Coming Up Short(handed) -- The Washington Capitals no longer have the luxury of losing games in chunks. They did that at season’s outset, winning just two of their first 11 games to entrench themselves so firmly in the basement of the Eastern Conference standings that a subsequent three-game winning streak left the Caps in the same spot in the standings.
That winning streak ended on Sunday in New York with a 2-1 loss to the Rangers. After three days of rest and practice, the Caps got back to work on Thursday against the New Jersey Devils at Verizon Center, needing to start up another winning run if they have any hope of inserting themselves into the Stanley Cup playoff picture.
With 20 minutes left, the Caps held a tenuous 2-1 lead. But as we’ve seen them do so often this season, they unraveled under a bevy of penalty calls in the third. The Devils scored twice in the third, leaving the reeling Caps on the short end of a stunning 2-1 setback.
The Caps were whistled for five minor penalties in a span of just 7:56 in the third period of Thursday’s game. The Caps heroically killed off a lengthy two-man disadvantage early in the third to preserve that 2-1 lead, only to surrender the tying goal at even-strength, less than half a minute after the last penalty expired.
That Andrei Loktionov goal – his first as a member of the Devils – came at 9:19 of the third and it was a backbreaker in terms of quelling any momentum Washington might have gained from its good penalty-killing work to that point in the contest. The goal came on a rebound of an Adam Larsson point shot after the Caps lost a defensive-zone face-off.
If giving up their one-goal lead in that fashion wasn’t bad enough, the Caps put themselves right back into dire shorthanded straits, doing so after they had already spent the first half of the frame taxing their beleaguered penalty-killing outfit.
John Erskine took a hooking minor just 40 seconds after Loktionov’s goal. Then Tom Poti was incarcerated for interference a mere 52 seconds after the Erskine call. Now the Devils were looking at their second 5-on-3 power play of more than one minute in length in a span of minutes, and Washington was staring straight down the barrel of a loaded rifle named Ilya Kovalchuk.
Kovalchuk’s overtime goal was the game-winner against Washington when the two team’s met for the first time this season on Jan. 25 in New Jersey, and he supplied the difference-maker again on Thursday, firing a blast of a one-timer from center point that Caps goalie Braden Holtby never even saw.
“[The Capitals] did well on the first one,” says Kovalchuk, referring to the 5-on-3. “They blocked a lot of shots, but our power play coach wants us to be a shooting power play, so they kept blocking the shots and the last one went through, so we’ll take the two points.”
Kovalchuk’s goal came at 11:40. Sapped from its penalty-killing parade, Washington didn’t have enough energy to mount a comeback. The Caps had three shots on goal in the third, and they came from 40, 38 and 49 feet from the New Jersey net, respectively. The Capitals went 12 minutes and 55 seconds without a shot on goal before Alex Ovechkin’s lob from the neutral zone trickled toward New Jersey netminder Martin Brodeur in the final minute of regulation.
New Jersey attempted 67 shots to just 41 for Washington on the night. That advantage was a severely pronounced 29-8 in the game’s final 20 minutes.
Washington is now 0-9-1 this season in games in which it allows even one power-play goal.
“You start the third period,” says Caps coach Adam Oates, “you’ve got a lead and you give them two 5-on-3s in one period. Obviously that’s too much. A couple of calls are tough calls, but bottom line is that’s too many. It’s too many times.
“How many times are we going to have this conversation? It’s on us. We talked about it at the end of the second period. [The Devils] were yelling about one of the calls we got in the second period, so we talked about being disciplined and watching our sticks. Maybe one or two of them you might question, but we still had too many penalties.”
Because of the succession of penalties, the Caps’ bench was thrown out of its rhythm and players were sitting for long stretches of time. Joey Crabb didn’t play at all in the third period and Wojtek Wolski skated one shift totaling 42 seconds. Neither player is used much in penalty-killing situations.
The Caps are now a third of the way through the shortened 48-game campaign. They have 11 points in 16 games. They’ll likely need about 55 points to make the playoffs, meaning they’ll need the equivalent of 10-4-2 in each of their next two 16-game stretches this season.
The only way they can manage that is by winning in chunks and to avoid losing in chunks. But instead of starting another winning streak, they’ve know lost two in a row.
Late Leads Lost – The Caps are 2-3 in games in which they’ve led after 40 minutes of play. They are the only team in the league with more than one loss when leading after 40.
Last season, Washington was 25-0-1 when leading after two periods. In 2010-11, the Caps were 29-0-3 in such situations. In 2009-10, they were 32-0-4.
The last time the Caps lost as many as three games in regulation when leading after 40 minutes was in 2008-09 when they were 33-3-4 under those circumstances. Prior to that season, you’ve got to go all the way back to 1997-98 (26-3-5) to find the last time the Capitals lost as many as three games in regulation in which they lead after 40 minutes.
Seven Deadly Sins – Tonight’s game marked the seventh time in Washington’s 10 regulation losses this season that it surrendered either the game-winning goal or the goal that put its opponent ahead for good via the power play.
Opportunity Lost – The Caps missed a golden opportunity to move closer to the lead in the Southeast Division. Washington started the night six points in arrears of front-running Carolina and Tampa Bay, and both of those teams also lost in regulation on home ice on Thursday night.
Uneven Even – The Devils outshot the Capitals 30-12 at even strength in Thursday’s game. New Jersey outshot Washington at even strength by a 12-3 margin in the first period and 10-3 in the third.
Including its 2-1 loss to the Rangers on Sunday, Washington has now been outshot by a combined 59-31 at even strength in its last two games.
Perreault Power – Mathieu Perreault’s second-period power-play goal was his first extra-man tally of the season and his first since March 25, 2012 against Minnesota.
Crooked Numbers – Tonight marks the third time this season the Caps have managed to score multiple power-play goals in the same game. Washington is 1-2 in those games, with the lone win coming in overtime against the Panthers in Florida on Feb. 12.
Discipline – The Capitals are now 1-8-1 in games in which they are faced with more than three penalty-killing missions. They are 4-2 when they are tasked with three or fewer shorthanded assignments in a game.
Short Stuff – Tonight’s game marked the first time in Washington’s 16 games this season that that Capitals had been involved in a shorthanded goal for or against. Unfortunately for the Caps, it was a shorthanded goal against.
The Devils’ Patrik Elias – a noted Caps killer over the years – notched a shorthanded strike at 11:16 of the second period, just 20 seconds after New Jersey defenseman Marek Zidlicky was seated for interfering with Perreault.
Elias now has 21 goals and 54 points in 54 career games against the Capitals. He has scored 14 shorthanded goals during his NHL career, and three of them have come against Washington.
New Jersey leads the NHL with four shorthanded goals on the season; the Devils led the NHL in that department last season as well with
Workhorses – Kovalchuk led all forwards on both sides with 28:58 in ice time on Thursday. He skated 8:48 of New Jersey’s total of 9:03 in power play time in the game. There were five skaters in the game who logged less total ice time than Kovalchuk logged on the power play.
Kovalchuk was on the ice for exactly 10 minutes of the first 13:15 of the third period. He finished with 13:15 in third-period ice time.
Caps defenseman John Carlson skated 30:34 on the night, including 12:30 in the third period. Carlson’s total for the night is a single-game regular season career high, besting his previous standard (28:12 on March29, 2011) by more than two minutes.
Setting The Tone – With another game against the Devils looming on Saturday afternoon, the Caps did a good job of setting a physical tone in the early portion of the game. Washington outhit the Devils 20-8 in the first 40 minutes of Thursday’s game, and finished the night with a 30-9 advantage in hits.
By The Numbers – Mike Ribeiro’s power-play goal was his fifth of the season, just three shy of his single-season career high … Ovechkin led the Caps with four shots on net and was one of five Caps to share the lead with four hits on the night … Carlson paced the Capitals with five blocked shots … The Caps won 38 of 65 (58%) draws on the night, marking the fifth straight game in which Washington has won more than half of the game’s face-offs. The Capitals have nudged over 50% on the season in that department; they’re now at 50.3% and rank 15th in the league … Jay Beagle won seven of eight (88%) and Nicklas Backstrom won 11 of 16 (69%) face-offs.