Wednesday night’s Penguins-Capitals game, a 4-0 rout for the Pens, had epic potential. Not only did the tilt mark the first time in over 20 years that the Caps and Pens have been in the same division, but the teams were also fighting for the top spot in that division.
Instead of the type of close, hard-fought contest fans are used to seeing between these two teams, the Caps were outshot, outhustled and outclassed by the Pens, who now have a three point lead in the Metropolitan Division.
“I don’t think it was our best effort,” Caps forward Brooks Laich said. “But during the course of the season, there are going to be games like that. You have to stick together. That’s the main thing.”
It’s an especially frustrating outcome for the Caps, who boasted a 7-2 record in the month of November coming into the game, because playing the Penguins was a test for a team that hasn’t had a very strenuous schedule up to this point.
“It’s very disappointing,” Washington center Nicklas Backstrom said. “We knew they were a great team and obviously we knew they were going to come out hard and they did. We weren’t ready and after that they controlled the game.”
The Caps started the game well enough in the first five minutes, but two fast goals for the Penguins near the mid-point of the first period sapped their energy. It didn’t help that they couldn’t break out of their own end to create chances.
“I honestly think we weren’t very clean coming out of our zone, our zone and in the neutral zone,” Laich, said. “And that was everybody. The passes to the final buzzer weren’t on the tape…I’m sure if you watch the tape or on TV we probably looked slow tonight.”
Laich noted that puck movement is usually a strength of the Caps game.
“The decision making and execution with the puck needed to be better tonight than it was,” he said.
Against an offensively gifted team like the Penguins, you can’t give away chances with turnovers. Pittsburgh ended up with several odd-man rushes during the course of the game.
In addition to their sloppy play during the game, the Caps woes at even strength continue. While they were outshot 40-18, perhaps the more alarming statistic is that the were only able to muster 10 shots at even-strength. Even their usually effective power play went 0-3.
“There are lots of ways to lose games,” Caps head coach Adam Oates said. “And that’s not really one way you want to do it.”
Oates noted that while it’s disappointing to not have that Metropolitan Division lead, the Capitals are less concerned about that and more upset about who beat them.
“It’s more a measuring stick,” he said. “You’re playing against your rival. It’s a big game.”
Last year, a mid-season loss to the Penguins was part of the catalyst that turned around the Capitals season. Perhaps they can also use this game as motivation to improve.
“We’ll be here tomorrow and hopefully we’ll learn something…(we have) to look forward to next game,” Backstrom said.
The Caps next chance to climb in the standings will be Friday night at home against the Canadiens.
Paul Martin’s seemingly harmless shot from the point sailed over Braden Holtby’s glove to open the scoring at 6:38 of the first period. Beau Bennett doubled the Pens lead at 11:57 of the first after the Caps turned over the puck in the neutral zone.
An untimely too many men on the ice penalty, for which Oates took full blame, allowed the Penguins to put on a power play clinic. A beautiful passing play from Evgeni Malkin to Chris Kunitz to James Neal across the slot to Sidney Crosby for the goal with 29 seconds left in the second period put the Penguins up by three.
After Neal capped the scoring at 7:16 of the third period, the Verizon Center crowd thinned out significantly.