Sunday night at Verizon Center brought a much more emotional and cohesive performance from the Washington Capitals, but at a time when the only true currency is a win and the points that come with it, a moral victory rings hollow. This time, the Capitals were undone by one glaring mistake.
Washington fell, 1-0, to the Philadelphia Flyers with the lone goal developing after a turnover by Alex Ovechkin in the second period. The Capitals’ star left wing tried to make a play in the offensive zone and wound up giving the puck away and hemming his squad in their own end.
A pass from left to right on the points brought the puck to just inside the blue line by the Philadelphia bench. Ovechkin half attempted to block a shot by Pavel Kubina but didn’t get a piece of it and Eric Wellwood wound up redirecting it into the net for the only tally the Flyers would need.
“It’s tough loss for us, I think,” Ovechkin said. “My mistake cost us two points and it cost us the game.”
After that goal, Ovechkin didn’t take a shift for 6 minutes and 39 seconds but Coach Dale Hunter insisted that he wasn’t benching the captain that he was simply matching lines.
“Guys, it’s not a benching. Maybe he missed a shift. Guys, I was matching lines,” Hunter told reporters after the game. “I definitely was matching lines, it was one of those things that he wasn’t the right matchup. I didn’t want him against [Jaromir] Jagr and Jagr’s line.”
Given that playing at home gives Washington the last change, it seems curious that Hunter wouldn’t want his top offensive talent on the ice to help try and erase a one-goal deficit. But Ovechkin didn’t see a long layoff between shifts exclusively. His linemates, Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer did as well.
All three were on the ice when the goal was scored with 7:51 gone in the second period. After the Flyers’ took their 1-0 lead, Ovechkin’s next shift came 14:30 into the frame, Johansson’s at 14:01 and Brouwer’s 14:47.
“People make mistakes,” Hunter said. “It’s what you do after. . . . In the third period he had his chances and the goalie was good tonight.”
In the third period all three members of the first line played more than seven minutes, with Ovechkin clocking in with 8:37 and three scoring chances in the final frame as Washington sought in vain to even the score. Try as they might, the Capitals couldn’t find a way to beat Ilya Bryzgalov, who finished with a 34-save shutout, extending their shutout streak to 160 minutes. His Washington counterpart, Michal Neuvirth recorded 22 saves.
Losses to the Flyers and Devils this weekend mark the first time Washington has been shut out in back-to-back games since March 6 and 9 in 2007. The last time it was blanked in two consecutive outings at home was March 13 and 15 in 2001.
The Capitals remain stuck in ninth place in the Eastern Conference with 69 points, one back from Winnipeg, which plays Monday, for the final playoff berth but now five behind Florida for the Southeast Division lead.
By failing to capitalize on opportunities to advance, though, they’ve allowed others to close the gap. Tampa Bay and Buffalo sit in 10th and 11th place, respectively, each with 68 points.
“There’s no silver lining to losing hockey games especially in that fashion at this time of the year, it’s very tough,” Matt Hendricks said. “It couldn’t have been closer, it could have been our game. Just need to flush this one down the toilet and look for tomorrow.”
There was anger evident in Washington’s play from the outset against the Flyers. The Capitals finished big hits with regularity, Brouwer fought Scott Hartnell after one of his checks irritated the visitors.
It might not have been a bout between heavyweights, but it spoke to the significance and the intensity flowing in the contest. Shoving matches broke out after the whistles and although the first period remained scoreless Washington carried momentum into the middle stanza.
Despite each line finding success cycling the puck and sustaining pressure in the offensive zone the Capitals’ couldn’t convert and Ovechkin’s mistake would put them behind. No amount of shots or puck possession allowed them to erase that single error.
“Playing good just doesn’t do it if you’re not getting two points right now,” Brouwer said. “It goes back to a turnover that we had and that was the reason why we were in our zone. We’ve got to clean up certain aspects of our game and we’ve got to find ways to score. That’s two games in a row we’ve been shut out and that’s unacceptable.”