Capitals - Hurricanes highlights 3/12
Less than a week ago the Capitals looked like a team on the verge of hitting .500 and climbing back into the Southeast Division playoff hunt.
On Tuesday night they looked like a team unsure how all the momentum from winning eight of 11 games could slip away with three straight losses.
Playing with three rookie defensemen, the Capitals got behind early against the Carolina Hurricanes and could not solve third-string goalie Justin Peters in an alarming 4-0 defeat at Verizon Center.
The loss dropped the Capitals 10 points behind the Southeast Division leaders, further threatening their hopes to make a run for the eighth and final playoff spot.
After the game, Capitals coach Adam Oates and his players had very different perspectives of what just happened.
“I think it was pretty bad from our side,” center Nicklas Backstrom said after seeing the Caps outshot 36-26. “It's embarrassing, I think. Our effort is not good enough. If you're going to hunt for that playoff spot, you can't play like this. We've got to be better than that."
“I think tonight was 60 minutes of terrible effort,” Backstrom continued. “I don't know what it is, but we for sure need to talk about it.”
Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner also wondered how the energy and intensity that was so palpable during their 8-3-0 run was missing against Hurricanes in one of the most important games of the season.
“It looks like we’re scared to take penalties,” Alzner said. “We’ve got to be hitting more; we’ve got to be tougher for teams to play us. Right now, it’s pretty easy to play us. Our battle and compete level hasn’t been high. The exact reason I don’t know, but it’s been a downward spiral.”
Puck possession seemed to be the biggest problem for the Capitals Tuesday night, along with some bad luck and missed opportunities.
The Caps started off on the wrong foot when former Caps defenseman Joe Corvo gave the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead just 3:55 into the game, throwing a shot from the goal line off the back of Braden Holtby’s head and into the empty goal.
“I was aiming for the back of him, his back, anywhere up there,” Corvo said, “and it just so happened to hit his head.”
Holtby, who fell to 9-9-0 with the loss, said he’d never seen that happen in all his years playing hockey.
“It was pretty creative on his part,” Holtby said. “I never saw anyone try that. It caught me off guard.”
The Caps had three chances to get back in the game, but Peters, whose only other NHL shutout came against the Caps last season, closed his pads on a mini-breakaway by Troy Brouwer and benefitted from a pair of misses by Marcus Johansson, who worked three nice give-and-goes with Alex Ovechkin.
Perhaps that’s why Oates was not as harsh on his players as they were on themselves.
“I don’t necessarily agree with that,” he said. “I know the guys are searching for answers for [the media] after the game and I understand that. If I thought a team was outplaying us drastically then I would say, ‘Yeah.’ But I don’t feel that way about these last few games. I don’t.”
The Hurricanes built a three-goal lead on back-to-back goals by rookie Tyler Nash, who was playing in just his 16th NHL game. And aside from a third-period fight by rookie Steve Oleksy – he dropped rookie Drayson Bowman with a hard right – the Capitals didn’t show a whole lot of push back.
If there is a silver lining about Tuesday night’s game it’s that the Caps have a chance to get back within eight points of the Hurricanes with a win Thursday night in Raleigh.
How important is that game?
“That was the question before this game,” Alzner said. “Very important? Very, very important? Every game is important. We’ve got to get on a roll.”