It felt like a game against Pittsburgh—except for the ending.
The Capitals brought whatever their A game is right now to the ice Thursday against the Pens, but despite holding both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin pointless, the Capitals finished the game one goal too short.
Journalists buzzed before the game how the Capitals hadn’t lost to the Pens under Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma in regulation during the regular season. His team’s 2-1 victory changed that Thursday.
It goes to show the coaching transition in Washington isn’t going to be the fairy-tale beginning and middle that the last one was. This regime is starting with a grounding dose of reality. But the Caps are sadder and wiser this time around, and they seem to be comfortable figuring out a new way of doing things.
“I think that’s the best jump we’ve had in awhile,” Dennis Wideman said of Thursday’s game. “We still had some confusion … some breakdowns in our own zone. We gave them quite a few shots. We’d like to shore that up a little bit. But still, we gotta create more. Offensively, we didn’t get enough shots again.” The Capitals finished with only 17 shots compared to Pittsburgh’s 35.
“The system is a little more simple,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “We’re trying to find a way to play good hockey. That’s what he’s trying to teach us.”
NHL.com’s Dan Rosen asked a great question of Backstrom, wondering if the hardest part of learning a new system is making the transition from defense to offense work (something the Caps are struggling with, as they can’t seem to get out of their own zone or follow the puck into the offensive zone when they do clear it). Backstrom agreed with Rosen’s assessment.
He also gave a resounding ‘yes’ when Rosen asked if Caps had made progress from Tuesday’s game against the Blues, which they also lost 2-1. Backstrom said he felt the Caps played tighter. Perhaps most importantly, however, was just the fact he felt progress.
Karl Alzner said the Capitals aren’t feeling the loss of confidence on the bench now when they fall behind.
“Our confidence is still up there, is still high – we didn’t get too down [when they scored],” Alzner said. “The wins are going to come eventually. We know we’ve got a good team.”
And, despite the Capitals’ awful power play performance—where the first power play unit had no one crashing the net for any significant length of time—the game was by far one of the most energized this season. Journalists kept talking and tweeting about the intensity of the game, and how if only every hockey game were played like Thursday’s rivalry.
They’ll have to wait till January, however, to relive the experience. See you in the new year, Pittsburgh.