Sudden thoughts and second thoughts as the Caps contemplate their 2-1 regulation loss to the Penguins Tuesday night and look ahead to back-to-back games in Winnipeg Thursday and Friday nights.
What happened: At this time of year it’s all about taking penalties and taking advantage of penalties. The Caps turned a Chris Kunitz tripping penalty on Steve Oleksy into a second-period power-play goal by Alex Ovechkin.
The Caps had the chance to take the lead midway through the third period when Matt Cooke took a minor for boarding Ovechkin and added another for unsportsmanlike conduct for angrily shooting the puck into the stands.
But when the Caps failed to generate much offense on the four-minute advantage, Cooke busted out of the box and set up Matt Niskanen for the game-winner.
What it means: The Caps fell to 14th place in the Eastern Conference with a 12-16-1 record and 25 points, seven behind the Hurricanes, Maple Leafs, Rangers and Devils, who are all fighting for the eighth spot, and nine behind the Southeast Division-leading Jets, who beat the Bruins to improve to 16-12-2.
Charting Laich’s return: Brooks Laich returned to action after missing the first 28 games of the season with a groin injury. In 12:51 of ice time Laich recorded one shot, three hits, one giveaway, one blocked shot and won two of six faceoffs. He logged 2:13 on the penalty kill and 46 seconds on the power play. He started the game on a fourth line with Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks, but finished on a second line with Mike Ribeiro and Troy Brouwer. Laich’s skating stride looked good but after missing 10 months of NHL hockey his timing and his touch with the puck was off.
And Orlov: Dmitry Orlov logged 11:58 of ice time in his first game of the season after missing three months of the Hershey Bears season with a concussion. Orlove saw 1:07 on the power play. He recorded one hit.
Ovi watch: Alex Ovechkin took over the team lead with his 12th goal of the season. He also drew two penalties. In 25:33 of ice time Ovechkin had 14 attempts at the net, but six of those were blocked and another four missed the mark. He also delivered two hits and blocked a shot.
Silver linings: It’s hard to find any when the Capitals desperately need the points, but they played a very strong defensive game against the hottest team in the NHL.
What’s next: The Caps are hoping to have defenseman Mike Green [groin] in the lineup in at least one of their two games in Winnipeg. Green has not played since Feb. 27 in Philadelphia, which was the second half of a back-to-back set. After that setback it’s unlikely the Caps would put Green into both games in Winnipeg, which means he could play Thursday and sit out Friday or sit out Thursday and play Friday. He might also sit out both games and delay his return until Sunday night in New York.
More silver linings: If the Caps can sweep the Jets with regulation wins they would close the gap on them to five points with a game in hand. Anything less and their flickering playoffs hopes would take a big hit.