The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals hold claim to one of the league’s premier rivalries, but on Thursday night at Verizon Center, it looked pretty one-sided. The Penguins dominated the territorial game and outshot the Capitals 35-17 en route to a 2-1 road victory.
Six shots on goal. That’s how many the Capitals managed to put on net in the first and third periods combined. The Capitals are now 0-2 under new head coach Dale Hunter and are mired in another four game losing streak. So much for the honeymoon period.
“I think it’s a little period of time when we have to find our way back to get success, back to what we used to be,” Alex Ovechkin said. “We’re not going to lose every game. But we scored one goal. We have to score more than one goal to win the game.”
While nobody could have expected overnight results, the offensive and puck possession futility in both losses under the new coach shows just how far the Capitals’ game had deteriorated under recently dismissed head coach Bruce Boudreau. That’s three straight games in which they have managed to score just one goal.
At least they’re not getting blown out anymore.
“We got to get people stepping up and scoring some goals, doing the little things,” said Jason Chimera, who scored the only Capitals goal of the evening.
The Penguins bombarded Tomas Vokoun with 13 first-period shots compared to just four shots on goal for Washington, so not surprisingly, the Penguins got on the board first courtesy of Craig Adams.
Adams, working an effective fourth-line cycle deep in the Capitals’ zone, collected a feed from Arron Asham for a tap-in on which Vokoun, who did his best to hold the Capitals in the game during the opening frame, had little chance.
The Capitals seemed to turn the tide in the second period, led by the the trio of Brooks Laich, Chimera and Joel Ward. The line pinned Sidney Crosby’s unit in deep, leading to a chance where Chimera skated freely with the puck in front of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s crease and snuck in his team-leading 10th goal of the season to tie the game.
“I think we are just trying to come out with some speed and some energy and then feed off of the crowd,” Ward said.
Bolstered by that checking line, which had several strong shifts, the Capitals seemed to regain momentum and the crowd was at playoff-level volumes again. But just 2:36 into the third period Penguins forward Chris Kunitz skated into the Capitals’ zone on a rush and Capitals defenseman John Erskine tripped, leaving Kunitz wide open.
Kunitz managed to get a seemingly routine wrist-shot on goal that slipped between Vokoun’s blocker and body. While Vokoun did well to stem the tide for most of the night, he once again allowed a goal that he probably would have stopped in years past. It proved to be a back-breaker.
From there, the Penguins went into lockdown mode and the Capitals mounted no threat whatsoever, leaving the crowd silent and listless. The visitors would end up outshooting the Capitals 10-2 in the third period.
“You need more shots on net to win a game,” Ward said.
There were some positives to take away for the Capitals, who outhit the Penguins 43-28. Ten of those hits belonged to Ovechkin. They also did a better job stopping odd-man rushes and their overall intensity was commendable.
After the game, Hunter defended his team’s effort.
“The players competed and we had some chances,” Hunter said. “They’re a good team over there but it was a one-one game and they got a chance and buried it…it just takes time”
Time and patience. Both may be tested for Capitals fans and players alike. It’s becoming clear that Hunter inherited a team in need of a massive overhaul in all three zones of the ice, and apparently he is starting with the defensive zone first.
Capitals fans have to hope the offense will follow later. Either way, it’s safe to say Hunter has his work cut out for him.