It was a rough night for the Capitals’ third defensive pair. With their biggest test of the season, Aaron Ness and Taylor Chorney clearly struggled against the high-powered offense of the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 4-3 overtime loss on Monday
Ness’ rough night started in the first period when he took two minor penalties, one for a cross check and another for hooking. He now has four minor penalties on the season. He also gave up a number of turnovers as he struggled against the pressure of the Tampa offense.
You can see an example here:
Ness found himself boxed into the defensive zone by Tampa’s forecheck. He then attempted an ill-advised pass to Devante-Smith Pelly that was easily stolen away by Ryan Callahan forcing Philipp Grubauer to make a very good save at the top of the crease on Victor Hedman.
But it wasn’t just Ness who struggled. In the third period, Ness and Chorney were put on the ice with the task of protecting the team’s 3-2 lead. A slick pass by Alex Killorn put Nikita Kucherov in a one-on-one situation with Chorney. The result was not good for the Caps as Kucherov was able to use his speed to easily turn the corner on Chorney and backhand the shot into the top shelf for the game-tying tally. Chorney would not see the ice again for the rest of the game.
If you are into the fancy stats, the numbers for this third pairing are not good at all. One could potentially dismiss those numbers as simply being a small sample size, but you cannot dismiss Barry Trotz's apparent distrust of that pair and the tangible impact it had on Monday's game.
If you thought it looked like the Caps were worn down as the game went along, you're right. The ice clearly titled in Tampa Bay’s favor in the third period and it was not hard to see why. Here is the playing time for the Caps’ defensemen on the night:
Matt Niskanen - 25:55
Dmitry Orlov - 27:33
Brooks Orpik - 22:47
John Carlson - 26:15
Taylor Chorney - 10:17
Aaron Ness - 8:56
The Capitals were virtually playing with four defensemen and the team ran out of gas in the third, getting outshot by a whopping 17-6 margin in the final frame.
So what are the Caps' options? Christian Djoos remains on the active roster and has been a healthy scratch for each of the Capitals’ first three games. Madison Bowey meanwhile was sent down to Hershey despite looking like one of the better defensemen in training camp and the preseason. It would not be surprising if one of those players found their way into the lineup for Wednesday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.