Five thoughts on the Capitals’ 3-1 loss in Ottawa

December 31, 2013

Kyle Turris (right) celebrates his goal in the second period Monday night. (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

OTTAWA – The Capitals failed to score more than one goal for the second straight game and fell for the second time in as many nights. Against the speedy and skilled Senators, though, Washington’s defensive mistakes and neutral zone turnovers were much more risky endeavors than they were in Buffalo.

Five thoughts on the 3-1 loss to the Senators.

1. Ovi-less. The Capitals inability to score in back-to-back games was encapsulated by no one better than Alex Ovechkin. The star right wing attempted 14 shots against the Sabres and nine more in Ottawa but some of his best chances were when he missed the mark entirely.

Take the power play in the third period against the Senators, Ovechkin got his usual one-timer set up and connected but the shot sailed wide. Moments later, the puck skipped off his stick and he whiffed on another attempt.

There were fewer Grade-A chances for Ovechkin in Ottawa than Buffalo, but that’s not entirely surprising given that the latter is the worst team in the NHL. Still, when Ovechkin is able to get that many looks at the net one generally likes his odds to convert but he’s now gone four games without a goal – his longest scoring drought of the season.

“Nothing happen,” Ovechkin said in Buffalo. “100 percent chances I just sometimes make a bad decision sometimes I miss the net. I don’t worry about it.”

Ovechkin had two, four-game stretches without a goal last season but none after March 5. The last time he went five games without a goal was a stretch from Nov. 26-Dec. 5, 2011. That was also his last five-game stretch without a single point, a marker the Capitals would rather he not match when they host Carolina on Thursday.

2. Ottawa’s first goal. What happens when you combine two not-so-wise decisions by both members of a defensive pair against a fast team? Nothing good for the Capitals.

First Dmitry Orlov jumped up on what Coach Adam Oates termed a “little bit of an aggressive pinch” in an effort to keep the puck in the offensive zone. Oates wasn’t overly frustrated with the young defenseman, because he nearly pulled the play off, but it sprung Mika Zibanejad and Cory Conacher on a 2-on-1.

“Orly thought Grabo was covering,” Oates said of the pinch. “It was just a little communication there. That’s a tough one because Orly’s stick — he almost got it — but it was a risky pinch.”

Then Mike Green didn’t prevent or eliminate the possibility of either of the two passes the Senators forwards exchanged before Zibanejad put the puck into an empty net.

Conacher “made a good play to pass it back and got a goal,” Green said.

With two offensively inclined defensemen paired up there’s a greater chance for odd-man rushes the other way should one of them make a mistake when they jump up in the play. There have been some adventures with Green and Orlov as a pair, given the former’s inconsistency this year and that the latter is still learning in the early stages of his NHL career. But with John Carlson and Karl Alzner united to create a shutdown pair  — Neil Greenberg will have more on that later this morning – it doesn’t appear as though that unit will change any time soon.

3. Ottawa’s second goal. Green’s night wouldn’t get any easier in the second, where he was frozen in time on a highlight reel that one can only imagine will be featured prominently in every NHL highlight package this season.

The play was low in the Senators’ zone when Orlov went off for a change but then Bobby Ryan quickly rushed the puck up ice. As he absorbed a check from Tom Wilson near the red line Ryan dished the puck to Kyle Turris who was all alone cutting through the middle. Green, having been on the right side to watch Ryan, turned and reached with his stick but didn’t skate to catch up with Turris, who danced past him and then easily maneuvered past John Erskine as he scrambled to get into the play after coming off the bench.

To finish the play off, Turris sold a fake to the left and then pulled the puck around Philipp Grubauer to the right. Several shootout attempts against the rookie netminder have been successful with that type of move as well.

“It depends when he makes the move right?” Grubauer said, acknowledging that he would have liked to play Turris better. “He’s in a good spot if he makes the move really close, if he has a long reach he can pull it over, it’s a good move.”

The bad change led to the Senators’ game-winning goal, but there was no denying that it was a fantastic play by Turris.

4. Second and third lines. If there was a bright spot to be found in the Capitals’ anemic offense in these two games it was that both the second and third line had strong waves of possession and generated numerous quality scoring chances. Troy Brouwer scored the lone goal in Buffalo Sunday and Joel Ward recorded a bit of a fluky goal in Ottawa.

Brouwer and the second line were responsible for some of Washington’s most dangerous chances in the second period against Ottawa. Mikhail Grabovski’s opportunity in alone and the ensuing look for Brouwer in the slot were the best chances the Capitals could ask for. While they didn’t convert, the second line has come a long way from being the problem unit of the forward lines. Perhaps it really is a Grabovski effect, considering that since he, Brouwer and Eric Fehr were united as a line back on Nov. 23 they’ve all had steady production and growth. In six games since Grabovski returned to the lineup after missing two contests with the flu they’ve combined for five goals and seven assists.

The third line hummed along as well this weekend doing what any line with Ward and Jason Chimera does best – generating chances off the cycle and pushing the play up ice. Ward in particular had a handful of good looks in both of the back-to-back games but it was a fortunate bounce off Craig Anderson’s stick in Ottawa that gave him his 12th goal of the season.

5. Grubauer and the goaltending logjam. The Capitals continued to run with their hot hand in net, starting Philipp Grubauer for the eighth time in 11 games on Monday night. But the most impressive thing about this run by the 22-year-old goaltender is that he’s really only given up one soft goal – Sean Couturier’s bad angle shot that beat him as he hugged the post on Dec. 15 – as the pucks that find a way past him all seem to be redirections or outstanding plays like Turris’s. As long as Grubauer can continue to put together performances like that the Capitals will be hard pressed not to continue playing him, though I expect them to try and get Braden Holtby a game sooner rather than later considering he hasn’t played since Dec. 21.

It’s difficult for any team to juggle three goaltenders, let alone three who are all close in age and looking to assert themselves in the league. So when Michal Neuvirth’s agent Patrik Stefan went public with his request that the Capitals trade his client it was far from unexpected. The question is now will General Manager George McPhee be willing to part with Neuvirth, or perhaps one of the other two, to upgrade the team elsewhere?

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Katie Carrera | December 31, 2013