It seems odd to lead off talking about a game the Capitals lost on a penalty kill in overtime by praising said penalty kill units.
But if it hadn’t been for some quality shorthanded time by Washington Thursday, a tight contest could have devolved into a serious letdown.
In their 2-1 loss to Ottawa, the Capitals ended up with their biggest total of minor penalties since March 22, and their largest total of penalty minutes overall since February 21, although Thursday’s numbers included a 10-minute misconduct for Jason Chimera.
Still, that’s a tall order for a team ranked 28th in the league in penalty killing, even considering one of the penalties was a matching minor with Ottawa.
But between the bookends of an excellent penalty kill the Capitals sustained in the third period Tuesday—a penalty kill that safeguarded a playoff berth—and the 4-on-3 mishap in overtime Thursday, the Capitals’ unit has looked sharp. The Senators got only 8 shots the entire night on the power play, and the only one that went in was during 4-on-3 in overtime.
Karl Alzner has noticed a shift in shorthanded play as well.
“We put a little more pressure on them,” Alzner said. “We’ve been a little bit better, stronger in the corners, better at making plays to get out of the zone.”
It’s often said that your best penalty killer is your goaltender, and Michal Neuvirth gave new meaning to the old saying Thursday. The stellar play continued not only when the team was shorthanded, but during the entire 60-plus minutes, as he stopped shots with ease and never seemed out of position.
The emotional cards were, so to speak, stacked against the Capitals at the outset. They had ostensibly 120 minutes of hockey left to play in the regular season. Guaranteed a playoff spot, the team was caught, for almost the first time since January, playing a game that didn’t mean anything when it came to admittance into the postseason. It was a recipe for a letdown.
The result was far from as bad as it could have been, but still not good enough for a win.
Though it was minus the atmosphere the building carried Tuesday when the Capitals clinched their spot in the postseason, the game looked, in fact, like classic playoff-style hockey–low scoring, strong goaltending, rising tempers, and defenses that, even when they allowed a veritable volley of shots (cough, Washington), still did a decent job making sure they weren’t quality chances.
“It was much closer, definitely” Alzner said of whether it felt like playoff hockey. “It seems like all their games are kind of like playoff hockey. It’s just their style. They’re battling for their lives there, and we’re battling to try and eliminate somebody, so there’s a lot on the line.”
Alex Ovechkin was the only Capital to score, on a goal that saw him cut from right wing to left across the front of Ottawa’s net and wait just long enough to shoot the puck past Craig Anderson, who made the mistake of committing too far to blocking Ovechkin on the right side.