Sudden thoughts and second thoughts as the Capitals try to pick up the pieces after back-to-back losses to the Pittsburgh Penguins that left them three points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference standings:
Magic/Tragic number: The Capitals came out of the Olympic break with back-to-back road wins in Florida and Boston, but have managed just three points in their last six games 1-4-1 and are stuck on 70 points. The teams ahead of them are on pace to finish with 91 points and since the Capitals would lose the first playoff tiebreaker [regulation/overtime wins] they would need at least 92 points to secure a spot. With 15 games remaining, that means they would need to go 10-3-2 down the stretch to secure a playoff spot for a seventh straight year under general manager George McPhee. Making matters worse is that they play only one of the three teams they’re trying to catch -- the New Jersey Devils on April 4 – the remainder of the season.
Ovechkin vs. Crosby: The ultra-hyped rivalry between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin did not live up to expectations this season. In the four games between the Caps and Pens, Crosby recorded three goal and four assists. Ovechkin managed one goal and no assists. Overall this season Crosby is running away with the points title with 87 and is a plus-10. Ovechkin leads the NHL with 44 goals, but is 20 points behind Crosby with 67 and is a career-worst minus-27. Crosby is on his way to the playoffs for the eighth straight spring. Ovechin is in danger of going home early for the first time in seven years.
Kuzzy talk: After starting on a fourth line with Casey Wellman and Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov finished the game with Nicklas Backstrom and Joel Ward.and logged 14:52 in his second NHL game. He was denied his first NHL goal with 8:54 remaining in the second period when Marc-Andre Fleury lifted his right pad to deny a Kuznetsov wrist shot off a Karl Alzner rebound.
Why Halak: Jaroslav Halak told reporters he was surprised to get his third straight start for the Caps Tuesday night, especially on back-to-back nights. Oates said he elected to play Halak because the veteran goalie saw only 20 shots the night before. Halak played a strong game between the pipes with 30 saves on 32 shots, but Oates’ decision to turn to him again must leave Braden Holtby wondering what his future holds.
Empty Penner: In five games since being acquired from the Anaheim Ducks, left winger Dustin Penner has no goals on eight shots.
Look ahead: The Caps will be back at Kettler on Thursday in preparation for Friday’s game against the struggling Vancouver Canucks, who have gone 2-7-1 in their last 10.