In Philadelphia on Thursday night, the Capitals rolled up their sleeves and outworked the Flyers en route to an impressive 5-2 win.
But when they returned home to face the Calgary Flames on Friday night, the Caps got sucked into a game of pond hockey and paid the price with a 3-2 overtime defeat that left head coach Barry Trotz and his players angry with themselves.
“We don’t want to sit back and let teams dictate, especially in our building, and that’s what the Flames did tonight,” said Capitals center Jay Beagle, who scored with 4:48 remaining in regulation to send the game into overtime, only to see Sean Monahan win it with a bullet past Caps goaltender Philipp Grubauer 1:40 into overtime.
The win was the Flames’ fourth in overtime this season.
“We tend to play whatever the other team wants to play rather than saying, OK, this is how we’re going to play and you deal with us rather than we deal with you,” Trotz said. “We need to say, ‘Hey, this is how we play and if you don’t like it, tough. Adjust your game. It’s a little bit of killer instinct.”
The Capitals seemed to wade their way into Friday night’s game, allowing the first goal for the seventh straight time when Michael Frolik scored 7:35 into the second period.
”I think we let them off the hook the way we came out,” said Caps fourth-line center Michael Latta, whose third-period goal was his first in nearly two years and breathed life into the building.
“It was a back-and-forth game and we didn’t want to get into that run-and-gun with them,” Beagle said.
It wasn’t until the Capitals fell behind 2-0 on Monahan’s first goal of the game, a shot Philipp Grubauer says he should have stopped 1:32 into the third period, that the Caps seemed to play with any urgency.
Niskanen said he and defense partner Karl Alzner were caught a little flat-footed on Monahan’s goal but liked the response the Caps had in the third period, when Trotz put Latta with Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson, and Tom Wilson with Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie.
The moves paid off with third-period goals from Latta and Beagle, but Monahan won it with a lightning bolt of a shot under the crossbar. Trotz used a coach’s challenge, hoping a replay would show Monahan was offsides, but replays showed T.J. Brodie entered the zone with the puck before Monahan joined him.
“I was pretty confident it was a good goal,” said Monahan, who now has four in four games and six on the season.
After the game Trotz said he liked the energy Latta and Justin Williams showed throughout the game, noting that his bottom six forwards played a better game than his top six, saying too many players wanted to go around the game than through it.
“Calgary was the better team for more minutes than we were,” Trotz said. I’m happy we got a point and we’re going to gain some ground on someone tonight and that’s a positive. But I think our team is better than one period of hockey.”
Indeed, the Caps (11-4-1, 23 points) moved within three points of the Metro Division-leading Rangers (12-2-2, 26 points) while also moving three points ahead of the third-place Penguins.
The Caps improved to 5-0-1 in back-to-back games this season and now must wait five nights before playing again. They visit the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday in a Rivalry Night showdown.