The new streak in the Washington Capitals locker room is a negative one for the first time in a long time. Three losses in a row were handed to the Caps going into the All-Star break. With a New York Rangers win tonight, the Capitals fell to fourth in the Metropolitan division and into a Wildcard playoff spot.
While months away from the postseason, the thought is on the mind of coach Barry Trotz, who called his team’s game “too loose” with “too much cheat.”
“I said to the guys, ‘maybe we don’t make the playoffs,’” Trotz said. “There’s a point we gave away.”
After giving up three two-goal leads, Trotz voiced his frustration over the lack of urgency to protect a lead and secure the hockey game in his locker room.
“When you’re up 4-2, you’re not thinking, ‘Let’s make it 5-2,’” he said. “You should say, ‘Let’s make sure we secure the hockey game.’ You don’t need to score another goal but you need to secure the hockey game…it’s 4-2, six minutes to go, we need to secure it.”
Already players were looking for ways to take away lessons from the loss, and the recent string of losses.
“It’s frustrating when you have a game in pretty good control and we play the way we did after that,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “That’s not how we want to play. That’s not how we can play if we want to win games, myself included. It’s not a great one but one to build on, to realize we can’t play that way.”
Matt Niskanen hadn’t gotten away from the painful loss just yet. He described the game in just one word.
“Disappointed,” he said. “[We] let a good situation slip right through our fingers. Not a very good performance.”
Washington jumped out to an early lead when Alex Ovechkin scored on a long range shot, the first shot of the game, just two minutes into the first period. The Caps have now scored the first goal of the game in 17 of the last 20 games.
The captain doubled Washington’s lead on the power play from Jeff Petry’s interference penalty. The Caps had good puck movement on the man advantage. The quick passing left the Oilers as spectators as Ovechkin blasted a slap shot over the right pad of Edmonton netminder Viktor Fasth. Ovechkin now has 11 goals in his last ten games.
It was a first period that Niskanen described as “authoritative and aggressive” before the collapse would begin.
“[We] got a couple nice goals,” he said. “Just some areas we weren’t focused enough in, a few mistakes that just kind of let them back into it.”
The Oilers cut the lead in half when the Caps failed to clear the puck out of their zone. Derek Roy spurned Niskanen and redirected a Nail Yakupov shot backhand around Holtby.
Holtby had a stellar save on a Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ two-on-one breakaway with less than a minute left in the second period. The Caps netminder was on his game early despite sitting out the previous game in Dallas.
With six seconds left in the second period, Niskanen was sent to the box for kneeing Roy, who fell to the ice for a moment after the big hit. Just three seconds into that power play, Edmonton won the faceoff and Nikita Nikitin put a shot past Holtby, who never saw the puck.
“That goal at the end of the second period was kind of a killer for us,” Brooks Orpik said postgame.
“I think we took our foot off the gas,” Jay Beagle said. “[We] kind of let teams creep back in.”
The deflating goal sent a dejected Caps squad into the locker room after seeing two two-goal leads disappear at the hand of one of the worst teams in the NHL.
The third period brought more of the same for a floundering Washington team, as Edmonton drew five straight penalties to end the game.
“Certain times of the game, certain times of the period, you just have to be a little smarter,” Orpik said.
John Carlson gave the Caps back their two-goal lead for a moment for the third time in the game. His high shot from the point deflected beautifully off of the stick of a waiting Nicklas Backstrom in front of Fasth.
The Oilers found themselves on a power play again, the fifth and final time, when Beagle got whistled for tripping, a call that looked questionable for fans at the Verizon Center, who showered the officials with their displeasure.
Edmonton scored to make it 4-3 on a quick release shot from Teddy Purcell, cutting the lead yet again. The Caps failed to clear the puck, costing them a goal at the hands of Purcell.
Edmonton pulled Fasth with more than a minute and a half left in the game. Holtby made an amazing save on a Nugent-Hopkins shot constructed off of a draw win from former Cap Boyd Gordon. But just seconds later, a sharp angle shot squirted through the pads of Holtby from Nugent-Hopkins to tie the game.
Having given up three two-goal leads, the game was knotted at four with a minute left. After a scoreless overtime, Edmonton won in the fourth round of the shootout to hand a deflated Washington squad their third consecutive loss. After Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded the lone Caps tally in the opening round of the shootout, Roy scored in the third round and Purcell in the fourth to give Edmonton the win.
“It’s just a frustrating game because of how we managed it,” Holtby said of the squandered lead. “They’re a team that’s skilled and if you give them free offense, they’ll take it.”
With a league pause until next week for the All-Star festivities, the break provides time for the Caps to regroup after what has been a shaky period in a long stretch of solid play. Washington visits the Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday in what Trotz called “a must-game.”
“You remember this,” he said of the loss. “Kind of remember the process and how disappointing it is. But you just kind of put it away for a couple of days and start thinking about that Sunday when guys get back in town.”
While the loss will burn in the minds of the dejected Washington players, they will undoubtedly be ready to move forward and forget about the tough loss by next week.
“Physically and mentally I think this is a good time for us to take a break,” Niskanen said. “We have got to be all business and be better when we come back.”
After their long stretch of success, a bump in the previously flat road of the season in the form of a three-game losing steak has appeared. Although, according to Holtby, all is not lost.
“We know it’s not going to be easy to become the team we want to be,” he said. “And we know there are going to be bumps in the road, like games like this one. But it is what you do with them. We’re really going to have to get rested, be professionals over the break and make sure we come ready to play in Columbus.”