Washington’s lack of offense caught up to it without Alex Ovechkin in the lineup Tuesday night and for the first time in this 17-game stretch of poor play the team was shut out in a 2-0 loss to the Senators. As the Capitals run of futility continues, veteran forward Brooks Laich had a strong message for his teammates after this particular defeat.
Five thoughts on the loss to the Senators.
1. Emotion from Grabovski. Just under a minute after the Ottawa Senators upped their lead to two goals in the third period, Mikhail Grabovski delivered a solid, clean, open-ice hit on Zack Smith in the neutral zone between the two teams’ benches. Immediately after the check, Smith and Senators agitator Chris Neil confronted Grabovski and incited a scrum along the boards.
As officials tried to break up the ruckus, Grabovski reached out and raked his right hand across Smith’s face. When they were finally separated, both players wound up with matching roughing minors but Grabovski earned an extra 10-minute misconduct for clawing at his opponent.
“I was told – I think it was when he reached out. All they told me was what he did with his hands,” Coach Adam Oates said. “I think he hit a guy and they all kind of jumped on him and [ticked] him off.”
When Grabovski headed down the tunnel to the dressing room he hurled his helmet down the hallway in a show of frustration. Oates doesn’t have any problem with the outward displays of emotion, but he wants to make sure the team doesn’t take unnecessary penalties.
“I want the guys to compete and be frustrated,” Oates said. “But you can’t live in the penalty box because we’re not doing a good enough job killing penalties, so that doesn’t make sense either. I want them to fight for everything we can.”
That type of outburst has come in flashes from the Capitals as they’ve fallen deeper into this losing streak – Grabovski lashing out against the Senators after they jump him for a clean hit, rookie Connor Carrick getting in a scrap with Matt Calvert in Columbus. But to a certain extent I’ve been surprised that there hasn’t been more anger and visible frustration in their overall play.
To be clear, the Capitals don’t need players taking unnecessary penalties — that happens enough already. As they’ve been derailed by everything from a lack of offense to bad penalties, snowballing defensive mistakes, etc. over this past month, though, the Capitals often seem to be on pins and needles as if waiting for the moment where things go awry. No matter how well they might start a game or how many chances they create, there’s a sense of inevitability each night as this slump continues. Which leads me to….
2. Perfection. The way the Capitals continue to spiral, undone by a range of errors on any given night, Oates acknowledged that there’s a feeling that they need to play perfectly in order to win.
“I know the guys are feeling like they have to play a perfect game right now,” Oates said, “and that’s a difficult feeling for sure.”
Perfection is a pipe dream, though, considering that even the best teams still make mistakes. Washington needs to get to a point at which their errors don’t send them reeling and they can respond by minimizing the damage of any single gaffe. While that’s easier said than done, until they reach that juncture the Capitals will be fighting themselves as much as any opponent.
3. Ottawa’s first goal. Any mistake has dangerous potential and the Capitals continue to be all the more damaging. They had played a solid first 30 minutes Tuesday night but then when Jason Chimera and Grabovski failed to maintain control of the puck behind the Senators’ net it sparked a rush the other way and a goal against.
From between the two forwards, Ottawa defenseman Eric Gryba sent a pass around the boards to Clarke MacArthur who in turn found Kyle Turris cutting up ice. Karl Alzner had pinched on the play, providing the space for Turris to take off toward the Capitals’ end where he used rookie defenseman Connor Carrick as a screen and beat Braden Holtby for a 1-0 Ottawa lead at 12:59 of the second period.
In an ideal situation perhaps Alzner doesn’t make that aggressive pinch but the play turned when the veteran forwards couldn’t keep possession alive low in the offensive zone.
“Karl got caught in between, yeah, but their defenseman beat two of our guys on the puck,” Oates said. “Grabo had it on his forehand, it just bounced a little bit, the guy reached and rimmed it around and Alzy got in between. But we’re still there [able to make a play], we’re still there. Connor misses the poke check he’s got his stick right there and Holts, I think, was guessing a little bit. When you’re pressing, when things are going against you, you feel like you’ve gotta play perfect and they go in.”
4. Holtby. Making his first start at home in Verizon Center in exactly a month, Holtby put forth a generally sturdy 24-save outing. But with no offensive support, anything less than a perfect outing from the goaltender would be rendered largely inconsequential. Holtby also acknowledged that it will take a little time for him to get back in the swing of regular game action following a slow five weeks.
“A little rusty, I’m not 100 percent, I felt, out there,” Holtby said. “Just battle through, a couple goals I’m not real, real thrilled with but with the circumstances it was a solid game and a step in the right direction.”
Holtby said Turris’s shot “fooled” him and that the Senators’ center managed to get the shot off before he could predict exactly where it was coming from. As for Ottawa’s second goal, by Jason Spezza on the power play, Holtby said he didn’t get a good read on the shot and would “like to be out a little further on and make it so he doesn’t even think about shooting.”
Forcing more shots wide or discouraging a shot in general is something Holtby wanted to dictate more Tuesday night, by making sure he was soundly on his angles and thus giving opponents little space to exploit.
“Coming into the game I wanted to force them to shoot wide more than I have been, put them in those situations where they have to make tough shots,” Holtby said. “A few times in the first they missed the net on good scoring chances but they’ve got a team that’s very good off the rush and it showed tonight.”
5. Standings. Tuesday’s loss, combined with New Jersey’s 7-1 win over St. Louis, knocked the Capitals down to sixth in the Metropolitan Division and 12th in the Eastern Conference. Washington now sits only three points ahead of the last-place Islanders, who have won 10 of their last 13, in the division with only nine games left to play before the Olympic break.