In a grinding game Friday night, the Capitals lost to the Wild, 2-1, and missed an opportunity to extend their lead in the Metropolitan Division. Washington has a three-point cushion but has lost its past two games. Goaltender Braden Holtby finished with 25 saves in the loss. Dubnyk needed to make just 21 saves; his teammates blocked 22 of the Capitals’ attempts.
“We didn’t play our game at all,” said captain Alex Ovechkin, who had six shot attempts blocked. “We knew they were going to play desperate — they need points, as we do — but I think the sense of urgency was on their side, not on our side.”
The teams started the third period tied at 1. For 12 minutes neither club was able to sustain much offensively before the Wild capitalized on a neutral-zone turnover by defenseman Matt Niskanen. Center Luke Kunin scored with a wrist shot off the rush, placing the puck just over Holtby’s blocker-side shoulder. It was Minnesota’s 26th shot of the game and just its fourth of the period, though Washington had also tallied just four shots for the frame and 19 for the game. Two nights earlier, the Capitals had recorded a whopping 58 shots in an overtime loss to Tampa Bay.
“They don’t give up much; they’re pretty stingy defensively,” Holtby said. “After coming off some emotional games lately, we didn’t ramp it up enough for this one, for their situation, how they were playing. It was a close game. It was one that we’d like to play a bit better, but we still did a lot of good things.”
After an intense, playoff-like game against the league-best Lightning on Wednesday, there was a noticeable letdown to start Friday’s game against the Wild. Minnesota entered this meeting fighting for a postseason berth, just one point out of the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. The Wild got on the board first, with forward Jordan Greenway poking the puck away from defenseman Brooks Orpik and fending off Tom Wilson before drawing Holtby out of his crease and scoring around him 16:33 in.
Washington enjoyed roughly six weeks with a fully healthy lineup before it lost defenseman Michal Kempny indefinitely. He appeared to injure his left leg late in the second period Wednesday night, falling on it awkwardly during a tussle with Tampa Bay’s Cedric Paquette. With Kempny out, second-year blue-liner Christian Djoos took his spot on the top pairing beside John Carlson, and Djoos finished with more than 16 minutes of ice time, two shots and three attempts blocked. The Capitals were also without forward Carl Hagelin against the Wild; the team announced that he was ill.
“We missed his energy tonight,” Coach Todd Reirden said. “You see the type of impact that this guy has on our team. He brings the speed and the pace to our lineup and allows us to move people down and kind of build four lines of an attacking style of team. We needed that tonight. We didn’t have it.”
Washington’s power play was fully staffed with its usual personnel, and it sucked the momentum away from the team with three failed tries through the first two periods. The Capitals got three man-advantage opportunities before the Wild was awarded one, but Washington managed just one shot on goal in those six minutes, equaling Minnesota’s one shorthanded.
“We start doing some bad things, maybe a little casual,” Ovechkin said. “But I think we just have to simplify our game and just play smarter. I think we’re better than that, all of us.”
The Capitals scored the equalizing tally at even strength when Brett Connolly deflected defenseman Nick Jensen’s point shot 10:42 into the second period. But with how well the Wild played defensively, Washington wasn’t able to get another puck past Dubnyk.
“It goes with how well we played in the neutral zone, not giving them a lot of speed, not giving them a lot of time, and we were breaking up plays pretty quickly in the [defensive] zone, which was probably frustrating for them,” Minnesota’s Zach Parise said.
“Everybody needs points right now,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter who you play against; it’s not going to be an easy one, especially a team who fights for a playoff spot. It’s playoff hockey. I don’t think we were ready tonight, and the blame’s on us.”
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