Good Play Doesn’t Pay in Sunday Showdown

Posted February 3, 2013

Braden Holtby criticized himself after the loss, “I feel like I’m doing some right things, [there’s] obviously some things I’d like to change.” (Photo by Clyde Caplan)

There is disparity in the Caps locker room. Not the “one superstar among fourth-liners” or the “amazing goalie behind a weak team” kind.

After the 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday, the disparity in Washington is more individual.

“I think the biggest thing is our mental game right now isn’t strong enough,” said Braden Holtby after the game.

In response to a question about Holtby’s comments, coach Adam Oates responded, “I don’t see it that way, I don’t. I think we played a good hockey game.”

Both are a little right.

Considering the score, Oates’ statement and general optimism is a bit unsettling. But throwing that away would discredit the fact that the Capitals had the puck more often than their opponent. In the first three minutes of the third period, the Penguins iced the puck three times. Washington was only outshot by two and they won more faceoffs (37) than they lost (34).

The problem was that mentally, the Caps did not play like a team for 60 minutes. Washington’s first goal was the definition of a perfect play as Alex Ovechkin and Mike Ribeiro drew the attention of all five Pittburgh skaters, leaving Mike Green open. On a third period power play, Ovechkin missed a similar opportunity when he was left open on the left wing.

“I think we played better than them, but it seems like when they had the chance to score they did,” said Riberio whose stickhandling got him a goal and an assist.

The pressure of Pittsburgh’s 2-1 lead going into the second period did not stop Washington from coming out strong in the second, and thanks to the glass and Tomas Vokoun’s wandering from his net, John Carlson for a moment was free of the negative attention that has been plaguing him this season.

“I was trying to get a change, it was a long shift and I was already skating back to the bench. I had no clue it was even going towards the net,” said Carlson.

It would have made no sense to pull Holtby after Kris Letang regained the Penguins lead more than two minutes later, and even when Chris Kunitz began his hat trick 37 seconds after that. But with Kunitz’s second goal in the same period, Oates said it was something he contemplated. Holtby’s reputation, however, stopped him.

“I really felt like last year when Holts came up, he really gave this team a rallying cry. I thought, ‘He’s earned the right to stay in there and fight through this and hopefully we’ll rally and get some goals back for him’,” said Oates.

With the Capitals 2-6-1 and playing last-place musical chairs with Florida (Southeast) and Calgary (league-wide), patience and hope is a worrying prospect for many fans.