In a game with several thrilling chances, near misses and quality goaltending by both teams, an unassuming third-period shot from the point ended up determining the outcome of the Capitals-Islanders tilt, a 1-0 win for the away team.
After two-plus periods of scoreless hockey, Washington goaltender Michal Neuvirth provided what seemed to be a game-changing moment in the third period – a spectacular glove save on Frans Nielsen. Less than a minute later, though, Andrew MacDonald’s shot from the perimeter found its way past a screened Neuvirth to break the scoreless tie at 2:16 of the third period.
“We’ve got to be the team that finds that (break),” Caps forward Brooks Laich said when asked about how Washington can be more successful in tight, low-scoring games. “We’ve got to be the team that finds the power play goal or the gritty one around the net.”
Michael Grabner, one of the league’s quickest forwards, had a chance to build on the Isle’s lead when he was awarded a penalty shot after a short-handed chance, but his attempt was unsuccessful.
With three points separating third through seventh place in the Metropolitan Division, the Capitals, who are 0-6-1 in their last seven Division games, need to capitalize on every opportunity to emerge from the log jam that is the bottom of the Eastern Conference. As Washington Head Coach Adam Oates acknowledged, they simply cannot afford to lose points to teams like the Islanders, the second-worst club in the league.
The Capitals again allowed too many power play chances, but the opportunities they allowed on their own man advantage, including one that led to Grabner’s penalty shot, were even more alarming.
“We were sloppy with passes and the puck was bouncing a lot,” Caps center Nicklas Backstrom said. “Not even just power play, five-on-five as well. I think (in) today’s hockey you’ve got to be able to pass the puck well to create chances.”
Mental errors and sloppy execution may just be symptoms of a larger problem for Washington. As Laich noted, finding consistency and maintaining momentum have been elusive for the Capitals this year.
“So far this season I don’t think we’ve been able to put together a six, seven, eight game streak, which gives you a little breathing room in the standings,” he said. “And that’s why we’re in a fight right now.”
Laich offered one reason for why the Capitals can’t seem to maintain momentum from one game to the next.
“We haven’t been able to have lines stick together that have got on a roll,” he said. “I think (Oates) keeps flipping lines looking for something that’s going to consistently spark every night…and we haven’t found that yet.”
One bright spot for the Capitals was the performance of Neuvirth, who turned aside 27 shots, several of which came off of the speedy Islanders’ rush.
“Last game, I let five in and we still won,” Neuvirth said. “Today, one goal against and we lose. That’s hockey.”
Washington has two more home games in February to recapture momentum before the league suspends play for the Winter Olympics. With the recent addition of Martin Erat to the Czech Republic’s team, the Capitals will now have four players going to Sochi.
“It’s not enough to just win one game every week,” Backstrom said. “You’ve got to put a couple wins together in a row there. Points are really important right now. It’s not acceptable the way we played tonight, that’s for sure.”