PITTSBURGH -- The Capitals are a fragile team right now and if their 2-8-1 record is not evidence enough, Thursday night’s 5-2 loss certainly was.
A second period collapse of epic proportions led to five unanswered goals – three of them on the power play – as the Caps lost for the fifth time in six games.
The loss snapped a 9-0-1 streak for the Capitals at Consol Energy Center and kept them in the NHL’s basement, five points out of a playoff spot and 11 points behind the Penguins, who won for the fifth straight time and lead the Eastern Conference with an 8-3-0 record.
“It seems like guys think this is going to turn around without any extra effort and that's not the case,” Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer said. “There’s not a whole lot of confidence in our abilities right now. We did look deflated because we were.”
Defenseman Karl Alzner, who took two of the Capitals’ five penalties, agreed that the Capitals are dangerously low on confidence as they try to cope with their worst start in nine seasons.
“There are very few guys who are playing with confidence right now,” Alzner said. “Ribs [Mike Ribeiro] is probably one of the only guys. It’s on each other to get that confidence. That the goalies will make every save; that the dee will make every pass; and the forwards’ every shot will go in.
“I guess we’re a little afraid to make mistakes right now and that’s not the way you want to play. That’s not how the Penguins are playing.”
Ironically, the Caps playing one of their best periods of the season in the first 20 minutes, taking a 1-0 lead on Ribeiro’s fourth goal of the season. But when Alzner took an interference penalty on James Neal 6:49 into the second period, obstructing his path to the puck, the Penguins made them pay with Evgeni Malkin’s power-play goal.
Pascal Dupuis gave the Pens a 2-1 lead less than 6 minutes later when he swatted a rolling puck through the pads of Michal Neuvirth.
Oates was angry with the goal and immediately pulled Neuvirth for Braden Holtby.
But a delay of game penalty to Joel Ward resulted in James Neal’s power-play goal; Matt Cooke made it 4-1 with a goal off a faceoff lost by Ribeiro; and a hooking penalty to Roman Hamrlik led to Sidney Crosby’s power-play goal.
Just like that the Caps were down 5-1.
“We were playing fine,” Oates said. “They had 10 shots after 30 minutes. I thought it was kind of a tough call on Karl. You have to be strong enough to survive it and we didn’t. They get the next one right after. Similar to the other night we kind of leaked a little oil for five minutes after that and that’s all you need in the NHL right now.”
The Caps scored their own power-play goal in the third period on a snap shot by Ovechkin from the left circle, but it was clear after two periods there would be no late heroics in this one.
“It’s not like we’re 10-2-0,” Ribeiro said. “Your focus has to go up. The night before the game, we need to focus on what we have to do out there. That’s the only way out, to focus.
“Physically it’s not a problem for anyone .It’s mental. I feel like it’s the same thing every game and I feel we have to change that quick.”
Unlike many of his other teammates, who seemed shell-shocked by the loss, Ovechkin wore a look of anger in the post-game locker room.
“No emotions, nothing,” Ovechkin said.
Asked what needs to change, Ovechkin’s words were as icy as his stare.
“Bring the emotion right away,” he said with conviction. “We get a lead and, you know, we stop playing. Second period, stupid penalties. I don't know."
Asked how angry he was that he did not start the game, Ovechkin said, “Angry enough."