When the horn blew, and the Washington Capitals skated off the ice, 4-1 losers to the New York Rangers this afternoon, it was just that… a wake-up call. The loss left the Caps 2-7-1 against Atlantic Division teams this season, 1-7-0 in their last eight contests against that division’s teams.
When coupled with the fact that the Caps are 2-4-0 against Northeast Division teams, you can start to see rather clearly that this is no playoff team. No amount of wishing, hoping, craving, yearning, or longing is going to change that fact. At the half-way point of the season, the Caps are pretty much done. This team is what it is, shallow, slow, uninspired, at most a tease, and that coming when they play Southeast Division teams or occasionally scare up the rare a decent effort against a team outside the woeful Southeast.
It was all laid bare this afternoon against what itself was an underachieving team to date, and one that was starting a backup goalie who had not played since February 23rd and who had a mediocre 1-1-1 record coming into this game.
It was really nice – really – that Steve Oleksy recorded his first NHL goal to open the scoring, but frankly, when that is your highlight for the day, 2:16 into the game? You are not going to have a good day. And it wasn’t. After Oleksy’s goal, the Rangers slowly and methodically chipped away, eventually tying the game mid-way through the first period, then executing the reversal with a pair of goals 1:22 apart in the second period to chase goalie Braden Holtby and pretty much end the competitive portion of the game.
-- Alex Ovechkin is making a habit of coming up small in nationally televised games. Mike Milbury ripped Ovechkin in the midst of a lackluster effort against the Philadelphia Flyers on February 27th in which Ovechkin failed to register a point, was minus-1, and otherwise looked uninterested. Today he finished without a point, was on ice for all three even-strength goals for the Rangers, took two penalties on one play (the Rangers scoring on the first delayed call when Boyle shot the puck past him in an iffy attempt to block a shot), was minus-3, and otherwise looked uninterested.
-- The game-winner was scored by a guy who was stuffed so far in Ranger coach John Tortorella’s dog house, the Animal Welfare League might have been tempted to step in. It was Brian Boyle’s first goal of the season in 20 games. It was only his second “plus” game of the season.
-- If there was a bright spot, other than Oleksy’s goal, it was Nicklas Backstrom’s improbable 14-for-14 in the faceoff circle. He was the best player on the ice for the Caps – no goals against scored when he was on ice, three shots on goal (five attempts), two hits, two takeaways, a blocked shot, and all those faceoff wins.
-- Then again…Backstrom took only two draws in the offensive end (winning both, of course), and Mike Ribeiro took only one. These are the “offensive” centers. It did not make for much offense, but then again, if you saw the score, you knew that.
-- Joey Crabb had no shots on goal. That makes five times in his last eight games. Yes, he is a fourth liner and all, but still, this is a guy who had 11 goals in 67 games last season.
-- Make one wonder how it is that Mathieu Perreault was given the afternoon off.
-- Steve Eminger had more hits that Alex Ovechkin? OK…
-- Watching the Capitals chase the Rangers as they were working the wall with the puck was like watching a youngster running around the schoolyard futilely trying to get his lunch back from the taunting schoolyard bully.
-- The Caps were 9-3-0 in games in which they allowed three or fewer power plays to the opposition… until today. Now it’s 9-4-0 (the Rangers were 1-for-2 on the power play).
-- The Caps have only five more games against Atlantic Division teams.
In the end, it has come down to this. If the Caps are to make the playoffs this season, they all but have to win both games against Carolina this week in regulation. With eight points separating the two teams in the Southeast, the Caps need four points, and they need Carolina to earn none. Sure, you might argue that the Caps are only six points behind the New Jersey Devils with a game in hand, and that the Devils have been reeling lately, but there are three teams ahead of the Caps chasing the Devils, too.
And there is the stark truth revealed today. The Caps just are not very good when stepping outside their comfort zone. They are 4-11-1 against teams outside the Southeast Division and have yet to win consecutive games against teams outside their own division. With 14 of their last 24 games outside the Southeast, that is a long, steep, rocky climb ahead if playoffs are in this team’s future.