The Runner Sports

What Happened To The Washington Capitals?

As time wound down in the third period of Game 7, fans began heading for the exits. Assorted boos rained down from the upper sections. The final horn sounded and one team had solidified their spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. As usual, that team was not the Washington Capitals. They fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7, prematurely ending their season (yet again). One question pops into the minds of Capitals fans everywhere: what happened? I think I have a few ideas.

Score: 2-0

Before we go into the reasons for the entire Game 7 loss, let’s recap the goals.

The game went scoreless until almost halfway through the second period. The Capitals turned the puck over in their own zone, leading to a Pittsburgh attack. Bryan Rust hoisted a one-time shot over the shoulder of Braden Holtby for a 1-0 Penguins lead. Early in the third period, Patric Hornqvist turned another Capitals turnover into a Pittsburgh goal. A clearing attempt was intercepted and poked to Hornqvist. With two defenders around him, Hornqvist put a high-rising backhander past Holtby.

So, those were the goals. Now let’s identify some reasons the Capitals lost the biggest game in franchise history:

Too Many Missed Chances

The Capitals had several high-quality scoring chances throughout the game but failed to capitalize. This was due, in part, to incredibly bad puck luck. In the first period, Evgeny Kuznetsov deflected a point shot off the post with a wide open net. Later, Daniel Winnik completely missed the net on a first period breakaway. In the second period, Alex Ovechkin was robbed by the shaft of Marc-Andre Fleury’s stick on a one-timer (a shot Ovechkin scores on 9 times out of 10). These were just three of the potential goals that got away from the Capitals. In a Game 7 and, especially, against a team like Pittsburgh, those are chances you simply cannot miss.

Bad Officiating

Sound like a cop-out? Ok, maybe the final outcome wasn’t decided entirely by the officiating staff. But, they definitely didn’t help matters. A minute before Rust’s goal, Alex Ovechkin took a high hit to the face. Nothing was called and the Penguins eventually scored. Later on, Tom Wilson was tripped near the benches. This led to him tripping a Penguins player while trying to defend from his back. How does the initial trip not get called with the referee in clear view of the play? Braden Holtby was later bowled over in the second period by a Penguins player skating near the top of the goal crease. Since when can a goalie get run over and nothing be called? The refs don’t deserve 100% of the blame for Game 7, but they should not get away unscathed.

Down by 1? Abandon the Gameplan

A certain habit reared its ugly head after the Capitals fell behind 1-0. It’s something that happened a few times during the season and parts of the playoffs. Once they fell behind, they abandoned their zone entry attack plan and reverted back to the dump-and-chase Capitals of old. Very few times did they actually retrieve the puck. When they did, they weren’t able to get much going on offense. The Capitals were too quick to abandon the strength of their offense: carrying the puck into the offensive zone and setting up their attack. This led to shortened time on offense and more time chasing the puck.

Pass…Pass…WOW, ANOTHER PASS

To win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, teams have to abandon trying to play a finesse game. This is something that has frequently plagued the Washington Capitals in recent playoff years. Far too many times Capitals players would elect to make one more pass instead of taking an open shot. As usual, it led to blocked shots and mishandled passes that became turnovers. Pucks were put into players’ skates instead of stick blades. It got to the point where the fans were screaming at the tops of their lungs for shots to be taken. These pleas were met with even more passes that resulted in missed offensive chances. That fancy stuff might fly in the regular season but not in the playoffs. Live by the extra pass, die by the extra pass.

Defensive Zone Turnovers

When you constantly turn the puck over inside your own zone, you’re just asking for trouble. The Capitals turned the puck over 10 times in Game 7. More than a few of them happened in their own zone. Unsurprisingly, two of those turnovers turned into Pittsburgh goals. Both goals came from the Capitals’ inability to get the puck out of their end. Clearing attempts up the boards were intercepted and thrown back in for offensive chances. One thing you don’t want to do against Pittsburgh is turn the puck over in your defensive zone. Washington did and the Penguins made them pay.

What’s Next: Another off-season of uncertainty. Who goes? Who stays? What can the Washington Capitals possibly try next year? Only time will tell but for right now, one thing is certain: the Capitals’ season is over.

Andrew Markowitz

Longtime Capitals fan hoping to see a Stanley Cup parade in D.C. this year...or at least once in my life

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