Yes, Niskanen admitted, the Capitals pelted Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth with 44 shots which reached the net, and in this they could find solace, if some desired. Yes, they outpaced Buffalo in overall attempts by 30, setting a season-high in proficiency. But they lost, 2-1, Niskanen reminded, and here everyone knew the reason.
“We threw 77 pucks roughly to their net, so it wasn’t like we weren’t trying to throw pucks there, but we need a little more net presence,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “We talk about that all the time. When a goaltender’s good and seeing the puck, you’ve got to make him not see the puck.”
“Just that little extra second effort to get to the crease in front of them,” Niskanen said. “Get a greasy one.”
The search for “greasy” goals has hounded the Capitals through 20 games, through improved puck possession numbers and a recent home scoring drought of one goal in their past two. It buried their chances for overcoming the NHL’s worst team Saturday night, because only Niskanen found the net on a power play shot from the point, and his teammates did little to clog the area before Enroth to slam back rebounds.
“In these games, sometimes the tendency is to look for a better shot, a nice one-time pass across the zone,” Niskanen said, “but a lot of times in those ones, you’ve just got to get really greasy and shoot and crash, shoot and crash, make a pile there every time.”
Only twice did the Capitals’ shots come within five seconds of each other, and even five seconds can be long enough for the defense to reset. The best sequence came less than two minutes into the second period, when Enroth snuffed a Jason Chimera backhand, defenseman John Carlson had a shot blocked, and Beagle fired two rebound attempts, all within four seconds of Chimera’s first attempt.
Despite just four shots on goal during the first period and 26 overall, Buffalo had three pairs of shot attempts within five seconds of each other, including its game-winning goal during the third period.
“We need a little more traffic, second efforts, hanging around the net a little more,” Trotz said. “We had a couple scrambles. [center Nicklas Backstrom’s] line had one in the first, one in the third there. You’ve got to create those second and third efforts around the net, create a little more havoc for them. That’s an area we have to get better at. We’ve been okay on the road, I think, but at home here we have one goal in the last two games.”
The power outage at Verizon Center only underscored Trotz’s point, which he narrowed down to include his big-bodied right wingers. Forward Joel Ward has proven himself as Washington’s most effective net presence this season, but Trotz wants similar play from Tom Wilson, Troy Brouwer and possibly even Eric Fehr on the fourth line.
“We threw enough pucks, but we need to be hungry around the net,” Trotz said. “Need more net presence, bigger bodies, especially on the right side. Those guys can do some of that for us.”
That said, the Capitals also pinged several shots off the post and succumbed to a strong night from Enroth, who made 43 saves. But they have reached the power play once in the past two games, converting on Niskanen’s first Washington goal but unable to tap into the source of their greatest strength and deadliest weapon.
“I think at home, we wanted to establish something at home here,” Trotz said. “The last two games we have one power play goal — tonight. That’s not enough for us. So how do you create offense? Shots, traffic, second efforts. Power play we’ve only had I think one power play in two games, I think we’ve had three power plays in three games maybe. Not very many. That’s a big part of what we do too. Teams are avoiding that.”