PITTSBURGH — A disgusted Alex Ovechkin stood in the visitors’ dressing room at Consol Energy Center on Thursday night. With his jaw clenched and eyes glaring, he gave curt responses, his anger palpable following the Washington Capitals’ most embarrassing loss of the season.
What went wrong in the second period when the Capitals gave up five goals in a span of 12 minutes 39 seconds en route to a 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins?
“No play. Didn’t play,” Ovechkin said.
What must the Capitals, who sit at a league-worst 2-8-1, change?
“Bring the emotion right away,” Ovechkin said. “We can play like that, we can start play like, we get a lead and, you know, we stop playing.”
After establishing a one-goal lead and allowing just five shots on goal in the first period, the Capitals imploded in the second period. The loss, Washington’s first in regulation at Pittsburgh since Feb. 18, 2007, left players citing a lack of preparedness, questioning their mettle and their ability to play with emotion.
“We’re weak mentally right now,” said defenseman Karl Alzner, who blamed himself for taking an interference penalty that helped fuel the Penguins’ rout in the second period. “When they score a goal, we’re not bouncing back quick enough. When momentum is against us, we’re not fighting past that, whether it’s with a big hit or a fight or something. We’re not an emotional enough team right now, and that’s something that has to change if you want to win.”
Five Penguins — Evgeni Malkin, Pascal Dupuis, James Neal, Matt Cooke and Sidney Crosby — found the back of the net on a night in which neither young goaltender served Washington well.
Starter Michal Neuvirth was pulled by first-year Coach Adam Oates after allowing two goals on 11 shots, but the move didn’t stall Pittsburgh’s advance or spark the Capitals. Braden Holtby gave up three more on the first 11 shots he faced.
Oates said he didn’t regret making the switch.
“I thought we were playing really good hockey and I just thought they were goals that kind of deflated us,” Oates said.
Pittsburgh’s onslaught began with 6:59 gone in the second period, with Alzner in the penalty box. Malkin received the puck in the left circle, patiently closed in on the crease, then fired a perfect shot into the upper right hand corner. Neuvirth had no chance, and the game was tied at 1.
A little less than six minutes later, Crosby fed the puck past Mike Green and across to Dupuis on a two-on-one. The Penguins winger shot between Neuvirth’s legs to make it 2-1. It was a soft goal and one that got Neuvirth yanked from the contest.
“It’s tough,” Neuvirth said. “Obviously I was mad at myself, but I got pulled.”
Holtby entered the game with the Capitals giving up essentially buy-one-get-one-free scoring chances. While he made a few stops on the early waves, Pittsburgh found more quality opportunities on its next power play.
With Joel Ward off for firing the puck over the glass, Neal sneaked behind every Washington penalty killer, skated in toward the net from the left boards with an abundance of time and space and scored on a backhander to make it 3-1 Penguins.
“As a goalie you have to be ready to [enter a game in relief],” said Holtby, who added he could have stopped Neal’s tally. “It seemed like that was the turning point, though, it got even worse after I went in. We didn’t do enough to win.”
Eleven seconds later off a faceoff win by Brandon Sutter against Mike Ribeiro, who scored the Capitals’ first goal of the game, Matt Cooke snapped a low, glove-side shot past Holtby for a 4-1 lead.
After recording a pair of assists on the previous goals, Crosby added a goal for himself. Malkin took a shot from the right circle that deflected into the air, Crosby beat John Carlson and cut across the crease to bat the puck down and into the open net for a 5-1 lead.
Ovechkin added a goal on a power play in the third, but by then the game was long out of Washington’s reach.
“It seems like guys think this is going to turn around without any extra effort and that’s not the case,” winger Troy Brouwer said. “We weren’t ready to play. We got hemmed in our zone for the first two shifts. Just weren’t ready to play, minds weren’t in it. That’s been our biggest problem.”
Capitals note: Defenseman Tom Poti was a late scratch because of an upper-body injury and was formally listed as day-to-day by the team.
Roman Hamrlik, who was a healthy scratch for the past seven games, took his place and made his first appearance in a game since Jan. 24.