OTTAWA — The Washington Capitals knew the Ottawa Senators were playing every foe they faced tough recently. Rooted in last place in the Eastern Conference and playing with nothing to lose, the Senators have found success playing for pride. On Friday night, the Capitals didn’t do enough to wear the fight out of Ottawa.
Washington never established itself physically in the offensive zone and, combined with a sterling, 31-save performance by goaltender Craig Anderson, the Senators handed the Capitals a 2-0 loss at Scotiabank Place.
It is the 10th time this season the Capitals have been shut out, just the third season in franchise history they have gone scoreless so often — 1998-99 (11) and 1974-75 (12) are the others. Friday’s defeat was just the Capitals’ third in their past 16 games and their first shutout loss since falling, 6-0, to the Rangers on Feb. 25.
The single largest attribute missing against the Senators, Capitals players and Coach Bruce Boudreau agreed, was a punishing presence in their offensive zone. The Capitals (43-22-10, 96 points) have excelled at wearing down opposing defenses through strong checks and cycling but didn’t do so with any regularity against the Senators (29-37-9, 67 points), who improved to 7-4-0 in their past 11 games.
“That was the game plan, to get it deep and be physical on their D and hopefully wear them down,” said Boudreau, whose Capitals face Montreal on Saturday to conclude a six-game trip. “But I didn’t think we did too much to wear them down. I haven’t seen the final hits, but I bet you we didn’t have 15.”
That lack of sustained pressure left the game to plod along with the occasional spurt of offense from either team.
Anderson was on point from the beginning. In the second period, he thwarted a partial-breakaway chance for Alexander Semin as the Capitals winger streaked out of the penalty box but saw the puck smothered by the goaltender’s pads. On an ensuing power play for Washington, Anderson got clean looks at two more shots by Semin and a point-blank opportunity by Nicklas Backstrom to keep the game scoreless.
Galvanized by Anderson’s strong play, the Senators pushed and finally got a break to end the deadlock. With 13 minutes 25 seconds elapsed in the second period, the puck emerged from a mess of skates and shins and crossed the goal line behind the Capitals’ Semyon Varlamov to give the Senators a 1-0 lead.
Ottawa forward Colin Greening was tangled up with Varlamov, who made his first start since Feb. 20, in the crease when the puck crossed the line. The goal stood, but not before it was reviewed — presumably to see if the puck was kicked in, since goaltender interference is not a reviewable play under NHL rules.
A one-goal deficit is not something that has fazed the Capitals much this season, but they weren’t able to fluster Anderson or the Senators’ defenders, nor set up in the offensive zone any better when trailing.
“They played last night, they were tired, we could have at least tried to take advantage of that a little bit more and I don’t think we did,” Capitals forward Matt Hendricks said. “I think we gave the puck to Anderson a few too many times on the dumps. They’re playing well, they’re playing confident, they’re playing hard and they deserve some credit.”
While Anderson shined, Varlamov, who missed 11 games with a knee injury, made 21 saves. Varlamov was expected to return for Saturday’s game, but got the nod a day earlier after Michal Neuvirth fell ill before Friday’s game. Boudreau said he thought Varlamov did “quite well” after the layoff.
On Ottawa’s final goal came when defenseman Karl Alzner turned over the puck on a clearing attempt, allowing Milan Michalek to set up Erik Condra, who wristed the puck past Varlamov to make it 2-0 with just more than two minutes gone in the third period. The Senators’ two-goal cushion combined with Washington’s inability to dictate play consistently created the perfect mix for Anderson’s second shutout since he was acquired in a trade from Colorado on Feb. 18.
“We didn’t play good enough,” defenseman Dennis Wideman said. “We didn’t move pucks, we didn’t break pucks out clean enough and when we did we were kind of one and done. Maybe had a shot, or we would just kind of cycle for a little bit, lose a battle and they would come out against us, and we just didn’t get anything really going offensively.”