With 48 games in 99 days, there’s not a lot of time to digest what happened in any single contest. So as we churn through this compressed Capitals season, I’ll be rounding up my thoughts and analysis of each game here.
>>In both games on the road this week, the Capitals entered the third period with a lead. And in both games this week, they squandered the advantage and lost in regulation. While it might not seem all that rare, consider that the previous 103 times the Capitals led at the second intermission, they came away with at least a point.
Why have they now had two consecutive third-period collapses? Mistakes, lots of mistakes, and the inability to play a full 60-minute game.
“We’ve got to tighten it up, and it’s getting frustrating with these last few games the way it’s been,” Joey Crabb said. “It’s unacceptable. We obviously aren’t happy about it. After one, maybe two, you shake your head. Three is too many.”
Said Mike Ribeiro: “It seems that we cannot put a 60-minute like that. It’s always five minutes here undisciplined and, boom, it costs us. If you look back at those games, we could’ve had three wins instead of three losses. It comes down to those details and undisciplined on a lot of things. We get away [from] what’s working for us. Tonight every time we put the puck deep, they couldn’t handle us down low and cycling, and we got away from it and tried and make plays at blue lines and you cannot do that right now.”
It certainly doesn’t help that at the start of the third period in both the 3-2 loss at Toronto and the 3-2 loss at Ottawa, the Capitals failed to push back or offer any sort of resistance to their opponent.
Washington didn’t record a single shot on goal in the third until 9 minutes, 19 seconds had elapsed. In that same span, the Maple Leafs had a significant advantage in possession and offensive-zone time and nine shots against Michal Neuvirth — including the tying tally by Nikolai Kulemin.
When Matt Frattin scored the go-ahead goal on a rush up ice that saw no fewer than four Capitals with opportunities to regain possession or derail the play and Toronto out-shooting the visitors 11-2 at that stage.
>>Speaking of the Frattin game winner, it was the result of a play on which the Capitals had several opportunities to recover or derail the rush up ice. On the ice were Matt Hendricks, Marcus Johansson, Eric Fehr, Jeff Schultz and Tomas Kundratek.
The play began when Fehr had a chance to keep the bouncing puck in the offensive zone along the right wing boards but couldn’t corral it, then Nazem Kadri beat Schultz in the neutral zone to advance the puck over the Washington blue line. Just a few feet inside the defensive zone, Johansson tried to recover and clear the loose puck but wound up coughing it up to Kadri.
“I was going to chip the puck out behind — I don’t know if it was Schultzy — and the puck bounced over my stick and I think their guy caught it in the air on the blue line or something. I don’t know what happened,” Johansson said. “And then they came over, a 3-on-2 or something, and the puck hit a skate and went to the guy with an open net. It’s a tough call, but we’ve got to find a way to not let those on.”
Kadri had positioning on both Schultz and Johansson and drove toward the net, as did Frattin, who slid across to the left side behind the scrambling Capitals. A quick pass from right to left gave Frattin an open net to shoot at before Neuvirth and the Washington defense could recover.
“I think it was a play that was kind of up for grabs just inside their blue line, next thing you know we had a chance to keep it in and it goes back out to the red line. We take another whack at it, it comes just inside our blue line we have another whack at it,” Hendricks said. “Just didn’t seem to get enough on it to get it back. Next thing you know, they got through and that was a nice play, but it shouldn’t have gotten that far that’s for sure.”
>>It’s not going to get easier. The Capitals sit last in the NHL at 1-5-1 with three points – Calgary is tied with three points as well but has played two fewer games. They play five games in the next nine days, starting Friday against the Flyers at Verizon Center.
Even teams that aren’t off to a strong start, like Philadelphia at 2-5-0, are fighting to scrounge up points any way they can, lest they fall too far behind in this shortened season. The Capitals are in that boat as well, but so far they haven’t proven they can overcome obstacles and a determined foe to capture victories.
>>A few Capitals said they believed the team played well at even strength, that they just didn’t give themselves enough opportunities to play 5-on-5 to take advantage of it or were being burned by little mistakes.
While Washington certainly needs to find ways to stay out of the penalty box, it also didn’t play anywhere near as cohesive of a team game in Toronto as it did two nights earlier in Ottawa. To me, that’s what made the loss to the Maple Leafs seem like a significant step backwards. There was plenty to build off of when things fell apart against the Senators. Against the Maple Leafs, not so much.
Here are some of the aforementioned comments. Buy or sell, Caps fans?
“I just think we’re getting pretty unlucky on chances against,” John Carlson said. “We’ve played very, very good in a lot of those two games and it kind of ruins the mojo by we’re getting burned on chances. It’s not like we’re giving up 20 chances in the third period or 20 chances in the second period. It’s just we give up five and they score on three of them. That’s really unfortunate. We obviously have to be better. That’s not an excuse for anything. Three goals against is three goals against.”
Said Hendricks: “Other than the penalties, I thought we were playing very good 5-on-5 hockey. I thought for the most part we were taking it to them 5-on-5. We have to find ways to stay out of the penalty box, it keeps hurting us.”
>>Will Coach Adam Oates shake up the lineup today against the Flyers?
He’s started each of the past four games with the same lines – Alex Ovechkin with Jay Beagle and Joey Crabb; Nicklas Backstrom between Wojtek Wolski and Troy Brouwer; Mike Ribeiro between Jason Chimera and Joel Ward; and either Marcus Johansson or Mathieu Perreault centering Matt Hendricks and Eric Fehr.
With the exception of the Chimera-Ribeiro-Ward line, those combinations seem tepid at best. There may be zone time or even pressure off of the cycle, but for as much as Washington depends on its even-strength play right now, it’s not getting enough offensive punch out of its forward units when playing 5-on-5.
Ribeiro had a pair of pretty setups on the Capitals’ goals Thursday, is the team’s leading scorer and has showed flashes of chemistry with Ovechkin when the two play together. Perhaps it’s time for him to see some minutes alongside the captain?