NEWARK – And then it was seven. The Capitals proved unable to overcome the sum of their errors once again and lost, 2-1, to the Devils here Friday night. To make matters worse, Mikhail Grabovski also suffered an apparent injury to his left leg and is questionable for Saturday’s game at Montreal.
Five thoughts on the loss in New Jersey:
1. Penalties. The Capitals have been shorthanded at least four times in each of the past four games, that’s far too often for a penalty killing unit that ranks 21st in the league with an 80 percent effectiveness rate.
Washington took five minors against the Devils on Friday, including a pair of unfortunate offensive-zone penalties. The first came from the suddenly penalty-prone Martin Erat (five minors in the past three games), just 2:31 into the contest when he was called for boarding when he hit Anton Volchenkov into the corner boards. While New Jersey didn’t score on the man-advantage it prevented the Capitals from getting into the game at even strength, which would be their best course of action to try and break out of this slump.
“Look what’s happening, look at our results. It’s the same mistakes mostly by veteran guys we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot,” Coach Adam Oates said. “You play a decent game, it was a hard fought game, but we got behind and we couldn’t catch up.”
Dmitry Orlov, who had another rough night overall, went off for holding just 41 seconds into the middle stanza. That infraction led to Jaromir Jagr on the power play toying with Connor Carrick and John Erskine before he set up Adam Henrique for the Devils’ second goal.
On the shift following Henrique’s tally, though, the Capitals still couldn’t get any momentum going because Tom Wilson was whistled for charging after he lined up Eric Gelinas in the offensive zone. As much as the Capitals like Wilson’s physicality, he has to know better than to go take another penalty immediately after his team gave up a power play goal.
2. Orlov’s woes. The young defenseman’s tough stretch on the road continues. After mistakes against Pittsburgh, Columbus and New York last week, it was Orlov’s error that led to New Jersey’s first goal 4:57 into Friday’s game.
Orlov made an aggressive pinch to join the play in the offensive zone and receive a pass from Erat but the puck bounced off his stick and behind the 22-year-old blueliner. Stephen Gionta was able to swat the puck into the neutral zone, where after a give-and go with Jagr he got the puck back and raced up ice for a clean shot that beat Michal Neuvirth.
“Quite honestly he shouldn’t have been going so hard because it’s not a breakaway,” Coach Adam Oates said. “So he should have been a little bit more under control, pass could have been better, a little bit of execution.”
Plays like this one are particularly frustrating because the Capitals had possession and gave it away, they’re also the types of errors that seem to occur nightly and result in goals.
“The first goal is a great example of we made a mistake when we had total control of the puck and that’s not system, it’s not effort,” Oates said. “I don’t want to say focus because it’s in the middle of a shift and obviously we want to score. You’re shooting yourselves in the foot, it’s frustrating.”
Here’s the goal:
3. Mistakes make a slump. At a certain point, a losing streak and the individual miscues that contribute to it start to take on a life of their own. The mistakes start to take a larger toll and are tougher for players to respond to each consecutive time. Fighting their way through that is now one of the many things the Capitals must overcome if they’re going to find a way out of this.
“You can’t be afraid to play. I think guys are scared to make a mistake out there now, we do and it goes in our net right now but you cant play that way,” Jason Chimera said. “Guys are working hard in here it’s not like they’re not working hard just need a break or two. It’s frustrating. Our penalty kill is letting some in, the power play’s not scoring — nothing seems to be working but you’ve got to find a way to make it work.”
4. Devils put on a clinic. Oates has talked a lot lately about how the Capitals are spending too much time in their own defensive zone, expending all their energy trying (often unsuccessfully) to exit the zone. The first half of Friday night’s game the Devils demonstrated what a team that knows how to move the puck out of its own end and alleviate pressure from an opponent looks like.
Washington rarely had sustained offense at even strength in the first 30 minutes of the contest. Each time they pushed the puck across the New Jersey blue line the Capitals were confronted by their opponent, which was back in numbers and had the support to make smart, short passes to quickly clear. Defensive fortitude is not something the Devils lack as an organization, but the contrast in how efficiently they could disrupt and recover possession in their own end to move the play in the opposite direction was stark to what Washington has done all season.
5. Neuvirth. He admitted he would have liked to stop Gionta’s shot from getting through in the first period, but Oates didn’t lay all the blame at the goaltender’s feet because once again it was a breakaway chance created by mistakes earlier in the play. (Much like Rick Nash’s first goal in New York on Jan. 19.)
“I can’t fault the goalie and he played really solid, I thought,” Oates said. “It’s on everybody. You want a save there too. We had three shorthanded breakaways — we didn’t score. [Cory Schneider] held them in. He made the saves when he needed to. We need saves too, you need execution and the mistakes are not blatant but they’re still mistakes.”
Neuvirth finished with 28 saves in his third start in eight games and while he’s glad for the sudden uptick in workload, all that matters at the moment are the team’s negative results.
“It’s big time frustrating,” Neuvirth said. “No one likes losing and it’s really tough to win in this league, you’ve got to be prepared for every game. We lost tonight but I thought we gave good effort and we’ve got to prepare ourselves for tomorrow.”