Old Habits Die Hard – For most of Saturday afternoon’s game against the Islanders in New York, the Washington Capitals put together a decent road game. There were some turnovers and some mistakes, and the Caps trailed by a goal going into the third, but Nicklas Backstrom’s bomb of a one-timer from the left circle drew Washington even at 7:09 of the third.
Making his first NHL start, rookie Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer kept the Caps within striking distance until Backstrom struck. But the Caps didn’t give themselves much of a chance to come away with two points after that point in Saturday’s game, and they got the outcome they deserved, the short end of a 5-2 final score.
Less than two minutes after Backstrom’s goal, Caps center Mike Ribeiro took a high-sticking minor and then doubled down with an unsportsmanlike conduct minor to put the Caps on a four-minute penalty kill.
Washington killed off the first of those minors, but New York took a 3-2 lead when John Tavares scored on the second of those Ribeiro minors.
Down a goal at that point, the Caps still had nearly eight minutes left with which to overcome that deficit. But 22 seconds after Tavares’ goal, Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz took a double-minor for high-sticking, putting the Caps’ weary penalty-killing outfit right back on the ice.
Eight seconds later, Tavares scored another power-play goal. What’s worse, the second Tavares goal wasn’t discovered until a Matt Moulson power-play goal late in the second half of the Schultz minor. When video review confirmed that Tavares had scored early in the first Schultz minor, the clock was turned back about three minutes and Schultz was sent back to the box to serve his second minor.
The Caps won’t get credit for the three minutes of penalty killing they did between those two lamp-lighters. It’s like it never happened. But it also ensured that the Caps would be too weary to rebound when they got a couple late power plays of their own. New York iced the game on a Frans Nielsen shorthanded goal that came just nine seconds after the Islanders minor penalty started.
“A couple of careless penalties that we didn’t need,” says Schultz. “It puts us behind the eight-ball with guys working too hard out there. When we do have a chance to come back, guys are tired. It’s just penalties at an unnecessary time.”
The Caps certainly hadn’t played their best game, but they were less than 10 minutes away from getting a point before their discipline deserted them and gave the Isles a golden opportunity to win it, a chance the hosts didn’t squander. Each of New York’s first two goals – its only two tallies at even-strength on the day – came on odd-man breaks that were brought about by Washington turnovers.
“We weren’t managing the puck very well,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “We weren’t executing many plays that we normally would have. I don’t know what it was, but it didn’t seem to settle down for us the entire game, so that didn’t help either. But we weren’t very smart with the puck on our stick.”
“We shot ourselves in the foot tonight,” rues Caps right wing Troy Brouwer. “We were right there in the game, 2-2. We took ourselves out of the game with penalties and turnovers.”
Eight Deadly Sins – In eight of Washington’s 12 regulation losses this season, either the game-winning goal or the go-ahead goal that put the opposition ahead for good was a power-play goal.
“We took some bad penalties,” says Alzner. “There were some bad calls as well, and missed calls. But we can only control what we can control. We can’t take some of the penalties we took. When it’s after the whistle and the ones that aren’t hard-working and stuff like that, that’s what kills us. We’ve just got to be a lot smarter than that.”
Start Me Up – Grubauer acquitted himself better than the score would indicate in his first NHL start. He gave the Caps a chance to get a point or two, and made some strong saves among the 40 he recorded on the afternoon.
“There weren’t too many opportunities where he could have done something and he didn’t do it,” says Alzner. “They were forechecking pretty hard, so he froze them when he had to freeze it, and made the plays when he had to make the plays. He came through and made some some ridiculous saves he never should have [had to make] and that’s what we like to see. It helps us out a lot.”
Playing behind a depleted Washington defense, Grubauer faced a dozen shots in the first, 14 in the second and 19 in the third. He stopped 23 of the 25 shots he faced at even strength.
“It’s always different if you start or if you get in during the game [in relief],” says Grubauer. “But of course you want to give the guys a chance to win every night. I tried to do that, and it didn’t work out.”
United Nations of Netminders – The last seven goaltenders drafted by the Caps who made their NHL debuts with Washington hail from six different nations.
Jim Carey (1995) is American, Sebastien Charpentier (2002) is French-Canadian, Rastislav Stana (2003) is Slovakian, Semyon Varlamov (2008) is Russian, Michal Neuvirth (2009) is from the Czech Republic, Braden Holtby (2010) is from western Canada and Grubauer (2013) hails from Germany.
Ch-Ch-Ch Changes – The scoring on both Washington goals was changed after the conclusion of Saturday’s contest. The Caps’ first goal was originally credited to Joel Ward, with help from Mathieu Perreault and John Carlson. Upon further review, it was determined that Perreault should get credit for the goal with Ward and Carlson getting the assists.
Eric Fehr and Alzner were originally given the assists on Backstrom’s goal, but Fehr’s helper was wiped away and given to Troy Brouwer after the game ended.
Man Down – Caps defenseman John Erskine came into Saturday’s game with an average of 19:28 per game in ice time. Erskine suffered an upper body injury and left Saturday’s game after just two shifts totaling 1:18, leaving the Caps with just five defensemen the rest of the way.
With 441 career NHL games, Erskine is the most experienced of the six defensemen the Capitals dressed for Saturday’s game against the Islanders. His absence left that distinction with Jeff Schultz (391 games).
With Thursday’s 7-1 rout of the Panthers, the Caps were able to manage Carlson’s minutes, keeping him to a season low total of 16:49. With Erskine out for most of Saturday’s game, Carlson skated 29:14 against the Isles, tops among all skaters on both sides.
Of the five defensemen who finished the game healthy on Saturday, only Schultz (19:42) logged less than 20 minutes. It was Schultz’s second highest single-game total this season.
Tough Nut To Crack – Today’s game marked the 14th career start for Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov against the Capitals. He has suffered just one regulation loss to Washington in those 14 games.
Lifetime against the Caps, Nabokov is now 11-1-2 with two shutouts, a 2.19 GAA and a .925 save pct.
By The Numbers – Alzner’s assist was his first of the season … Carlson led the Caps with 5:39 in shorthanded ice time … Matt Hendricks led Washington forwards with 4:26 in shorthanded ice time … Alex Ovechkin led the Capitals with four shots on net … Steve Oleksy led the Caps with four blocked shots … Matt Martin led the Islanders with eight hits.
Caps vs. Islanders Photos
Related: Caps vs. Islanders Photos