Barry Trotz was very frustrated and irritated with the Capitals performance in Pittsburgh on Sunday evening. During his postgame press conference, he explained everything that went wrong in this game. Trotz mentioned losing puck battles and the defenseman not getting back in time as key reasons for their loss.
The Penguins have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL for the past few weeks. Before the game against the Capitals, the Penguins were winners of 5 straight games. The Penguins have been playing some desperate hockey lately, and it really showed in their play against the Capitals.
The weird thing about this game was that the Capitals actually had a really good start. They came out flying, and dominated the first 8 minutes of the first period. But like Capitals teams we have all seen in recent years, the opposition goals came in bunches. The Penguins first two goals of the game came within a span of 86 seconds. And after the Penguin goals, the Capitals would have to face some penalty killing time.
These moments in games where the Capitals tune out, even for a few seconds, have to be fixed. Hockey is a physical and mental game, and you have to be physically and mentally engaged in the game for all 60 minutes. All of the players must play desperate. The Capitals have to play the game like they are afraid to lose. The Penguins played at a more desperate pace, and they got the intended result that they wanted.
TEAM TOUGHNESS AND ROUGH STUFF
A bright spot that came out of this game was the Capitals toughness. The Capitals defensemen and forwards did not have a good game, and there were several blown assignments. But the Capitals were hitting, and physically engaged.
What Capitals fans have not seen in previous years is the team standing united and sticking up for one another.
Braden Holtby gets hit every game. He gets whacked with a stick or gets run in to by an opposing player. Against the Penguins, Patric Hornqvist was in his grill most of the game. Hornqvist is a notable net presence pest around the NHL, and he was doing his job well.
As most of the fans are aware, there is a code around the NHL. Hitting a goalie or any opposing player after the whistle blows is frowned upon. If a team goes after another team’s Captain or star player, the opposing team will likely attempt to do the same thing. Who can really blame TJ Oshie for going after Sid?
Holtby has arguably been the Capitals most valuable player this season, and the Capitals players have shown that they will do anything to protect their star goaltender. The Capitals response to Holtby getting whacked was appropriate and there is nothing wrong with it.
Hockey players have good short-term memories, so they remember what happens within the game. There are some guys who will eventually retaliate, when they know they have nothing to lose.
No, Mike Weber did not have the best game yesterday. He struggled against the Penguins speed and looked a bit slow. But Weber is a guy who is a proud hockey player, and he is known for sticking up for his goaltenders.
Sure, Mike Weber is not the most productive defenseman with points or corsi totals. But he is a guy that is well-respected by his teammates, because his teammates know that he has their backs. Weber’s demeanor on the ice shows tremendous leadership, and leadership is something that is overlooked in today’s NHL.
WHAT CAN THE CAPITALS DO TO IMPROVE?
When the Capitals lose games like the one on Sunday afternoon, it is not because the Penguins are better than they are at certain positions. The Capitals lose these games because they shoot themselves in the foot.
The Capitals biggest threat heading down the stretch is themselves. They have to learn to be physically and mentally engaged for all 60 minutes. There are not many other NHL teams that have as much depth at various positions as the Capitals do. But in order for the Capitals to complete their game, they have to stay focused and they have to overcome the bad things that happen in games. Even when the bad things (like goals) come in bunches, the Capitals have to keep playing and keep grinding away.
If the Capitals can consistently stay mentally and physically tough, they will have a long Spring.
By George Foussekis