In another disappointing loss, resulting in another missed opportunity to move up in the standings, the Capitals found themselves in a familiar situation – trailing early and then by a large margin.
En route to a 5-2 loss in Ottawa on Wednesday night, Washington spotted the Senators a four-goal head start. After the defeat Coach Dale Hunter repeatedly placed blame on the shoulders of goaltender Tomas Vokoun, largely without prompting from reporters.
“They jumped on us. Tomas would like a few of them back,” Hunter said when first asked about the Capitals’ tendency to fall behind early in games. “He wasn’t as sharp as he should have been, and it’s in the back of our net.”
Asked directly if he believed the team’s bad start was indicative of Vokoun’s performance, Hunter didn’t mince his words.
“We need some big stops early that’s part of the game and tonight we played a good, solid road game and we lose,” he said. “Goaltending is a big part of the game and we need good goaltending.”
Over Vokoun’s past 12 starts — including the past two games in which he was pulled — the veteran netminder has allowed 27 goals on 316 shots, for a save percentage of .914 and a goals against average of 2.52. The Capitals are 4-6-2 in those games.
Vokoun was not requested by reporters after the loss to Ottawa but his agent, Allan Walsh, commented on the matter via text message.
“I’m not going to comment directly on what someone may have said after a game,” Walsh said in a text. “I will point out though that hockey’s great coaches throughout history never resorted to publicly singling out a particular player, blaming him for a loss. Where I come from, you win as a team and lose as a team. The oldest, most tired excuse in the book is to blame the goalie.”
Erik Karlsson put the Senators up 1-0, 9 minutes 36 seconds into the first when the Capitals seemed to forget that the NHL’s leading scorer among defensemen was on the ice. Jason Spezza sent a cross-ice pass to an open Karlsson at the top of the right circle for a wrister through traffic, and the shot was away before anyone closed on him.
Milan Michalek then scored twice. On the first tally he undressed defenseman Dennis Wideman, slipping the puck through the blue-liner’s skates before beating Vokoun five-hole.
Michalek’s second goal of the night came when he redirected a point shot on the power play while standing near the top of the crease with 3:37 gone in the middle stanza to make it 3-0. Chris Phillips blasted a one-timer from the top of the left faceoff circle after being set up by Nick Foligno, who was near the goal line, for another power-play goal 12:08 into the third.
“Just can’t get off to a bad start like that,” Hunter said. “If somebody’s not playing as well as they should, you have to block more shots and cover up for him more.”
After Phillips’s goal, Vokoun was pulled having allowed four goals on 11 shots. Michal Neuvirth, who made 14 saves as Vokoun’s replacement, didn’t defended Vokoun.
“I don’t think it was Vokey’s fault. That’s the way things go sometimes,” Neuvirth said. “Two tough goals and they didn’t have a lot of shots.”
Vokoun was in net for a Capitals scoring drought that began with 9:31 remaining in the second period against Tampa Bay on Feb. 18. Before John Carlson finally snapped the streak early in the third period against Ottawa, Washington had gone 132 minutes 48 seconds without a goal. By the time that goal cut the deficit to 4-1 with 2:19 left in the game, things were already out of hand.
“We were playing well. It’s one of those things where you get deflated, you’ve got to battle back and in the third period we battled hard,” Hunter said. “We out-chanced them. We need our goaltending better and Tomas wasn’t sharp tonight.”
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