WASHINGTON – Even if a win is a win is a win, especially for a team chasing a playoff berth, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz gave a rather blunt and unflattering assessment of his team's performance in this particular victory.
"I didn't think we had a real hard work ethic, weren't diligent on our responsibilities, and that was probably one of our sloppier games," Trotz said.
He wasn't done.
He said the Capitals "got two lucky goals" en route to beating the New Jersey Devils 3-2 on Thursday night on defenseman Matt Niskanen's winner 73 seconds into overtime.
Trotz went through a laundry list of issues for a team that entered the day seventh in the Eastern Conference.
"Our decision-making was poor," he lamented.
"Our execution was poor," he added.
"I'll say our resiliency and determination were average, at best," he continued. "We had too many guys that weren't getting it done tonight."
And looking ahead, he pointed out that two of the NHL's top teams are coming up on the schedule, with the Capitals hosting the Predators on Saturday, then playing at the Rangers on Sunday.
"As I said to the guys," Trotz recounted, "if we play that way in the next two games, it won't be pretty for us."
Clearly in a sour mood, Trotz even complained about problems with the playing conditions.
"We're going to have to get those boards fixed in the corner there. So we'll have to talk to the building here, because that almost cost us two goals. That can't happen," he said. "It's supposed to be a home-ice advantage."
Trotz's players seemed to get the message about how he felt about their play.
"Wasn't our best game. Wasn't my best game," said goalie Braden Holtby, who made 29 saves but helped blow a 2-0 lead by allowing Travis Zajac's short-handed goal in the second period and Steve Bernier's tying goal with 29.2 seconds left in regulation. "We all know we have to be a lot better against Nashville and New York coming up."
On a quiet night for Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals got rare goals from Niskanen, Karl Alzner and Eric Fehr. Niskanen's was his fourth of the season, set up by Evgeny Kuznetsov's work along the boards — and perhaps a deflection by Kuznetsov's stick at the end.
"A guy got a piece on the way through," Devils goalie Cory Schneider said. "I saw the shot all the way, was going to get it, and it got redirected."
Ovechkin entered leading the NHL in goals, Backstrom came in No. 1 in assists, and both were in the top five in points. But Alzner ended a 23-game goal drought, while Fehr had scored twice in the preceding 22 games.
"'Backy' and 'Ovi' have been carrying the mail a little bit for our team," Fehr said. "You want to, not necessarily give them nights off, but ... help them. You want to protect them. It was nice to contribute."
The Devils have lost three consecutive games, began the day 12th in the East and appear to be on their way to missing the playoffs for the third year in a row. New Jersey's offense has been a problem, and it didn't help that a possible tying goal in the third period was waved off.
It was a physical game from the get-go: Devils left wing Patrik Elias left some blood on the ice in the opening minute, but quickly returned to the game. In the second period, Bernier dropped to his knees after taking a hit near center ice from Washington's Brooks Orpik and was examined by team medical staff before going back in.
"They've got some chippy guys," Schneider said, "and we're not going to stand down."
NOTES: The Capitals took the season series 4-1. ... Fehr's goal total is his highest since a career-best 21 in 2009-10.
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