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. If you missed them, check out the game story from the 3-2 loss to the Islanders and more on the mistake that paved the way for John Tavares’s game-winner.
>> Coach Adam Oates saw it coming: The sluggish start, the potential trap posed by a single home game in the midst of seven on the road. But being aware of the risk didn’t prevent the Capitals from stepping into the snare.
Columnist John Feinstein takes a look at how falling into Tuesday night’s trap eliminated another chance for the Capitals in a season where few remain.
For the majority of the first 10 minutes against the Islanders Thursday night, the Capitals looked like a team that hadn’t quite returned from the previous week’s road trip. Where it was most glaring was in the defensive zone where Washington regularly lost track of coverage assignments and positioning errors created several wide-open looks for the Islanders.
“It was just normal: When you go on a road trip to come back and the first five, seven, 10 minutes you’re not the way you wanted to be. And that’s when you have to be more mentally prepared for it,” Mike Ribeiro said. “You know your legs might not be there, but your head has to be there, and we made small mistakes that cost us.”
Less than three minutes in, Marty Reasoner was left all alone in the slot but shot wide despite all the time and space he could have ever wanted to fire the puck. The Capitals wouldn’t be as fortunate a few minutes later.
Former Washington and Hershey Bears forward Keith Aucoin snatched a loose puck away from John Carlson along the left side boards. All five Capitals on the ice had drifted over to the left side as the puck curled up the boards, leaving Michael Grabner unmarked on the right side. Grabner made his way into the slot, received the pass from Aucoin and fired a shot past Braden Holtby glove side with 5:24 gone in the contest.
A few shifts later, Steve Oleksy looked like he was trying to land a big hit on Frans Nielsen behind the Capitals net. Problem was, Mike Ribeiro and Dmitry Orlov were already pursuing the New York center, and with Oleksy jumping into that play, three Capitals were trapped in one corner of the ice and unable to react when Nielsen sent the puck up to Kyle Okposo. As Okposo found Josh Bailey wide open in the right circle for a shot that beat Holtby blocker side, the Capitals were still trying to get back into position.
Holtby, who finished with 28 saves, was asked if he was surprised by the abundance of open Islanders in front of him.
“It happened a couple times before they scored that first one,” Holtby said. “You knew they were doing something to create that, so I don’t know if that’s our play or theirs. It’s hard to tell right now, haven’t looked at anything. But there shouldn’t be any state of shock for me. I should be prepared to stop those shots.”
>> Still, the Capitals were able to overcome the rough start, erasing the two-goal deficit with tallies by Ribeiro and John Carlson. They gave themselves a chance to win a fourth straight contest, and at times in the third period it certainly looked like they would, but the Capitals couldn’t prevent another bungling set of mistakes with less than six minutes left to actually do so. (More on the errors by Mike Green and Brooks Laich that led to John Tavares’s game-winning goal here.)
“It was tough from my standpoint,” Carlson said. “I thought that when we had the momentum, I thought that there was no way we were going to lose the game.”
Carlson wasn’t the only one who felt as though Washington would find a way to extend its winning streak.
“I was really pumped when we obviously caught up in the second, and we felt good about ourselves coming back in the third,” Oates said. “We had some chances. We didn’t – Brow had a chance. Nicky had one. Hendy had one. We just didn’t get that third goal…. We came back, they had nothing going in the third and we just gave them a freebie.”
>> Mathieu Perreault’s visor broke in the third period of Tuesday’s loss and, in the words of Oates, cut the center “pretty good.” The 25-year-old pivot was getting stitched up after the game but Oates didn’t seem overly concerned that Perreault would miss time.
Perreault’s injury, which is actually the second time in his career his visor has broken and caused him harm, sheds light on another aspect of the visor debate. Last week, the NHL’s general managers endorsed the idea of making visors mandatory for all new players entering the league while including a grandfather clause that would allow current NHLers to still have the option.
While visors offer a certain level of protection for players, they aren’t without risks themselves. Laich, who is one of only a few Capitals who don’t wear visors, always points out the potential for a shield to break and cause harm that was never intended.
For the most part, though, players tend to believe the benefits of wearing a visor outweigh the chance of a shield causing injury.
Perreault said earlier this month that he’s never considered not wearing a visor because at 5-foot-10, there are far too many errant pucks and high sticks that could hit him in the face.
“If I was [6-foot-6 defenseman Jeff Schultz], for sure, I would probably go no visor because you’re so far up,” Perreault said. “But for me, there’s no way.”
>> Speaking of injuries, finally saw the replay of Eric Fehr’s final shift against the Rangers on Sunday. He was spun around by New York defenseman Ryan McDonagh in the neutral zone and braced himself with his arms as he fell to the ice.
Oates said earlier this week that Fehr did not suffer another shoulder injury. From the look of the fall it could be a wrist or hand injury, though.
>> The Capitals are off Wednesday and will have two days of practice Thursday and Friday before embarking on a three-games in four-days road trip this weekend. The 3-2 loss to the Islanders isn’t one Washington wants to have three days to dwell on, but the rest and practice time comes at an opportune time to reset for any sort of push in the final 15 games of the regular season.
“You’re frustrated, obviously, with the way it ended tonight, but the guys need rest. They get a day off,” Oates said. “They need rest mentally. And then we need some practice time. We haven’t been able to practice in two weeks.”