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After Game 2 loss, Capitals know they must be better

Washington split first two games against Pittsburgh despite being outplayed for long stretches

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Two games into their Eastern Conference Second Round series, the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins are tied at one win apiece. That's probably where each team thought it would be before the series began.

But the way the Capitals have gotten to this point has to be of some concern.

The Penguins outplayed Washington for long stretches again in Game 2 on Saturday, particularly during the first two periods, before pulling out a 2-1 victory at Verizon Center. The story was similar in Game 1 on Thursday, but the Capitals did enough early and late and got a special night from T.J. Oshie, whose hat trick goal gave them a 4-3 overtime victory.

"I don't think we've played our best game, yet," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "We've had periods where we've played pretty well. The third period, I thought we played pretty well. The same thing [in Game 1]; I thought we were good in [the first period] and then in overtime. We haven't strung enough periods together. They're a good opponent. This seems to be a series where they'll own a period, we'll own a period, so the trick is to try to own more periods than they do.

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm2: Johansson buries loose puck to tie it

"They're a good hockey team and I think we've got a good hockey team, but we can be better in a lot of areas right now."

The Capitals learned Saturday that playing well for one period, or most of one period, isn't going to be enough to beat the Penguins. They managed all of 10 shots on goal through the first two periods while the Penguins had 28.

That was mostly because the Penguins had the puck most of the time. The Capitals were sloppy coming through the neutral zone and made it too easy for Pittsburgh's defensemen when they were breaking out of their zone with the puck.

"We didn't manage the puck, we didn't place it in the right areas and so we'd get to the red line and it was just really easy for them to break out and have some speed and play in our end a little bit more than we wanted them to," Trotz said. "I just didn't think we executed well enough, which I said the other game; I don't think we were as urgent on the puck. The puck battles weren't as crisp, and when you're turning pucks over in the neutral zone, you're feeding their game."

The Capitals have talked about playing a puck-possession game to wear down the Penguins in their end and prevent them from utilizing their speed and skill in the transition game, but they've done that only for brief stretches. They've wanted to punish the Penguins defensemen physically after they make their breakout passes to make it more difficult for them to join the rush and also wear them down during the course of the series.

With the Penguins down to five defensemen after Olli Maatta was injured on a late Brooks Orpik hit 4:13 into the game, being physical could have been even more beneficial for the Capitals.

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm2: Maatta shaken up after hit

"We just couldn't get anything going," Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "We never had the puck, never had any pressure. Even if we don't have the puck much, you've got to be able to apply some pressure somewhere on the ice to make them feel uncomfortable. That was too easy of a game through the first 40 [minutes] for them."

Despite that, the Capitals trailed 1-0 after two periods thanks mostly to their penalty-killers, who were perfect against five Pittsburgh power plays, and Braden Holtby's goaltending. They were in position to tie the game on Marcus Johansson's rebound goal on the power play 4:08 into the third period.

Each team had chances to score the go-ahead goal. The Capitals finally put together some sustained pressure, but with goaltender Matt Murray doing his best work in the third period, the Penguins hung tough.

Pittsburgh took the lead when former Capital Eric Fehr went to the net and deflected Evgeni Malkin's pass over Holtby's left shoulder for the winning goal with 4:28 remaining.

"Call what it was," Capitals right wing Justin Williams said. "The first two periods the ice was tilted a little bit, no doubt. Good for them. They came in desperately. We didn't answer until the third. It turned out to be too late.''

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm2: Fehr deflects it past Holtby for lead

With the series shifting to Consol Energy Center for Game 3 on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), the Capitals now need some desperation of their own.

Yes, with a bounce or two Saturday, they could be up 2-0 in the series, and there have been some positives in their play. They've held Sidney Crosby without a point so far and they've shut down a power play (0-for-7 in the series) that was red-hot in the first round against the New York Rangers.

But the Capitals know they could be down 0-2 just as easily.

"We know we can be better," Holtby said. "It's been pretty tight both games, score-wise, but we know we have a lot more to offer and that's our goal, to get better as the series goes on. Game 3 will be a big one."

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