OTTAWA — For the second time in as many nights, the Washington Capitals racked up plenty of shots and quality scoring chances. They simply couldn’t generate more than one goal against a team out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Without their typically on-demand offensive capabilities, the Capitals need to be doubly diligent on puck control and limiting neutral-zone miscues, but against Ottawa two errors cost them dearly.
“We need to get some more traffic in front of the goalie and some of the shots — we had some really good chances, especially in the second period,” Coach Adam Oates said. “We didn’t make too many mistakes tonight, but they’re a good skating team with a lot of talent. They were opportunistic tonight.”
On Sunday night in Buffalo, the Capitals recorded only one goal on 50 shots against Ryan Miller, and while they found success much sooner in Ottawa, it didn’t last.
Joel Ward scored on just the second shot of the game when he put a backhander on net from the slot and the puck caromed off Anderson’s stick and into the net for a 1-0 Washington lead just 2 minutes 11 seconds into the game.
Alex Ovechkin, who is riding a season-long four-game goal-scoring drought, made his physical presence known early with four of his six total hits coming in the first period. But one play Ovechkin was on the receiving end of angered him.
Ottawa’s longtime agitator Chris Neil lined up Ovechkin for a hit along the left boards and hit the star right winger in the head. There was no penalty, but Neil hobbled to the dressing room and didn’t return after suffering a lower-body injury on the play.
“I saw him. I felt like he going to hit me shoulder to shoulder. I was ready for it, but he hit right in my head, right in chin,” Ovechkin said. “Four guys out there didn’t do their job. Maybe they decide to celebrate New Year’s too early right before the game and they didn’t see headshots [from] Neil against me.”
The Senators’ collective speed can magnify any turnover or mistake made in the neutral zone or along the offensive blue line by their opponent, placing a premium on being able to move cleanly up the ice and to make smart decisions to protect possession.
That point was on full display when young defenseman Dmitry Orlov pinched but failed to keep the puck in the offensive zone, setting up the speedy Senators with a two-on-one rush. Mike Green was the lone defenseman back but didn’t do anything to prevent either of two passes between Mika Zibanejad and Cory Conacher. That left Philipp Grubauer, who finished with 35 saves in his fourth consecutive start, vulnerable as he moved across the crease, and he didn’t make it back before Zibanejad fired into an open net to tie the game at 1 with 13:49 gone in the first.
“They’re a fast team. They’re a very north and south team that comes fast and hard and makes it difficult to sort of keep a gap,” Green said. “At the end of the day they’re a good team. We had to slow them down, and I think in the first period we let them utilize their game.”
A bad line change in the second period allowed Kyle Turris to make Green and John Erskine look as if they were standing in quicksand as he danced past them en route to the net, where he faked left and then pulled the puck to the right past Grubauer. Turris’s highlight-worthy display put Ottawa up 2-1 at the 3:14 mark of the second.
The Capitals had plenty of opportunities to pull even, arguably none better in the second than when Mikhail Grabovski raced in alone on net but was thwarted by a toe pad stop from Anderson. Even when his initial chance was blocked, Grabovski regained control of the puck and swooped wide along the boards and fed Troy Brouwer in front for an open chance in the slot, but the winger shot high and wide.
In the third it was more of the same. Grubauer withstood an early push from Ottawa, which outshot the visitors 8-1 in the first seven minutes of the period, but his teammates couldn’t come up with the offense to match.
Even a power play with more than 12 minutes left in regulation — what would often be considered a gift for the Capitals and their second-ranked man-advantage — failed to spark consistent pressure. Brouwer fired the only two shots on goal, both prime chances from 15 feet out, during the power play, and John Carlson had two attempts blocked, but the best looks came when Ovechkin’s one-timer sailed wide of the net and then when the star winger whiffed on another chance as the puck came back to him.
“I think [Anderson] saw the puck probably too much tonight,” Grubauer said. “Got to score on the power play. It seems like the last two games pucks are always bouncing over our sticks or we fade too much on the shots. We have to put one in.”
Capitals notes: Michal Neuvirth’s agent, Patrik Stefan, has asked Washington to trade the 25-year-old goaltender, who despite being healthy since Dec. 15 has been a healthy scratch for eight consecutive games. Neuvirth, who is in the first year of a two-year, $5 million contract, has appeared in only seven games this season.
“My whole goal is that Michal gets moved. It’s come to the point that Michal is not even dressing. He’s in the stands, and as a goalie that’s a really tough situation,” Stefan said in a phone interview. . . .
Brooks Laich sat out for the 14th time in the past 15 games with a lingering groin injury.