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The Washington Capitals, looking for someone to provide a spark in the absence of two-time defending Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin, got the complete opposite last night in a 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils (9-4-0).
Four third-period penalties proved costly, as the Devils netted two power-play goals and held on to give the Caps (8-3-4) their third loss in a row, though just their third regulation loss of the season.
Coach Bruce Boudreau expressed his frustration to the media after the game, "Guys didn't come to play," Boudreau said. "Whether they are feeling sorry for themselves because Alex is not in, I don't know."
In particular, Alex Semin—the one player on this roster that has talent that can approach the "Great 8"—looked completely lost. In addition to ineffective play, he took three penalties total, and two of the four third-period infractions that kept the Caps on their heels instead of attacking.
Semin had as many penalties as shots.
Nine seconds after Semin went to the box for a hook, Niclas Bergfors (two power-play goals) put a slap shot behind Semyon Varlamov (29 saves) for break a 1-1 tie. So instead of stepping up, Semin let his team down, and Boudreau was cognizant of it.
"Not only did some of them not stand out, but they cost us the game," Boudreau said. "It's a tough one to swallow."
"They're automatic penalties," said Boudreau, of the third period mistakes. "If you go behind the net and you put your stick on a guy you're going to get a penalty. Brendan Morrison has been in the league for 10 years. Alexander Semin has been in the league for five years and it's just dumb penalties."
Tyler Sloan (1) and Tomas Fleischmann (3) tallied for the Caps. Mathieu Perrault, making his NHL debut, assisted on both goals in just 10:30 of ice time.
But the theme of last night's game was lazy, ineffective play, something the Caps are not going to get away with while their goal-per-game superstar mends from his upper body injury, believed to be a left shoulder strain.
"We need to take leadership and take ownership of the dumb things we're doing," said Washington forward Mike Knuble, who has now taken a foul in the third period the last two games. "We have to stop it."
None of Washington's other "Young Guns" played particularly well Wednesday night. Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green were all held without a point, and Green even deflected one of the New Jersey goals into his own net.
What might be the most troubling comment of all came from veteran New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur, when asked about the Caps missing Ovechkin. "The excitement level that he brings, the energy that he brings to the table, that wasn't there. You can tell ."
"You can tell." Not words that Bruce Boudreau wants to hear.
Washington gets a day to think about it as they travel to Florida for the first of a home-and-home with the Panthers this weekend.
They better hope Ovechkin proves to be a fast healer, as he has in the past. If Wednesday night was any indication, this team needs Ovechkin more than they anyone realizes.