After another home-ice loss Tuesday night Head Coach Adam Oates candidly admitted there comes a time as a coach when you run out of clichés to say to your players to keep their spirits up. No one connected to the Caps could have anticipated this team losing eight of its first 10 outings. But that is the predicament they face after Toronto squeaked away with a 3-2 win at Verizon Center.
The script for the past week has been pretty consistent. Each game brings another fine effort or several positive steps in the right direction, however, something occurs each night that derails the Capitals from victory.
The word Oates used to characterize the mistakes tonight was “deflating.”
Leafs winger James Van Riemsdyk would be the first on the scoreboard for the visitors, and his marker was a direct result of one of those deflating gaffes.
Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth tracked the puck down behind the Washington net. From there he got his signals crossed with defenseman Tom Poti as to whether he should leave the puck or play it to the corner. While Poti and Neuvirth hesitated, Van Riemsdyk swooped behind the net , stole the puck, and used his long reach to tuck a backhanded shot into the goal at the 10:00 minute mark.
Van Riemsdyk made it a two-goal lead less than three minutes later. He was camped out on the doorstep to field the rebound of a Cody Franson shot (which trickled toward the goal after Franson’s stick broke in half). Neuvirth made one save on JVR, but the dangerous winger stayed with it on the follow-up to pot his sixth of the year.
The Caps had a couple of power-plays in the opening period and moved the puck effectively on both of them. The second man-advantage hit pay-dirt. Tomas Kundratek made a fine pass to Marcus Johansson, who was lying in-wait along the goal line. Johansson hoisted a close-range shot over a fallen Ben Scrivens in goal to cut the Toronto lead in half.
In the second period another bad break would deflate the Caps. German-born defender Korbinian Holzer wound up for a lengthy point drive that appeared to strike Jason Chimera on its way to the net. The change of flight fooled Neuvirth, who was at loss to explain how that one managed to squirt past him.
The Leafs only registered 21 shots for the game. Washington killed all three power-plays they faced. The DC power-play went two-for-three. Neuvirth made a terrific save on Phil Kessel to keep him scoreless this season, and still with all of that in their favor they were looking at a loss.
The home team made it a one-goal game with a sharp-looking power play goal at 6:47 of the third period.
Alex Ovechkin made a strong entry into the offensive zone, then brushed a cross-rink pass to Troy Brouwer, who in an instant found Mike Ribeiro cruising right in on Scrivens. The Caps leading point-scorer made no mistake and it was 3-2 Leafs with plenty of time left.
Scrivens would foil a late chance by Poti with a sprawling blocker pad save. There were times when the Capitals were buzzing all around the crease late in regulation, but nothing wound up getting past the netminder.
In the dying stages of the game, the Leafs had a chance to salt it away, but former Cap David Steckel missed the open cage that Neuvirth had vacated only seconds before Steckel collected the puck. It turned out not to hurt the Maple Leafs who held on for the win.
The frustration level rises. Many facets of the Caps game appear to be working well, just not well enough for victory.
They’ll try to get over the hump again in Pittsburgh Thursday. Please do check us out on Comcast SportsNet.