didn’t see it was 100 percent in the head because I kind of ducked to get out of the way and was going the other way,” Brouwer said. “But I knew by the way Fehrsie went down it was a high hit. We needed to respond and that’s part of my role on this team is to stick up for my teammates.”

Brouwer, listed at 6-3, 213 pounds himself, immediately confronted Gudbranson and started a fight. Gudbranson got the better of the scrap, but that wasn’t the point.

The Capitals have drawn criticism in recent years for not standing up for each other when opposing players deliver questionable hits. (The lack of any response when Rene Bourque elbowed Nicklas Backstrom in the head comes to mind.) But this year there’s been a little less of that as the Capitals do seem to make their objections known with take-no-prisoners rookie Tom Wilson leading the way. But in this instance it was a veteran in Brouwer, who wanted to make sure Gudbranson and the Panthers knew they weren’t happy with the hit.

“It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re not tough or anything,” Brouwer said. “It needs to be known if there is a [questionable] hit on a player on the Capitals that somebody is going to respond. Those are not going to go without immediate response.”

2. Disallowed goal. Starts haven’t been a regular source of strength for the Capitals this season but on Friday night when they seemed to come out with plenty of jump they couldn’t catch a break.

A shot by Mike Green slipped past Scott Clemmensen but while it crossed the goal line the would-be goal was waved off by officials after Martin Erat came into contact with the Panthers netminder. Then a few minutes later, Alex Ovechkin thought he had a goal when he followed up on a shot by Nicklas Backstrom only to have the play whistled dead before.

“It was interference, it was when we watched it,” Coach Adam Oates said. “Out there I didn’t think it was but it was just two inches. That was kind of our game a little bit.”

When the Capitals come so close to taking that initial lead, though, they needed to keep their foot on the gas against Florida and continue to test Clemmensen. Instead, after taking five shots in the first four minutes they took only two more the rest of the period and after an efficient penalty kill after John Carlson received a double minor for high sticking they proceeded to lose most semblance of composure in their own end.

3. Shooting themselves in the foot. It’s a popular refrain for Oates and an accurate sentiment when considering Washington’s overall defensive play Friday night. The Panthers certainly hustled to keep possession and work through cycles as well as they did from the mid-way point of the first to late in the second period. But they also received plenty of help in sustaining those waves from Capitals turnovers, ill-advised clearing attempts or just plain bad passes. The most costly error came from Green late in the second period when he had a clearing pass picked off at the blueline, paving the way for Aleksander Barkov’s goal.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Thirty-two games into the season the Capitals still have periods and entire nights where they can barely move the puck out of their own end long enough for a line change.

So how does Oates fix it?

“At some point, I’ve gotta make the guys more accountable. I talked to them going out for the third that ‘Hey if they’re all over us that’s one thing but if we have the puck and we miss a pass and we put it in a guy’s feet, we’re giving them second chances’,” Oates said. “To me it was too much of that we shot ourselves in the foot, because of that they get zone time and we’re tired. Then they move it around and it’s a long change second period, it’s difficult.”

When asked how he intended to do that, Oates didn’t have a clear answer.

“It’s not that easy to bench people, right?” Oates said. “We’ve got to make guys accountable, talk to them and try to get them through it.”

4. Orlov’s impressive night. Young defenseman Dmitry Orlov skated his third consecutive game alongside John Carlson as part of Washington’s top four Friday night and with it continues to make a case for why he should remain in the lineup. Orlov, 22, skated a season-high 20:04 all of which came at even strength fired two shots on goal and recorded two hits.

He made several key plays in his own zone, where the coaching staff is most concerned with his game. But for the first time since he entered the lineup on Nov. 30, Orlov showed offensive confidence as well deking Jimmy Hayes in the first period for a shot and then in overtime he was flying up ice four-on-four to help create chances.

“I think so,” Oates said when asked if Friday was Orlov’s best game to date. “We saw the offense we see those plays he made in overtime and I’ve talked to him all along, I know that. You’ve got to do the job in our end. We’ve got to continually work in our end to get the puck out it’s too much work and we’ve got nothing left in the tank in the other end.”

While Orlov certainly has room for improvement – like most 22 year old defensemen who have yet to play a full NHL season – it certainly appears in the Capitals best interest to play him so they can finally have some top-four stability.

Whenever John Erskine is ready to come off injured reserve it Washington will need to make a roster move. They could free up the salary cap space needed for Erskine by placing Brooks Laich, who is sidelined indefinitely by a groin injury, on long-term injured reserve.

Dec 13, 2013; Sunrise, FL, USA; Washington Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer (31) stops a shot by Florida Panthers center Nick Bjugstad (27) in the first period at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
(Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports)

5. Grubauer. The Capitals were outshot 41-25 and out-chanced 67-45 by the Panthers through 65 minutes Friday night but had plenty of opportunities to come away with two points because of the efforts of rookie netminder Philipp Grubauer. While he played behind a suspect defense in South Florida, Grubauer made several stunning stops that required him to move laterally across the goalmouth and managed numerous odd man rushes quite well.

Unprompted, Nicklas Backstrom acknowledged after the game that if it wasn’t for Grubauer the Capitals might not have managed to come away with any points.

“We were a little sloppy with passes, the puck was bouncing everywhere. We didn’t put the puck on the tape,” Backstrom said. “You’ve got to put the puck on the tape, put it in the right position so you can forecheck good. I don’t think we executed in any of those areas tonight. Good thing we had Philipp there or else — we should actually be happy we got even one point.”

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Katie Carrera · December 14, 2013

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