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If the Capitals hope to get past the Pittsburgh Penguins and make it to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time in the Alex Ovechkin era they’re going to need to start possessing the puck a lot more than they have in the first two games of their second-round playoff series.
“Call it what it was,” Capitals right wing Justin Williams said of the Caps’ 2-1 loss to the Penguins in Game 2 Saturday night at Verizon Center. “The first two periods the ice was tilted a little bit, no doubt. Good for them. They came in desperately and we didn’t answer until the third and it turned out to be too late.”
The Penguins outshot the Capitals 28-10 in the opening 40 minutes of Game 2 but held only a 1-0 lead thanks to the goaltending of Braden Holtby. The Caps turned the tables in the third period by owning a 14-7 shot advantage, but after Marcus Johansson tied the score on a power-play goal, Pittsburgh’s Eric Fehr won it with 4:28 to play.
“That was a huge goal,” Fehr said. “We weren’t happy letting them back in it with their power-play goal. We were just able to fight back and get the lead back. It’s difficult against a team like that. They had a lot of momentum in the third, and you could tell they were kind of feeding off the crowd and (Pens goalie Matt) Murray made some huge saves for us and gave a chance to get back in it.”
Williams said the Caps needed to give themselves a pep talk after the first two periods. They’ve been outshot 80-59 in the first two games of the series.
“We talked between the second and third, knowing we were getting embarrassed out there,” Williams said.
Williams drew the interference penalty that led to Johansson’s game-tying goal 4:08 into the final period, but the Caps’ second line has been silent the entire post-season with zero goals at even strength.
“We certainly recognize it and know we need to be better for us to win and advance,” Williams said.
The Capitals also gave the Penguins 10 minutes of power-play time with minor penalties to Brooks Orpik (interference), Taylor Chorney (roughing), Evgeny Kuznetsov (goaltender interference) and a too-many-men infraction.
“You’re leaving a lot of pretty talented players on the bench when you’re killing a bunch of penalties,” Caps coach Barery Trotz said. “First two periods, I thought they were way better than us.”
The Caps are a perfect 7-for-7 on the penalty kill this series and have killed off 30 of 31 shorthanded situations in the playoffs.
“Great again, guys have been doing a great job,” said Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, who stopped 33 of 35 shots. “Obviously, everyone knows they’re pretty good on the power play. Hopefully, it isn’t called that way again but we battled through it.”
For as much as the Penguins dominated play, the Caps had a chance to go ahead with just under 6 minutes to play when Mike Richards sent an open shot from the slot wide left.
“I thought we all thought we were going to win when Richie had that point-blank chance that just rolls off the stick,” Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said.
If so, it might have been fool’s gold because the Penguins have played better hockey for longer stretches of the first two games of the series.
“To be honest, we gave the puck away to them and that can’t happen,” said Nicklas Backstrom, who rebounded from a tough Game 1 by winning 18 of his 20 faceoffs, most of them against Sidney Crosby (1-for-14).
“We make lots of turnovers, make bad decisions,” Ovechkin said. “We didn’t have any traffic in front of the net. We have to find a different way to take the puck to the net.”
They’ll get that chance Monday night in Pittsburgh.
WASHINGTON D.C. -- Taylor Chorney played in place of Dmitry Orlov in Game 2 on Saturday night and he may be thrust into action again for Game 3 if Brooks Orpik is suspended by the NHL for his hit to defenseman Olli Maatta.
In the first period, Maatta took the puck in the offensive zone and shot on Holtby from the face off circle. As he began turning he received a high hit from Orpik and sent him to the ice. The play came several seconds after Maatta had already released the puck.
Maatta had to be helped off the ice and did not return. Orpik was assessed a two-minute minor for interference. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was very critical of the hit following the game.
"I thought it was a late hit," Sullivan said. "I thought it was a target to his head. I think it's the type of hit everyone in hockey is trying to remove from the game."
Barry Trotz said he talked to Orpik about the hit who explained to him that he thought the rebound from Maatta's original shot was going back to Maatta which is why he chose to follow through on the hit. The Caps' coach defended Orpik, but said they would respect the league's decision if there was any supplemental disciline.
"We'll let the league handle it," Trotz said. "If you know anything about Brooks, he plays had, he plays clean. He's not a dirty player."
If a suspension is forthcoming, Trotz will again have to dip into his team's defensive depth.
After a miscue by Orlov in Game 1 led to a Penguins' goal, Trotz benched Orlov for much of the third period and then elected to dress Chorney for Game 2.
As a former Penguin, Chorney brought experience to the lineup as he suited up against his former teammates. He made one of the defensive plays of the game as he was able to catch Bryan Rust on a breakaway and sweep away the puck without taking a penalty.
Overall, Chorney said he was satisfied with his performance on Saturday.
"It felt good. It's fun to get in there and play in an environment like that, playing at home against a real good team like Pittsburgh. ... It's good experience to get out there and compete against those guys. It would have been nice to get a better result, but overall I think it went pretty well."
Heading into the playoffs, defensive depth was considered a strength for the Caps as the team carried eight blueliners on the roster. Having bodies you can plug into the lineup is one thing, but defensive depth doesn't mean much if the coach doesn't trust the players on the bottom of the depth chart.
Through the first period, Chorney had only 2:44 of ice time while his partner, Nate Schmidt, had 2:28. Matt Niskanen, by comparison, had 9:25. Chorney finished the game with 10:50 of ice time total.
Trotz praised Chorney's play after the game saying but the lack of playing time for the third pairing seems to suggest the Caps coach may not have much faith in his third defensive pairing.
That's not a knock on Chorney specifically as both Schmidt and Orlov have spent some extended time on the bench during games this postseason. Now with Orpik's status in doubt, there's a good chance we could see both Chorney and Orlov in the lineup for Game 3.
Losing Orpik is a prospect the Caps have grown used to this season as the veteran blueliner missed 41 games in the regular season. He also missed the final three games of the series against Philadelphia with an upper-body injury.
The stakes, however, have never been as high as they are now. The opponent has never been as tough.
Trotz has clearly given his third defensive pairing protected minutes throughout the playoffs and has been able to do so thanks to a solid top four and an opponent in Philadelphia that is lacking in offensive skill. A possible suspension to Orpik with the series tied 1-1 heading into Pittsburgh, however, will put the Caps' defensive depth to the ultimate test.
MORE CAPITALS: Former Capital sinks Washington in Game 2
Watch CSN's segment about 'Dearest Abigail' on #CapitalsTalk in the video player above, which will begin momentarily.
Marcus Johansson showed up to Verizon Center for Game 2 between the Capitals and Penguins wearing what looked like a coat fit for a Civil War general. So CSN's Capitals account took it from there, playing off of a long-standing meme featuring Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
Thus was created General Marcus Johansson and "Dearest Abigail".
To begin the game:
We got an assist from the folks at Capitals Hill:
After the first period:
After the Capitals' disallowed goal:
After Johansson's goal to tie the game, 1-1:
After Eric Fehr's goal lifted Pittsburgh to a 2-1 win:
Others chimed in throughout:
@CSNCapitals Dearest Abigail, I regretfully write u this evening to say we have fallen at the Potomac. Monday we will charge the Monongahela— Will (@FederalDuck) May 1, 2016
@CSNCapitals Dearest Abigail, Thanks to higher powers for providing me Killers of Penalties that are of highest quality. We are not done yet— Marissa R (@Rink_Mama) May 1, 2016
Rest assured, Capitals fans. General Johansson will be back for Game 3.