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Capitals Moments that Mattered: "Neutral" Does Not Mean "Demilitarized"

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The Capitals played a solid game last night, but a couple of neutral zone breakdowns against the Penguins' top line cost them much-needed points.

Rob Carr

If 24 hours ago you had told Caps fans that the Caps would outshoot the Pittsburgh Penguins on Verizon Center ice, most fans would probably be happy - and probably expect at least a point out of the contest. Well, last night the Caps had 33 shots to the Penguins' 20 (!), yet were unable to skate away with any points. So what happened?

In the past, defensive zone coverage, specifically around the net, has been an issue for the Caps. Last night, however, the problems were in the neutral zone. In the two even-strength goals the Penguins scored, they moved up ice with ease, cutting through the neutral zone without resistance and crossing the Caps' blueline like it was the Maginot Line. Let's take a look:

So from the time the Penguins gained possession in their zone until the moment they scored, it took two passes and about five seconds. That's not textbook neutral zone coverage. The second goal was even worse:

From the time the video starts, all five Penguins touch the puck and and it takes less than eight seconds for the Penguins to score, including one pass backwards and one cross-ice pass. Jack Hillen did knock down Lee Stempniak in the neutral zone, so I suppose that's an improvement over the first goal, but the Penguins were still able to move up ice far too quickly and easily.

In a 60-minute game, one in which the Caps put up a pretty solid effort, two sequences combining for ~12 seconds cost the Caps two goals, essentially the difference in the game.

We've pointed it out; Ted Leonsis has noticed it. The next step is fixing it.