This is what happens when you’re in the box too much. (Photo credit: Patrick McDermott)
Backstrom (boarding), Hendricks (holding), Kundratek (delay of game), Ovechkin (tripping), Erskine (hooking), Poti (interference), Brouwer (misconduct) — seven penalties, one period.
“I can’t really explain it without getting into trouble,” Karl Alzner told me when asked about the Caps’ stunning collapse and the calls that caused it in the third frame of Thursday’s game against the Devils. “It just happened.”
Alzner’s mood was echoed by many in the locker room. The Washington Capitals didn’t want to talk about happened during those 20 minutes. And it didn’t really matter whether they wanted to or not — there were no clear answers. Yes, some of the calls were iffy. Yes, they played a good game otherwise (if you also ignore the first 10 minutes of the contest). But this was unacceptable. It was a baffling display. Six penalties in 11 minutes and two goals: that’s what it took to turn a solid win into a crushing loss. Troy Brouwer added a 10 minute misconduct for arguing with the referees at the end of the game just for good measure.
The penalty killing wasn’t bad. But with five power plays for New Jersey in the span of eight minutes, it became a matter of when, not if, the puck would get past Braden Holtby.
“The penalty kill was good,” Brouwer told reporters after the game. “Our penalty kill blocked shots, we did everything we needed to. Unfortunately there were just too many calls.”
When asked about the penalties themselves, Brouwer was terse.
“I’m not discussing the refing,” he said. “I don’t feel like getting fined tonight.”
Regardless of whether the game was called tightly, it’s up to the players to adjust their game. And they didn’t do that. This team has struggled most of the year and poor periods are nothing new for them — the five goals scored in one frame by the Penguins a couple weeks ago comes to mind. This showing, however, took it a new level. The boys were playing awful hockey the around the time of the Pens game. Thursday, they played well most of the contest. The cataclysmic end, then, had almost hypnotic feel compared to the rest of the matchup.
“The bottom line is that’s too many,” head coach Adam Oates said the infractions. “Maybe one of them or two that you might question but we still had too many penalties.”
“It’s on us,” he added. “That’s a game that you didn’t think you were going to lose.”
The Washington Capitals still think they are a playoff team. It’s time to start acting like it. Their record is now 5-10-1.
“We’ve gotta find a way to finish out games,” said Alzner. “We haven’t been doing it.”