Eller wants to see the defense more involved on the attack originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Everyone circles Capitals vs. Penguins games on their calendar when the NHL schedule gets released. For Washington on Wednesday night, this turned out to be an unfortunate chapter of the rivalry.
Pittsburgh defeated their foes 4-1 on enemy ice, dominating the contest with three goals in the second period and making it increasingly difficult for the Capitals to gain traction on the attack. It was apparent that the Penguins made it a point to suffocate Washington in the neutral zone and on the power play, as the Caps’ offense stalled about midway through the first period.
That effort was not lost on Lars Eller, and when asked about it postgame, he gave a frustrated answer.
“I think we need to get all five guys involved in the offense,” Eller said. “I think we need to get the weak-side D to join the rush so we are not just attacking with two or three guys.”
Pittsburgh had been winless in their previous seven games but came away with two points in Washington mostly because they forced the issue in Washington’s defensive zone and created turnovers. Their second goal on the night (which was a major turning point) was the result of pressure applied to Erik Gustafsson, resulting in a turnover and an open shot.
Applying pressure on the forecheck makes it even more difficult for Capitals’ defensemen to join the attack. That’s part of the deal when you play the Penguins, though.
“It was tight both ways. I think any time you play Pittsburgh it’s kind of a game that drags through the mud a little bit,” head coach Peter Laviolette said postgame. “There’s not a lot of room. It’s not pretty. It’s not flashy and so we had looks, we had opportunities, finally got one in the third but probably too little, too late.”
Washington’s road to a victory over their Metropolitan division rival was made exponentially tougher by the injury bug. Apart from missing some key forwards like Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, T.J. Oshie and others, the Caps’ D-pairings were down some key personnel as well.
John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov, two of the squad’s best and longest-tenured defensemen, remain out with lower body injuries. Alex Alexeyev was thrust into his second-ever NHL appearance as part of a throng of players who were called upon to step in for the injured vets.
“The D are gapping, riding the forwards face. You can’t do much. You can dump it and then [it’s] hard to create offense from that,” Eller said. “Sometimes you can, but you are not going to score a whole lot of goals. I think when you start getting the D a little bit more involved, attack with five and defend with five, we can get a lot better.”
Washington’s next two tests will be against another Metropolitan rival, the Tampa Bay Lightning, in a home-and-home clash this coming weekend starting Friday night. Getting defensemen involved in the attack will be critical against a team known for their stout rush and forecheck.