The primary ingredients missing from the Capitals play during Game 2 against the Penguins — a sense of urgency and desperation to win. The 2-1 score paints a picture that the game appeared much closer than it actually was.
However, looking at the lopsided shots on goal, where the Pens outshot the Caps nearly 3:1 in the first two periods, is an indicator of a vastly different story. “The first two periods were tilted a little bit. No doubt,” said Justin Williams. “They [Penguins] came in desperately, we didn’t answer until the third; too late.” This ‘come from behind’ mentality was a common theme for the Capitals after the all-star break, during the regular season, but it’s a bad habit that they must break to succeed in the second round. “We had some penalties, and it’s hard to get momentum going then, but we have to come out desperate from the drop of the puck,” said defenseman Nate Schmidt.
Game three is an important juncture for the Capitals and they have a decision to make – they can either rise to the championship level of their potential or sink into the second round playoff abyss of multiple Caps teams before them. With the series tied at 1-1 there is plenty of opportunity for the Capitals to choose the high road and it’s a simple solution. “We’ve got to play better.” Said first line center Nicklas Backstrom. “We’ve got to be more aggressive. We’ve got to shoot the puck more; I mean in all the areas like we did in the third.”
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The Capitals also identified a need to manage the puck better to find further success in this series. “In the first two periods we didn’t manage the puck” said coach Barry Trotz. “We didn’t place it in the right areas so we could get to the redline and it was really easy for them to break out and have some speed and play in our end a little more than we wanted them to. I just didn’t think we executed well enough and I don’t think we were as urgent on the puck.”
Another key, per Trotz, is eliminating sloppy play and keeping the Capitals at five-man strength, “you’re leaving a lot of pretty talented players on the bench when you have to kill some penalties. So, from our standpoint we have to be better.” The Caps incurred six penalties last night – four of those in the second period – for a total of 12 minutes. Fortunately, and mostly thanks to goaltender Braden Holtby, the Capitals went 0-6 on the penalty kill. “He’s [Holtby] the wall up there that gives us a chance when we’re not playing well and that was certainly the case tonight,” said forward Justin Williams. “We go in expecting every game is going to be seven games so we’ve got to going and try and win the next one.”
The Capitals will take a much need break in on Sunday as they travel northward to Pittsburgh for Game 3 on Monday night at the CONSOL Energy Center. Puck drop is 8 p.m. ET.
By Stephanie Judge