The sentiment in the Washington Capitals‘ dressing room was universal: Their energy wasn’t where it needed to be in a 2-1 loss Friday to the Minnesota Wild.
“We knew they were going to play desperate — they need points as we do — but I think the sense of urgency was on their side, not on our side,” Alex Ovechkin said.
“After coming off some emotional games lately I think we didn’t ramp it up enough for this one, for their situation, how they were playing,” Braden Holtby added.
What Holtby referred to was not an excuse, but certainly a believable reason: The Capitals played one of the most intense games of the NHL season Wednesday night against the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. Friday marked the Capitals‘ third game in four days.
A counterpoint: It’s too late in the season for a team to not muster up the proper urgency for a game, a chance at two critical standings points.
Washington will need all hands on deck moving forward if defenseman Michal Kempny (lower-body injury) misses substantial time. He suffered a leg injury against Tampa Bay that caused him to limp to the trainers’ room. The defense without him looked fine against the Wild, but against top playoff teams in April, missing Kempny might be significant.
Forward Carl Hagelin, acquired ahead of the trade deadline last month, was also a late scratch Friday when he came down with an illness.
Asked if he thought Hagelin would be healthy enough to play Sunday, coach Todd Reirden used it to launch into a critique of his players’ “desperation level” against Minnesota.
“I certainly hope so, because we missed his energy tonight,” Reirden said of Hagelin. “You see the type of impact that this guy has on our team. He brings the speed and the pace to our lineup and allows us to move people down and kind of build four lines of an attacking style of team. We needed that tonight. We didn’t have it.”
The Capitals dropped to 43-24-8 (94 points) with Friday’s loss, but held onto a three-point division lead in the Metro over the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins. They have seven games left, all of them against Eastern Conference opponents, with four coming at home. That includes a season finale with Barry Trotz and the Islanders that could decide the division champion.
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