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An emotional hangover leaves Capitals flat in 2-1 loss to Wild

An emotional hangover leaves Capitals flat in 2-1 loss to Wild

WASHINGTON – The Capitals were not quite ready to play on Friday against the Minnesota Wild and maybe you can’t blame them. 

Coming off one of the season’s most intense games, a wild 5-4 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, one of three games this month against the Presidents’ Trophy winners, Washington didn’t have it for a Wild team it had beaten eight times in a row. That 2-1 defeat offered a lesson they need to carry forward for the final two games of this homestand at Capital One Arena. 

The Capitals (43-24-8, 94 points) couldn’t match the desperation of a Minnesota team that entered the day one point out of a playoff position in the Western Conference. The Wild had to win. Washington would have liked a win. The difference showed on the ice.

“It was obviously a different game that way. I think you could tell they got more desperate as the game went on,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “They don't give up much, they're pretty stingy defensively. After coming off some emotional games lately I think we didn't ramp it up enough for this one, for their situation, how they were playing. It was a close game. It was one that we'd like to play a bit better, but we still did a lot of good things."

They just didn’t do enough of them consistently. The Philadelphia Flyers (80 points) are on the fringe of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference and down to their final gasps of breath. Expect a similar effort from them on Sunday afternoon when they visit Capital One Arena. For the Capitals, who lead the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders by three points (93), they need a win on this four-game homestand.

Another loss will suddenly put the Metropolitan Division back in play for multiple teams. The Islanders also have an extra game remaining and know they play in Washington on the final day of the regular season April 6. 

“We can use this and learn from it,” defenseman Nick Jensen said. “These teams are desperate for points and we still need to be, too.”

The Capitals weren’t bad; they just didn’t match Minnesota’s level. They were 0-for-3 on the power play, and on two of those attempts, didn’t generate any shots on goal. A couple of mistakes – a Brooks Orpik misplay late in the first period and a Matt Niskanen turnover in the neutral zone – led directly to goals by Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin. Holtby stopped 25 of 27 shots.

But it never felt like enough. Brett Connolly tipped home a shot from Jensen in the second period. But there weren’t enough puck battles won, there weren’t enough pucks sent behind the Minnesota defensemen. It was an average game and that was never going to be enough tonight. The Wild moved into sole possession of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Capitals stayed where they were in the standings.  

“That was a very intense game [against Tampa Bay], three games in four days for us, but that's a game that they deserved to win more than us,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “Our execution level and desperation wasn't as high as theirs was and they were able to convert on a couple more of their chances than we did.”

Added captain Alex Ovechkin: "Everybody needs points right now, and it doesn't matter who you play against, it's not going to be an easy one, especially a team who fights for a playoff spot. It's playoff hockey. I don't think we were ready tonight, and the blame's on us."

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Wild Capitals-Ducks brawl could have repercussions after spitting incident

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Wild Capitals-Ducks brawl could have repercussions after spitting incident

WASHINGTON —The final minute of the second period between the Capitals and Ducks on Monday looked like scenes cut from the cutting room floor of “Slapshot.” 
 
With Washington ahead 2-0, all hell broke loose behind the Anaheim net just as Chandler Stephenson stepped into a pass from teammate Garnet Hathaway and ripped a shot past goalie John Gibson. 
 
But for almost five minutes no one inside Capital One Arena knew if the goal counted at all as players from both sides traded blows and Hathaway spit on defenseman Erik Gudbranson. 
 
That momentary loss of control could have severe consequences if the NHL decides to impose supplemental discipline. In all, the two teams combined for 50 minutes of penalties and two ejections. The goal did count and the Capitals won the game 5-2, but all talk afterward was about the wild scene at the end of the second.   
 
“It has no place. It was an emotional play by me,” Hathaway said. “You don’t plan any of that stuff in your head and it was a quick reaction and unfortunately the wrong one for me after a sucker punch.”
 
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Brendan Leipsic hit everything that moved during that ferocious shift, including Ducks center Derek Grant directly next to the goal. The puck jarred loose. While Gudbranson and fellow Anaheim defenseman Brendan Guhle jumped Leipsic, Hathaway slipped a pass into the high slot for Stephenson, who scored.  
 
“Growing up, playing against him since I was 15, and you know he's been the exact same,” Stephenson said. “He catches guys by surprise. I've seen him knock guys that are twice his size on their ass. He's a pretty stocky little fire hydrant out there."
 
Leipsic needed to be as the 6-5 Gudbranson and the 6-2 Guhle pummeled him. But the puck was in the net as the crowd roared and the players raged. It was glorious chaos. 
 
Leipsic first checked Gudbranson hard behind the net with 51 seconds to go in the second period. Guhle then cross-checked him three times in the back in retaliation. 
 
With 35 seconds to go, Leipsic struck again as Grant turned for a loose puck next to the Anaheim net. He never saw it coming. Leipsic drove hard and knocked Grant – who has four inches and 26 pounds on him at 6-3, 206 – to the ice.
 
While the Ducks wasted their time dealing retribution, the puck was headed out front and into their net. Gibson didn’t have a chance. Then things turned ugly. Hathaway took three rapid punches at Grant and then he got entangled with Ducks forward Nick Ritchie.    
 
Gudbranson nudged his way into that scrap, but referee Peter MacDougall appeared to have them separated and in control grabbing their jersey collars. But as MacDougall turned his head, Gudbranson unexpectedly punched Hathaway in the face. Enraged, Hathaway clearly spits in his face. 
 
"That's about as low as you dig a peg, really,” Gudbranson said. “It's a bad thing to do. It's something you just don't do in a game, and he did it."
 
Added Grant:“At the end of the day, it’s probably the least respectful thing you can ever do to somebody. It’s just not a good part of the game and you don’t want to see that. I thought the refs handled it. It’s something that will be handled after it as well.”
 
Hathaway has put the Capitals in a difficult spot. With Carl Hagelin and Nic Dowd injured and salary-cap space tight, there really is no way to call up another player from AHL Hershey if Hathaway gets suspended. Contrite after the game, Hathaway asked to speak to reporters.  
 
“First there was a fight and then how I saw it was they had a third man in. I think they had a fourth man in, too,” Hathaway said. “The refs were trying to break it up and it felt like there was a couple sucker punches thrown and I got there one quick and then reacted a little emotionally and unfortunately spit came out of my mouth after I got sucker punched and it went on to him.”
 
Now, Hathaway hopes the NHL shows some leniency. 
 
“I have a lot of time for Garnet Hathaway. He’s a stand up guy, a first-class guy,” Washington coach Todd Reirden said. “He was getting punched by a couple different guys at once and lost control of his emotion and did something that there’s no place for in the league. That’s disappointing. He feels terrible about it. But he didn’t have to talk to anybody today. He’s the first one to say ‘I want to own up for what I did.’ He’s not happy about it. That’s who he is. He made a mistake and we’ll see where it goes [Tuesday].”
 
It was a dark moment in an otherwise excellent game for the Capitals who are 13-1-2 in their past 16 and continue to roll with the NHL’s best record. They just weren’t expecting such a wild and crazy night against a Western Conference team on a Monday night in November. You never know what you’re going to get with this sport. And it all started with a big hit from a smaller man.   
 
“I don't know, I was kind of a big blackout after that when everyone starts getting whipped around and stuff,” Leipsic said. “I didn't even know Chandler scored until the dust was all settled. It was nice to get a goal out of it too, I guess."

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Hathaway spits, Panik scores and Boyd produces

Hathaway spits, Panik scores and Boyd produces

WASHINGTON -- The Capitals won 5-2 on Monday against the Anaheim Ducks in a game that very much took a backseat to the fight that erupted in the second period.

You can read a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

Take off your fan hat for a minute when watching Hathaway

I love fans. I have a job because of fans. You guys love hockey so much you want people like me to write about hockey so that you can read about hockey when you're not watching hockey. But when you watch the Hathaway fracas, you guys have to take a step back and take off the fan hats.

Hathaway spit on a dude. You can't have that.

Yes, Erik Gudbranson socked him while he was being held back by the refs. That's bad. Yes, I can understand why he would be pissed. Honestly, he should have just tried to punch him back. But...

Hathaway spit on a dude. You can't have that.

I got a lot of reaction from fans saying "It was his mouth guard," "Some spit came out of his mouth when he was punched, but it wasn't a spit," "What about Brad Marchand licking people?" "The rules say game misconduct, not an automatic match penalty, so clearly the suspension should be rescinded!

Let's try to look at this objectively.

Hathaway after the game admitted to spitting on Gudbranson, albeit in the most awkward way possible.

"The refs were trying to break it up," he said, "And it felt like there was a couple sucker punches thrown and I got there one quick and then reacted a little emotionally and unfortunately spit came out of my mouth after I got sucker punched and it went on to him.”

One player spit on another, it was caught on camera and he admitted to it afterward.

The gaggle of penalties the referees called was a mess and half of them were wrong. Having said that, they got Hathaway right by tossing him and supplementary discipline is likely coming.

"It has no place," Hathaway said. "It was an emotional play by me. You don’t plan any of that stuff in your head and it was a quick reaction and unfortunately the wrong one for me to a sucker punch.”

Journalist note

Hathaway did not have to talk after the game. A lot of players don't talk after a bad game or a bad situation like this. Hathaway did. That does not absolve him from spitting, but I thought it was worth noting that he did not hide away from the media. He came out and answered our questions. I'm sure it wasn't fun, but he did it. Good on him.

Oh yeah, there was a hockey game....

It was easy to forget that an actual game was being played with everything going on in the second period. I have to admit that I did not even notice that Stephenson scored. When Brendan Leipsic came in and decked Derek Grant, my eyes were glued to everything going on below the goal line. I literally did not know there was a goal until I watched the replay and realized, oh...Stephenson scored?

By the way, the Ducks and Caps play again on Dec. 6.

Don't Panik

Panik has played well since returning from injury and finally, finally he was rewarded with a goal. He spoke after the game about how his game improved after the injury and that has been clear to me ever since he returned.

Travis Boyd is an NHL player

Boyd added another assist in this game as he set up Panik 50 seconds in.  He now has six points in eight games played. Most importantly, he has a cap hit of only $800,000. He needs to stick around in Washington.

Turning point

Stephenson's goal simultaneously marked the moment the game was out of reach, and the moment neither team cared what the score was anymore.

Play of the game

This was a real pretty move by Evgeny Kuznetsov. I thought he was shooting, John Gibson thought he was shooting, the Ducks thought he was shooting, but he wasn't.

Stat of the game

There were 50 total penalty minutes handed out for the second-period brawl:

Hathaway received a five-minute major for fighting and a 10-minute match penalty
Brendan Leipsic received a double-minor for roughing
Gudbranson received a minor for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct
Brendan Guhle received a double-minor for roughing
Nick Ritchie received a game (10-minute) misconduct

Quote of the game

The entire scrum erupted when Leipsic knocked Grant over with an incredible hit. From there all hell broke loose. Stephenson was asked about Leipsic after the game:

"Since growing up, playing against him since I was 15, and you know he's been the exact same. He catches guys by surprise. I've seen him knock guys that are twice his size on their ass. So he's pretty stocky and a little fire hydrant out there."

Fan predictions

This is impressive. Hathaway fought...the entire Ducks team. Ovechkin and Jakub Vrana both scored while Boyd assisted on the first goal.

Nailed it. This makes me feel sorry for the one fan who predicts a Radko Gudas goal every single game....

Yikes. This is awkward.

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