Washington allowed two quick response goals Thursday night en route to its 4-3 overtime loss to the Hurricanes as it struggled to get ahead of its mistakes all night. The Capitals have now lost three straight and six of their last eight.
Five thoughts on the loss to the Hurricanes.
1. Mistakes all around. The Capitals game Thursday night left plenty to be desired but let’s focus on Jeff Skinner’s overtime game winner for a minute because on this play compounding mistakes by several players contributed to the speedy winger scoring on a 3-on-1.
After Mikhail Grabovski sends a drop pass to Alex Ovechkin in the offensive zone, Skinner pressures Washinton’s captain to make a quick decision with the puck. Under duress Ovechkin sends a blind backhand pass toward open ice with a wish that it would find a friendly recipient. It was too risky a pass to force at that juncture when, during four-on-four play in overtime, there’s ample space for a transition-based team like the Hurricanes to turn and go the opposite direction.
Upon seeing Ovechkin release the pass Dmitry Orlov sprinted in from the blueline to try to gain possession but Carolina’s Ryan Murphy managed to poke the puck just beyond the Capitals’ defenseman and jump start the 3-on-1 rush with Mike Green back as the lone defenseman on the play.
“Orly shouldn’t go there. He’s a kid caught up in the moment, the excitement of the crowd, and the rush,” Coach Adam Oates said. “The puck maybe was gonna come to him, but he should recognize it’s not. You know, that’s – it’s a mistake. Okay, to me, it’s a mistake that we’ll fix.”
As Murphy brings the puck up ice, below the hash marks in the Washington zone, Green doesn’t completely take away a passing option for his opponent when he goes down on one knee. Murphy threads a pass through Green and over to Skinner for one of the easier goals he’s scored.
“Their two guys recognized an opportunity to jump and it created a 3-on-1,” Green said after the game. “That’s just a thing that can happen in overtime. A bad bounce, a team takes off. It is what it is.”
But it’s also a goal that’s likely preventable if different decisions are made by Ovechkin, Orlov or Green.
2. A chance to win. After the game a few players and Oates brought up the fact that during this three-game losing streak they’ve felt like they had opportunities to win every game — the two on the road in Buffalo and Ottawa and Thursday’s home tilt with the Hurricanes. They’re not wrong. They dictated much of the game against the Sabres, had all the Grade-A chances they could ask for in Ottawa and couldn’t overcome their own mistakes in a close game against Carolina. Those are all woulda-coulda-shoulda scenarios now, but what does linger is that the Capitals continue to find ways to squander winnable games and with them points that would help distance them from the pack in the thoroughly mediocre Metropolitan Division.
Six points separate the Capitals in second place in the division from seventh-place Columbus. (The Hurricanes trail them by five after gaining the extra point Thursday.) And Washington also has fewer regulation and overtime wins (12) than everyone else in the standings pileup.
“There were stints where we were good there stints where we were real bad [against Carolina],” Troy Brouwer said. “We’re playing hard, we’re trying to do the right things but at the end of the day we have [two points] in our last three games. That’s not good enough in a tight division, in tight standings when we’re trying to put some separation between us and Carolina and we weren’t able to do it [Thursday] or last weekend and that gets frustrating when we feel we should be getting points and we need to be getting points and we’re not.”
3. Ovechkin and penalty shots. The star right winger snapped his season-long, four-game scoring drought with a goal 49 seconds into the second period Thursday night. But a little less than three minutes later Ovechkin would have another opportunity to help Washington pull ahead of the Hurricanes when he was awarded a penalty shot after being knocked down by Justin Faulk (also named to the U.S. Olympic team this week).
The thing is, Ovechkin hasn’t been successful often on penalty shots. The puck rolled off his stick on this particular attempt making it easier for goaltender Anton Khudobin. It dropped Ovechkin to 2-for-9 on penalty shots in his career. Similarly, Ovechkin has underperformed in shootouts this season, going 2-for-11. He’s 25-for-79 all time in shootouts.
4. New lines. Oates wanted to force Carolina into tougher matchup decisions and shake some staleness with the top line, so Ovechkin played the duration Thursday night with Mikhail Grabovski and Eric Fehr while Nicklas Backstrom worked with Brouwer and Marcus Johansson.
For a first game with a reconfigured top six, both units had their moments of sustained pressure – Brouwer’s second period goal was the result of solid work by that unit — as well as the occasional instances of overthinking (or overpassing). While it’s hard to tell at this stage if these groups will stick together for the long haul Oates sounded like he might keep them as is for this weekend’s game at Minnesota.
“Good. I thought we had good chemistry,” Oates said. “All the lines – we had a good flow going…. I thought we did a better job of it tonight.”
5. Laich returns (again). Brooks Laich was back in the lineup, making just his second appearance in 16 games since Nov. 27 after being limited by a groin injury. He skated 13:51, recorded a shot on goal but was also guilty of high-sticking Alexander Semin in the first period to give Carolina that lengthy 5-on-3 power play.
“I actually felt really good, really good especially in the third,” Laich said.
It was in the third that Oates moved Laich from the fourth line, where he started the game, to between Jason Chimera and Joel Ward on the third unit, bumping Martin Erat down. If Laich is able to remain in the lineup consistently, which is still something that can’t be assumed by any means, it will likely squeeze Erat out of the mix once again.
“It’s tough because Brooksie’s in the lineup and at some point, I want to see how he feels,” Oates said when asked why he switched the two forwards. “He’s a big body in there, and with those two guys, I feel they can get some zone time and create some havoc for the other team.”