A four-game homestand got the Washington Capitals back into the playoff picture, as they won three out of four games after a rough patch on the road in California. The only loss at home came Tuesday after the Caps lost 3-0 to the New York Islanders. The wins prior to Tuesday’s match weren’t pretty, but the ugly play would only hold them over for so long, as the Isles took advantage of the Caps’ mistakes, costing Washington a valuable two points they could have used before heading back on the road where they have struggled.
All of Washington’s opponents on the homestand, the Penguins, Lightning, Hurricanes and Islanders, were on the back-end of back-to-backs, and were all struggling to begin with. This should have been an easy way to recover from the tough 5-2 losses against the Kings and Sharks on the road. The first three games back, the Caps won, and won by one goal (1-0, 4-3, 2-1). The games were chock-full of mistakes that almost put the Caps at a disadvantage. However, thanks to Tomas Vokoun and some timely momentum shifts, the Caps were able to hang on and take the victories.
Unfortunately for the Capitals, the Islanders were not going to be the last team to join that list. Washington made a lot of the same mistakes from the previous three games: turnovers, slow starts to periods, not finishing plays, lack of pressure on the goalie, allowing flurries of shots. Yet, this time, the team from Long Island used those mistakes to jump on the Caps and score, courtesy of their two best players scoring: Jonathan Tavares and P.A. Parenteau (who got two). It also didn’t help that the Caps got into constant penalty trouble Tuesday night and gave up two of those goals on the power play goals.
After the game, Karl Alzner said, “Personally, I thought we played pretty good the last few games and this was just a complete 180 for us.” However, with a lot of the same flaws from the past games, it seems that because they were able to start better and set the tone — thus, winning games — the Caps staved off what would inevitably become a loss.
“We got to start outshooting some teams,” said Brooks Laich in the postgame. “We have great goaltending but the law of averages is going to catch up with you. We got to stay out of the box and find some rhythm offensively and tilt the ice the other way where it’s a constant attack rather than a constant defend.”
Coach Dale Hunter agreed, saying, “I thought we were skating well early, but so were they [the Islanders]. It’s just mistakes and it’s costing us.”
Hunter continued, “People are getting beat. The video won’t lie — two power play goals where we didn’t get back to the net. We were too cute around the net. They were sliding around all over the place blocking [our passes]. We have to get pucks to the net”
Clearly then, despite what some may have assumed, this low-shooting, low-offense hockey is not the hockey Hunter wants his teams playing. It would bode the Caps well to start driving the net more and making the simple plays.
So with the loss before heading to the road, where Washington is 7-12-1, the Caps are now sitting back in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, thanks to a Penguins shootout victory putting them back down and a Leafs regulation loss that kept the Caps in a playoff spot. Barely hanging on then, the Caps will need to continue to rack up as many points as possible, and that includes games on the road.
The team seems positive they’ll be able to get back on track, despite the odds.
“It’s a chance to get right back at it,” Laich said. “Same with what these guys [the Islanders] went through. They played last night and lost and came in here a hungry team. For us, we will get on the plane tonight, travel there [Montreal] and get back at it tomorrow.”
How hungry will they be to establish dominance against the Canadiens in one of the toughest buildings to play in? Washington will have to consider that they will have a chance to show they won’t take any nonsense from the Habs, as Rene Bourque, the one who delivered Nicklas Backstrom his head injury with a flagrant elbow to the head, is now in Montreal. Troy Brouwer said after the game against Calgary that he was disappointed they only played the Flames once a year, assuming that was the Caps’ only chance for retribution. Well, they have been handed the opportunity to go after Bourque, who already made a questionable hit his first game back from his five-game suspension.
Matt Hendricks said, “I don’t know,” when asked about if the team had to take matters with Bourque into their own hands. So Hendricks claimed, “I don’t get involved with this stuff.” So Brouwer, your go. Talk about setting the tone on the road.
After the game in Montreal, the Caps will be playing against Carolina and Pittsburgh, all on the road. With their chances to make the playoffs not as certain as they used to be, they will need to get as many points on the road as they can before returning to their “comfort zone” in D.C. next Tuesday when they play the Boston Bruins.