The Capitals might not have allowed any power play goals in the first period against the New York Rangers on Sunday night but the three penalties they took in the final 14 minutes 10 seconds of the frame cost them in ways that aren’t easily quantified by the scoreboard according to Coach Adam Oates.
“It makes it so difficult because the team has no rhythm, you’ve got some guys that don’t kill penalties, don’t get to play,” Oates said. “You’re using guys in other situations, you want to save that energy if possible. And you give them life. We had a 1-0 lead and all of a sudden, you give them life. You get their good players on the ice, they get touches with the puck, you’ve gotta stay out of the box.”
Washington’s first infraction in its eventual 2-1 loss at the Rangers was for too-many men on the ice, the result of a sloppy line change just under six minutes in. Then 47 seconds after the Capitals killed that penalty, Jason Chimera went to the box for boarding Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi. Troy Brouwer was whistled for boarding defenseman Anton Stralman with just 1:40 remaining in the first.
At the end of the first period Nicklas Backstrom had played 3:01 of his total 6:52 of ice time short-handed, Brouwer skated 2:15 on the penalty kill of his 5:52.
“You use a lot of minutes, a lot of guys using a lot of energy killing penalties, Nick and Troy, guys that we need at the other end, especially. But once again, we obviously did some good things. We didn’t give them a lot of chances. They had a lot of shots, but a lot of perimeter, not really a lot of Grade A chances. We did some good things, but we still made a lot of mistakes.”
While the penalties certainly threw the Capitals’ minutes off kilter and gave the Rangers unnecessary encouragement, it was an oddly officiated game. Officials missed a blatant trip by Backstrom on Rangers captain Ryan Callahan around the midway point of the first, but then called tripping when Karl Alzner’s stick got caught in the feet of Brad Richards 4:18 into the third period.
Oates also questioned the boarding call on Brouwer, stating that a play like his hit on Stralman “happens so many times” over the course of game.
Alzner was in the box for that trip when Derek Stepan scored the go-ahead goal. It only took the Rangers seven seconds into that power play, their fourth of the game, to make it 2-1. As much as it was a tough call, Alzner realized why the referee called it.
“I understand why he called it and the only thing is you hope he gives you the benefit of the doubt for it being a hockey play, checking a guy and him trying to jump over the stick,” Alzner said. The referee “didn’t and I have to deal with that. It’s just crappy that that’s pretty much the reason why we lost the game.”
Both Oates and a few players said that Sunday’s contest seemed to be called in a tighter fashion than even other games early in this abbreviated season. They reiterate the old adage that calls will eventually even out, but that’s not easy to remember in the heat of the moment when all the Capitals see is frequent trips to the box.
“Maybe tonight, we were on the short end of the stick, but there’s plenty of nights where we’re not,” Oates said. “So bottom line is you’ve gotta be in control and you can’t take penalties.”