Five thoughts on the Capitals’ 2-1 loss to the Devils

April 5

Cory Schneider stops Jason Chimera’s breakaway attempt. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

NEWARK – Even after playing the way they want to, the Washington Capitals failed to pick up a single point against the Devils in a 2-1 loss Friday night that further dampened any hopes of reaching the playoffs.

Five thoughts on the loss to the Devils.

1. Missed opportunities. That about sums up the Capitals‘ season, what with all the squandered two-goal leads (13), quick goals against (28) and an inability to secure more than their 25 wins in regulation or overtime. On Friday in New Jersey, the missed opportunities came in the form of scoring chances – and good ones at that.

In the first period alone there were two literal misses by Alex Oechkin on a lengthy five-on-three power play; a clean look by Troy Brouwer in front on the power play that Cory Schneider turned aside; a shot off the right post by Eric Fehr; and a breakaway chance by Jason Chimera that Schneider also dismissed.

Then in the second period Julien Brouillette had a wraparound chance but was blocked by a combination of Schneider and  Dainius Zubrus, who slid in front to help protect the net. That led to a flubbed rebound chance for Nicklas Backstrom.

“It came out to me and it was bouncing, I couldn’t get a hold of it,” Backstrom said. “That’s the kind of situations I’ve got to score too, I’ve got to execute.”

Dmitry Orlov had a blast that ended with a flashy glove save and in the third Marcus Johansson had a point-blank look to the side of the net in an attempt to tie and force overtime.

“It’s frustrating moment to be honest with you. You can’t blame on one guy, you can’t blame for one play. We have good game but one break cost us two points,” Ovechkin said. “After that we didn’t give up. Jojo had a good opportunity to tie it but that’s why everybody have goalies.”

2. An even-strength goal for Ovi. After 16 games without one, Ovechkin finally added a five-on-five tally to his league-leading goal total. It was a play in which all three members of that day’s top line – Ovechkin, Backstrom and Mikhail Grabovski – contributed.

Backstrom deflected a clearing attempt by Devils defenseman Mark Fayne, sending the puck hopping through the offensive zone and over to Ovechkin. While Patrik Elias dove to knock the puck away, Grabovski recovered it and after he and Ovechkin created some separation he sent a pass back over to the star winger, who punctuated the series with a snap shot past Schneider.

It was Ovechkin’s first even-strength goal and first even-strength point since Feb. 27 at Florida. The assist Backstrom marked his first even-strength point since that contest against the Panthers as well. And to think both streaks snapped just 10:12 into the two franchise players being reunited on the same line.

3. Reunited too late? Speaking of the top line, Ovechkin and Backstrom made the argument that they should have been reunited sooner because of their effective play, especially in the early stages against the Devils.

Was that showing the result of having been blown out by Dallas the game before and a meeting that involved players and General Manager George McPhee? Maybe in part. But when Ovechkin and Backstrom need less than 10 shifts to demonstrate their uncanny chemistry and dictate play when they’re on the ice together, it’s impossible not to wonder if putting them back together earlier would have helped soothe some of the team’s even-strength woes. The experiment of Jay Beagle centering Ovechkin began as an attempt to help the team tackle the California road trip, Coach Adam Oates says, and it served that purpose. When the team returned and began losing, though, it still took four games before Oates went back to the old-faithful combination that has proved it can bring life to the two star players and the team itself.

4. Little things. One of Oates’s pet peeves has been when the Capitals ice the puck despite having the time and opportunity to make a play that wouldn’t result in tired skaters needing to stay out and manage a challenging situation in their own zone. In New Jersey, an icing led to the Capitals giving up the tying goal.

At 12:03 of the second period, Brouillette blocked a shot by Peter Harrold and then banked it off the boards and all the way down the ice. Did Brouillette have a better play available? Perhaps. Oates used his timeout to give the players some extra rest, but many had been on the ice for more than a minute already and it showed.

Marcus Johansson managed to pull the puck back off the faceoff but the Capitals battled along the boards for possession. Brouillette was the first to truly have control of it, along the right side boards, but missed his chance to clear as Tuomo Ruutu swatted the puck away from him. Travis Zajac recovered and threaded a pass to the left point where Eric Gelinas fired a shot that would be tipped by Ruutu in front to pull the Devils even at 1.

“We still had the puck, we didn’t clear it,” Oates said. “We had a chance, we didn’t get it done. Maybe it was a little fatigue, I don’t know.”

5. A lengthy penalty kill. The Capitals were on a power play at the start of the second period when Joel Ward clipped Marek Zidlicky with a high stick and drew blood, earning a double minor, negating the man-advantage and setting the visitors back from the start of the frame.

While Washington withstood the penalty kill, it appeared as though the Devils had gained the upper hand. They fired six shots on goal during the power play and rolled that into dictating most of the second-period play. In the middle stanza the Devils outshot and out-attempted Washington 14-7 and 23-10, respectively.

“We do a good job killing it off but we don’t get our best players on the ice,” Jason Chimera said. “They’re coming at you in waves and waves.”

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