NEW YORK—As disappointing as Sunday’s 2-1 loss at Madison Square Garden was for the Caps, Coach Barry Trotz and his players emerged from the visitors’ dressing room heartened by how the team played over the final two periods.
Indeed, there was a distinct difference between the first 20 minutes, during which the Caps were outscored 1-0 and outshot 19-10, and the final 40 minutes, which saw the visitors battle back and threaten to steal a point on the road from a good, well-rested rested opponent.
“We were atrocious in the first,” Trotz said. “We played poorly and [backup goalie Philipp Grubauer] was outstanding. It could have been 5-0 in the first, not 1-0. But we were able to get through that. In the second and third, we had the better chances and [carried] the majority of the play.”
Sunday marked the Caps’ second game back from their six-day bye week. On Saturday, they started slowly and lost to the Red Wings in a shootout. Including that defeat, teams are 3-12-4 in their first game after the mandatory hiatus.
“For us, it was hard to come back after [the] break, have one practice and [then] play,” said Alex Ovechkin, who scored Washington’s lone goal against the Rangers. Saturday’s game in Detroit started at 2 p.m. “and today we played at 12:30. It was kinda tough with no morning skates.”
Prior to the bye, the Caps had won six games in a row, rolling up five or more goals in all but one of those contests.
It’s too early to say definitely whether Ovechkin and Co. are back. They are, after all, 0-1-1 since returning. But they certainly looked a lot more like their previously dominant selves after doubling the Rangers up in shots, 22-11, over the second and third periods in an entertaining matinee on Broadway.
So what was the difference between the first period and the rest of the game? Trotz didn’t mince his words.
“We were engaged in the second and third,” he said. “We were winning our battles. We were managing the puck much better. And we really didn’t give up much. Grubi really got all of his work for the most part in the first period and then after that he didn’t have much.”
From where he was standing, Grubauer said he could see the timing and cohesiveness slowly returning to his teammates’ collective game.
“The break was long,” Grubauer said. “Sometimes you have to find that chemistry.”
He added: “That’s not how we wanted to start, giving up those many scoring chances. But we did a pretty good job coming back [and] dominated the second and third periods.”
Defenseman Matt Niskanen agreed with Grubauer’s assessment.
“The second two periods were a lot better than the first [period], and a lot better than yesterday,” Niskanen said. “So it’s a step in the right direction.”
The Caps will take Monday off and then return to practice Tuesday morning in Arlington before heading to Philadelphia for a Wednesday night showdown with the Flyers.
“It was a lot better, that’s for sure,” Nicklas Backstrom said of the final 40 minutes at the Garden. “I thought the first period was not how we play. But we’ve lost two in a row. We’ve got to get back to the way we played before. We’ll have another practice before the next game, so we’ve just got to get back at it.”
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