Ovechkin held off score sheet again as Caps fall into 2-0 hole

April 24, 2024, 7:09 AM

NEW YORK -- Washington Capitals coach Spencer Carbery said his star captain Alex Ovechkin is "struggling" in their opening round playoff series against the New York Rangers.

"I thought the first two games he looks a little bit off. He's struggling. It's hard. It's the playoffs, on the road. He's getting a tough matchup," Carbery said after the Capitals' 4-3 loss in Game 2 on Tuesday night to go down 2-0 in the series.

Ovechkin, 38, doesn't have a point in the series. He registered his first and only shot on goal in Game 2. But it was his turnover on a power play that led to the Rangers' eventual winning short-handed goal and was Ovechkin's most glaring misstep in the loss.

With the Rangers leading 3-2, Ovechkin took a cross-ice pass from center Connor McMichael near the Capitals' defensive zone. The puck hit the boards and as Ovechkin attempted to play it down the ice, Rangers center Mika Zibanejad stole it, finding defenseman K'Andre Miller for a short-handed goal with 3:09 left in the second period.

"It was a weird bounce," Ovechkin said. "I think Zibanejad played stick-on-stick. It was lucky, but I have to play safer. Especially in that kind of moment."

Carbery said it looked like Ovechkin was "surprised" by the defensive pressure after receiving the pass.

The Capitals coach said there are a few telltale signs for Ovechkin being off his game that Carbery has witnessed in the Rangers series.

"At 5-on-5 and the power play, he should get four or five looks on a nightly basis, whether they go in or not. He's not getting those looks," Carbery said. "Whether that's a product of his matchup, whether that's a product of his line combination, whether he's playing a role in that [himself], we've got to find a way to get him in spots where it's just him and [ Igor] Shesterkin and he's within the top of the circles."

But Carbery also said that Ovechkin getting his shot blocked with frequency is indicative of his struggles. Ovechkin had his shot blocked five times in Game 1 and twice more in Game 2.

"That's where I say, 'OK, it's off just a touch,'" the coach said.

Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said that his team is "mindful" that Ovechkin is a difference-maker and that "we do our best to check him." New York deployed top defensive pair Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren against Ovechkin in Game 2.

The Capitals return home for Game 3 on Friday night.

After a slow start, Ovechkin tallied 31 goals and had 34 assists in 79 games for the Capitals during his 19th NHL season. Carbery said he's confident that Ovechkin will turn things around in the postseason.

"He can flip it. That's one thing about him: He could flip it in one game and now he can all of a sudden be a difference-maker and help us win a game," Carbery said. "He'll be good. He's been through so many situations like this. I expect him to step up big time."

Game 2 was a penalty-laden contest that featured a combined 11 power plays, with both teams scoring twice with the man advantage. Some Washington players noted after the game that the officiating was all over the map on Tuesday night.

"It seemed like tonight it was stick penalties. They were letting a lot of the other stuff go, but it was anything with the stick they were calling," forward Tom Wilson said. "It's tough. You get new refs every game, you don't know what's going to be called what's not, but it's playoff hockey."

Washington center Dylan Strome said the tight officiating started in Game 1.

"Guys are running around and trying to get some hits to get the legs going and they're calling penalties right away, like lazy hooking penalties that they don't even call on us in the regular season," Strome said. "I mean, it is what it is. They're trying to avoid skirmishes and scrums and we've got to be aware of that for Game 3."

The most controversial officiating moment came in the third period, when Rangers star Artemi Panarin threw a check into Capitals winger T.J. Oshie. The officials reviewed the hit to see if Panarin had thrown an illegal check to the head, which would have resulted in a match penalty, and determined that the head wasn't the main point of contact. Oshie left the game but returned to the bench later in the period.

Carbery said the only explanation he received from the officials was that Panarin hadn't earned a minor penalty on the play either. The Capitals coach said he was asking the officials about Oshie having been pulled by the NHL concussion spotters and the Panarin hit not having been called for an illegal check to the head.

"To me, when the spotters remove a player, there has to be some type of contact with the head. So that's where I was a little bit confused with him being removed by the spotters, and then there's no penalty on the ice," Carbery said.