Say this about the Capitals’ 3-1 Rivalry Night loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday night at Verizon Center: No one in the losing dressing room was sweeping mistakes under the carpet.
Not defenseman Brooks Orpik, who allowed Penguins forward Beau Bennett to go wide on him and drive hard to the net to deposit his own rebound with 1:52 gone in the third period, just 24 seconds after Evgeny Kuznetsov gave the Caps a long-awaited 1-0 lead.
“It was a pretty good hockey game up until the one shift,” Orpik said. “(Bennett) was coming late with speed. It was probably a misread on my part there, especially since something we talk about is not giving up any chances the shift after we score.”
Not goaltender Braden Holtby, who didn’t like his rebound control on Bennett’s goal.
“He went low blocker, which is a tough spot, but that’s a save we try to eliminate the (rebound) going to the other side,” said Holtby, who stopped 22 of 24 shots to suffer his second loss. “It caught the inside of my blocker and right onto (Bennett’s) stick. It’s bad luck in some ways, but we practice to eliminate that.”
And not head coach Barry Trotz, who acknowledged he was not clear in his communication with Holtby when, with just under 2 minutes remaining in regulation and the Caps down by a goal, he pulled Holtby for an extra attacker, only to see Nick Bonino flip the puck into the unguarded net just as Holtby arrived at the bench door.
Both Trotz and Holtby reacted angrily after the goal, with Trotz slamming his notepad and Holtby slamming his stick
“I didn’t communicate that well,” Trotz said. “I was looking down the ice and I thought I was waving him (onto the bench). I told the guys that’s on me. I’ve got to communicate that better.”
Holtby pointed out it was the first time this season the Caps have had to pull their goalie and that it would be corrected before Friday night’s game against Columbus.
“Yeah, I think we just got a little crossed up,” Holtby said. “There was quite a while without a whistle and it kind of snuck up on us. It’s the first time we’ve been in that situation this year so we’ll learn not to make that mistake again and be more clear on listening to instructions.”
As for the Penguins’ game-winning goal by Phil Kessel with 3:49 gone in the third period, a play in which Evgeny Malkin avoided a stick check by Caps fourth-line center Chandler Stephenson to find Kessel in front of the net for his second straight game-winner, Trotz said he wasn't pleased.
“Not much, really,” Trotz said when asked what he thought of his fourth line of Stephenson (minus-1), Brooks Laich (even) and Andre Burakovsky (minus-2). “They gave us maybe two decent shifts. They’ve got to be better for us. That’s not good enough.”
With all that said, the Caps did throw 34 shots at Marc-Andre Fleury, only to see him deny Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson twice each on the doorstep, and Alex Ovechkin five times.
The much-hyped Ovechkin-Sidney Crosby rivalry was pretty much a dud, with neither player factoring in the scoring.
In 22:27 of ice time, Ovechkin recorded five shots, had five more blocked and one miss the net, delivered four hits and was a minus-1. Crosby saw 18:21 in ice time, recorded four shots, had one blocked, won 18 of 26 faceoffs and was even on the plus-minus sheet.
Backstrom, who along with Jay Beagle helped keep Crosby off the scoresheet, said the Caps could have had a different result if they were better against Fleury.
“We didn’t capitalize on our chances," Backstrom said. We had a 1-0 lead and we should have done something better with it. Sometimes I thought we were sloppy in the neutral zone, the passes weren’t there. That’s something we have to be better at.”