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Devils 3, Caps 2: Five Observations

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Loose Pucks,Sports,Brian McNally

1. You wonder how many games like this the Capitals can take before things simply fall apart completely. This is a team that hasn’t missed the playoffs since the 2006-07 season. But after yet another blown third-period lead in a 3-2 loss to the Devils, it’s getting more and more difficult to see it happening in this lockout-shortened season. An astounding six penalties in the third period knocked Washington completely out of rhythm and New Jersey scored twice – once on the power play – to rally for the win.

Multiple players were so angry about the officiating in the third period they refused to answer questions on those calls lest they receive a fine from the NHL office. Forward Troy Brouwer received a 10-minute misconduct penalty after the final whistle for berating officials. But several players also remained defiant about both their play and their position, which right now is dead last among all 30 NHL teams and yet still just six points out of the Southeast Division lead with a game against first-place Carolina at home next Tuesday.

“Yeah, it’s not deflating at all,” Jay Beagle said. “Really, you look at what we had to do – [Nick Backstrom] blocking shots on the 5-on-3 – it’s not deflating. We played a good game. We got handed some tough calls there and we had to make some kills. It made it hard on us. It was a tough third just for that.”

2. It is a thing of beauty. Whether it’s Ilya Kovalchuk or Alex Ovechkin or whomever…watching an elite NHL sniper put his entire weight into a shot is one of sport’s most thrilling moments. Kovalchuk showed that on Thursday when he smoked a one-timer past Caps goalie Braden Holtby for the eventual game-winning goal for New Jersey. He took the feed out near the blueline from teammate Patrik Elias and his follow through was so vicious it corkscrewed him to his knees. When asked if he ever saw the puck Holtby simply mouthed “Nope” and walked away. It was Kovalchuk’s sixth goal of the season and came on the power play.

3. Hard to fault Ovechkin in this one. He was a factor all over the ice, knocking Devils around like rag dolls with four hits – though he once was a little too aggressive and drew a bizarre tripping call in the third period that couldn’t have been anything other than roughing. Whatever. Ovechkin took four shots on goal, had three more blocked and missed the net four times.

“He missed three breakaways. So he’s doing some good things,” Caps coach Adam Oates said. “Obviously we want him to score. I know he wants to score. And those are Grade-A opportunities. I was fine with him.”

Ovechkin was also on the ice for two New Jersey goals – the second-period shorthanded tally by Elias wasn’t his fault. Defenseman John Carlson was swiped clean behind his own net by Adam Henrique. Ovechkin was out on the point trying to block Adam Larsson’s shot at 9:19 of the third period. Maybe he wasn’t aggressive enough there, but the big rebound caroming off Holtby in goal and no one – John Erskine? – picking up Andrei Loktionov at the right doorstep were far bigger problems. Still, Ovechkin looks more and more comfortable on the right wing. He drew two penalties with power moves to the net and was a bear to handle all night for New Jersey’s defenders.

“We need him to do that every single game. We need that,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “Him coming down the wall with speed, shooting the puck from the side – that’s his bread and butter. So whenever he’s doing that it’s great for him, it gets him in the game that much more and it gets us fired up to see that. Because it’s usually pretty nice what he does with the puck. So that’s the way it’s gotta be every night if he can. It’s tough though.”

4. At some point it’s up to the Caps to adjust to the way officials are calling a game. Maybe tonight is a bad example. Both teams felt like the penalties whistled were suspect. Oates wondered about the tripping call assessed to Ovechkin. But excuses won’t do this team much good now.

“We’re going to address it. It’s been too many times,” Oates said. “It’s frustrating for all of us because we had a good game going, we were playing good hockey and you don’t want to lose that way, even though our penalty killing: Karl and John were fantastic back there. And our forwards that killed did a great job. But sooner or later it’s tough and those are minutes that we don’t have available at the end of the game, energy we don’t have available.”

Added Alzner: “It’s hard. Hard to adjust to it. You never really know what to expect sometimes. So you do your best. That’s pretty much it.”

A steaming Backstrom noted the Caps talked about being more disciplined between the second and third period and that became so much hot air as they returned to the ice and imploded. He acknowledged Washington received a few tough breaks from the officials. But…

“We’ve got to be more disciplined,” Backstrom said. “It’s not good enough.”

 5. Okay – let’s end on a couple of positives. Holtby stopped 34 of 37 shots. I’d expect to see him again on Saturday in the rematch with the Devils. He had little chance on Kovalchuk’s goal or the short-handed tally by Elias. That rebound on Larsson’s shot probably is the one he wants back. But he kept the Caps in front most of the way and helped them survive a “sluggish” start the first 10 minutes, according to Oates.

And power-play goals by Mathieu Perreault and Mike Ribeiro bring the total the last eight games to 10-for-23. That unit now ranks third in the NHL at 26.8 percent – and that’s without defenseman Mike Green (lower-body injury), who has missed the last two games.

Follow me on Twitter @bmcnally14

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