Just dump the puck in.
That’s what Capitals defenseman John Carlson was thinking when he sent it into the Pens’ zone in the second period and headed for the bench. It had been a long shift, and he was just trying to get a change. Then he noticed the guy who was supposed to be swapping with him—Mike Green—had his hands in the air, celebrating.
Carlson’s shot had gone in the net, which Pens goalie Tomas Vokoun had prematurely left.
Green himself had been involved in a jaw-dropping goal in the first, when a hit from the Pens in their zone left him slow getting up by the boards. Everyone shifted to the other side of the ice, forgetting about Green, who managed to get up and skate back to midway in the Pens’ zone.
It was at that point that Mike Ribeiro sent the puck away from the boards to Woltek Wolski, who was nearer the center of the Pens’ zone.
“I got the puck, and my first reaction was to shoot,” Wolski said. “Greenie yelled out right at the last second.”
Green was wide open. Wolski passed, Green shot, and the result was the Capitals’ first goal of the game.
Perhaps they should have celebrated longer, because these two goals were the last time they’d be close to having an even scoreboard.
Although head coach Adam Oates said postgame his team played a good, solid hockey game barring a “couple of mistakes,” the mistakes lead to a 6-3 loss to a bitter rival.
Despite a roster that includes Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and two strong power play shots from the point in Mike Green and John Carlson, the Caps simply can’t find the right combinations to match Pittsburgh’s offensive firepower as they have been able to in recent years. I don’t know what the scouting report that opposing teams study for the Caps looks like, but the places for exploitation are pretty simple: a painfully slow power play which depends far too much on peripheral passing; a hesitancy to go to the net, so a defending team automatically doesn’t have to worry about or defend that real estate; a slow blueline; a habit of screening their own goalie; little attention to detail; surprisingly weak goaltending of late; easily distracted from playing a full 60 minutes.
Frankly, none of these are particularly new problems in D.C., with the exception of the less-than-stellar goaltending. But when you’re not winning, and you can’t turn offensive zone presence into goals, the problems finally can’t hide anywhere.
In fact, the Capitals’ power play goal Sunday was an excellent example of what they don’t normally do enough of: go to the net, and position themselves to fight for the puck there when a shot or pass is made. The Capitals’ Mike Ribeiro turned that into a successful formula for goal 3, but it’s not one you see the team utilize much.
Capitals winger Troy Brouwer saw net traffic as an issue.
“We needed more bodies around the net. We didn’t have very many second opportunities. It was one and done,” Brouwer said.
The good news in all of this is Carlson, for example, still believes in the system. The players don’t seem nearly as confused about their play as it is to watch.
“If we stick to what we’ve been taught, and it clearly works, I find it’s just taken us too long to get back to it once there’s a breakdown,” he said.
And the Penguins’ captain still paid deference to the construction of the Capitals’ roster.
“[The Capitals] are a dangerous hockey team–they showed that today,” Crosby said.
That is the great riddle, in fact, of the Caps. Offensively speaking, they have dangerous talent. And they have stalwart third and fourth liners with guys like Jay Beagle, Joey Crabb and Matt Hendricks. But you’d never know this to look at the final score. And that, in the confines of the game, is the thing that matters most.