Well, here we are again. For 24 minutes the Caps played the Pittsburgh Penguins even, holding the Atlantic Division leaders to a 2-2 stalemate. Yeah well, then the Penguins scored goals 37 seconds apart and never looked back in a 6-3 win this afternoon over the Caps.
And once more we have the Caps playing well in fits and starts, but not stringing nearly enough of those instances together for nearly enough time to win decisions against competent opponents. How bad was it?..Let’s just go right to…
-- The Penguins got production out of the guys who have to produce. Chris Kunitz got a hat trick, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combined for five assists. Meanwhile… Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom combined for two assists. One assist came on a fluke goal (Backstrom’s on the goal John Carlson scored off the stanchion along the side glass), the other came when the outcome was pretty much settled (Ovechkin on Mike Ribeiro’s goal to cut a three goal lead to two in the third period).
-- The Caps had almost as many shots blocked (22) as on goal (24)
-- 14 skaters and goalie Braden Holtby were charged with giveaways.
-- Someone named Robert Bortuzzo had four blocked shots for the Penguins…the entire defense for the Caps had four.
-- The Caps were 1-for-3 on penalty kills. That makes four times in nine games they have allowed at least two power play goals.
-- The Penguins had two goals in the first period and three in the third. That makes seven periods in 27 regulation periods of hockey in which the Caps have allowed two or more goals. They have allowed two or more goals in a period in five games this season and lost them all in regulation.
-- Braden Holtby has a save percentage of .854 in the first period of games this season. That is not a lot worse than his .862 save percentage overall, but it is still awful. Huie cannot keep starting behind the eight ball like this (he has allowed two goal in the first period in three of his four appearances), or he will not be starting much of anything going forward.
-- John Carlson was on the ice for three goals against this afternoon. That makes 20 goals against while on ice; no player in the league has been on ice for more goals against. But here is the weird thing. He is only a minus-2. What’s the deal? Well, he has been on ice for 10 of the 12 power play goals scored against the Caps.
-- Mike Ribeiro continues to be the engine that drives what passes for the Caps offense at the moment. He had a goal and an assist, but as much as that, four other Caps (Mike Green, Wojtek Wolski, Troy Brouwer, and Alex Ovechkin) shared points on scoring plays in which Ribeiro was involved.
-- Penalties, penalties. We say that twice because the Caps now lead the league in 5-on-3 power play goals scored against (four). Today, the Penguins got theirs when the Caps blew off frustration with two penalties late. They were okay to that point, with only a tripping call to Wolski being called against the Caps.
In the end, the Caps cannot rely on getting odd goals off the stanchion supporting the glass on the side wall (as John Carlson did this afternoon) for offense, and they can’t be giving up power play goals by the pallet load. They have to play something resembling real hockey. And they have had a difficult time doing just that. Today was merely a microcosm of their season, a few good stretches and too many and too long poor ones. Just like the season so far in which the Caps have failed to put together consecutive wins.
Nine games in, the Caps are not a playoff team. If 54 points is the threshold for making the playoffs this season (the 48-game equivalent of what last season’s threshold was in teh Eastern Conference), the Caps need 49 points in 39 games to get there. That is a 103-point pace over 82 games. Does this team look like a 103-point team?
In eight and a half years the Caps have gone from having the first overall draft pick, to the growing pains of a young team, to restored competitiveness, to being in the conversation of who are legitimate contenders for a Stanley Cup, to struggling to making the playoffs, to the look of a lottery team that could get the number one overall pick.
The Caps look at the moment to be headed back to where they started.