On the surface, the Capitals 2-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, which came in their 13th shootout of the season, was largely forgettable. A mentally and physically fatigued Washington team failed to dictate the play against a weaker opponent, instead following Buffalo’s dull, passive lead.
Aside from a frantic final two minutes of regulation, when it twice appeared that the Capitals would get the go-ahead goal, the game was rather sleepy and unremarkable.
Upon further inspection, though, the loss encapsulated some of the recurring flaws that have plagued the Capitals this season. Problems they have yet to overcome – at least on a consistent basis – so far this year.
While Capitals fans in attendance were irate over the tripping call on Nicklas Backstrom that negated Karl Alzner’s goal with 53 seconds left in regulation, Nicky’s stick was wrapped around Cody Hogdson’s foot, even if it did seem like the Buffalo forward was already falling. Penalties have sunk the Caps in multiple losses this year.
“I can’t really question the call,” Capitals head coach Adam Oates said after the game. “It’s a penalty. You got to kill it.”
While the Capitals managed to kill Backstrom’s and three other penalties in the game, nearly nine minutes on the penalty kill means their best players can’t get on the ice to create offense or momentum.
“I think we had a couple penalties in the second,” Alex Ovechkin said. “A couple of bad ones, but we killed them. Sometimes when we have those kinds of penalties you don’t win the game. PK guys in the game and guys who don’t (play on the penalty kill) not in the game. I think 5-on-5 both teams didn’t have any chances because everybody played solid today.”
In nearly every post-game press conference after a loss, Oates expresses disappointment with mistakes made by his experienced players. His sentiments after the Buffalo loss were no different.
“I hate those mistakes,” he said, specifically referring to mistakes made on the power play. “From guys that you count on. Most power play guys are veterans, they’ve been there before…have been mentally tired before. You still expect execution.”
Referring to execution problems after a loss is standard cliche for hockey coaches and players around the league. In the end, if a team isn’t executing, they’re likely being sloppy and, as Oates often says, not ‘playing correct.’
“Part of it is fatigue, mental fatigue, stress,” Oates said. “I think mentally you got a little tired, physically as well. You know, our execution, we iced the puck five feet from center four times tonight. I mean, that turns into a disaster for us. Guys are yelling at each other and it just wears you down.”
Too few regulation wins:
Playing past regulation isn’t a big deal when the Capitals are giving away points to a team like the Buffalo Sabres, but doing so against the Rangers, Flyers or Hurricanes is going to add up by March and April.
“You want the points,” Oates said. “You want (them) every night and we talk about it from day one that really in the season there are noisy games. You want to get points every single time you can because it will bite you later in the year.”
The Caps will look to get back on track at home Tuesday night against the San Jose Sharks.
Buffalo defenseman Brian Flynn tipped Jason Chimera’s pass intended for Marcus Johansson past his own goalie to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead 11:01 into the first period. Rookie defenseman Connor Carrick started the play with a great breakout pass to Joel Ward.
With Tom Wilson in the box for a questionable charging penalty and John Carlson tangled up with Cody Hodgson in the front of the Capitals net, Tyler Ennis was able to take advantage of the traffic in the crease, corralling the loose rebound from Christian Ehrhoff’s initial shot and lifting it over Grubauer’s blocker to tie the game at one with his ninth goal of the season.
While Ryan Miller didn’t repeat the 49-save performance that sunk the Capitals on December 29, his stick save on Mikhail Grabovski with two minutes left in regulation cost the Capitals a third consecutive regulation win.
Hodgson, the final skater in the shootout, scored the only goal to give the Sabres their second shootout win in as many games against the Capitals.