The Washington-New Jersey game, if it did nothing else Thursday, gave Capitals fans emotional whiplash, as it went from a lullaby to fireworks to a full-out penalty box parade within a 60-minute framework.
Before the ugly for the Capitals, there were high points. Alex Ovechkin—minus the actual scoring goals part—looked like a superstar, fighting for the puck and forcing two New Jersey tripping penalties that gave the Capitals a man advantage twice. He even tried a slick pass as he barreled down on the net a second time—a notable adjustment to his routine, considering he’d had a lack of success on a similar pattern not long before that. Jason Chimera, however, was unable to capitalize once the puck reached him.
The beginning of this shortened season hasn’t been particularly the best canvas to show off the caliber of expected offensive superstars—I’ve seen Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, and Sidney Crosby all visit Verizon early this season, and the only one that forced my attention through the noise of the other 11 players on the ice was Crosby. Thursday, Ovechkin drew my eye multiple times, and the fans loved his energy.
The bottom line remains, however, that the team he captains lost. The recipe to beat the Capitals this season often boils down to patience, as they give you no reason to think, when playing them, that a comeback is not possible. New Jersey didn’t get the game-tying goal until approximately halfway through the third, and their final goal in the 3-2 victory came during time served on the sixth and seventh Capitals penalties of the game (fifth and sixth of that period, though one was concurrent with a Devils penalty). There were also two 5-on-3s tucked in there.
“Enough power plays, they’re bound to score one with the guys they have on the ice,” Karl Alzner told reporters after the game.
It got to the point in the third period where getting four men on the ice, not including Holtby, seemed a luxury. And that, as a penalty killer, means you’re accepting a reality that the odds are against you, while refusing to adopt a mindset of inevitability.
“You definitely think the percentages go up after you have to keep working on it, you get to figure out where the gaps are in the killers, and they finally found it there when they can roll across the top for that one-timer,” said Alzner, whose play along with John Carlson’s on the penalty kill earned high praise afterwards from Oates.
The penalties would be the elephant in the room, were they not addressed, but the sloppiness started with the first goal New Jersey put on the board. It was a shorthanded goal that the Capitals simply got outworked on-again, in their own end, on a power play. It wasn’t even a breakaway. Out of all the goals, that one, really, is the least excusable.
In sports, there is often much talk of physical endurance. In this case, a focus on mental endurance may be most apropos.