Well, that was a cold splash of water in the face, wasn’t it?
The Washington Capitals fell behind, caught up, then gave up a third period goal last night to the New York Islanders, finally losing their contest by a 3-2 margin, letting two points on home ice get away in their late-season rush to try and secure a playoff berth. Not only did the Caps let those two points get away, everything that could go wrong in the standings did just that.
The win allowed the Islanders to jump over the Caps in the standings into ninth place. The Winnipeg Jets extended their Southeast Division lead to seven points by defeating the Carolina Hurricanes. The New York Rangers beat the Philadelphia Flyers to extend their lead over the Caps to four points for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
The Caps fell behind in the first period when the Islanders scored two goals less than three minutes apart from almost the same spot on the ice – first Michael Grabner in the slot on a feed from Keith Aucoin, then Josh Bailey converting a pass from Kyle Okposo. In both instances the islanders caught the Caps overloaded to one side of the ice, leaving no one to cover the shooter on the weak side.
However, the Caps got even in the second period with two goals of their own separated by barely three minutes. The first came when Brooks Laich hauled the puck down the right wing wall, then left it for Mike Ribeiro at the Islander line. Ribeiro took over, cut to the middle, eluded a poke check attempt from Marty Reasoner, then wristed the puck past goalie Evgeni Nabakov.
Just 3:23 later, the Caps tied things up when John Carlson took the great circle route through the Islander zone. It started when Carlson beat Matt Moulson to a loose puck along the right wing wall. He then picked it up and circled around the back of the net, coming out on the left wing side where he fed it to Alex Ovechkin. As Carlson skated back around to the point, Ovechkin fired a shot that was blocked. The puck skittered to the right wing corner, where it was picked up by Marcus Johansson. He then fed Carlson, who by this time was back at the right point. Carlson walked the puck a couple of steps to the middle and let fly with a slapper that sailed past Nabokov to tie the game.
That is the way things remained for the next 21 minutes and change, heading into the late stages of regulation time. And then, when Caps fans might have been entertaining thoughts of overtime or a second straight freestyle competition, the Caps went brain dead for 13 seconds. It started with Brooks Laich skating after the puck as he was approaching the end of his shift. Keep in mind that this is a player who missed the first 28 games of the season – he looked like he was at the end of his shift, a bit gassed. He managed to catch up to the puck inside the Caps’ blue line and send it back to what looked like safety behind the Caps’ net. Mike Green picked it up there, but he was immediately hounded into a giveaway by Matt Moulson at the side of the Caps’ net. Green lost track of the puck, Moulson found it, and he snapped a pass to John Tavares, who jumped into a void that might have been occupied by Laich or his replacement on the shift. No Cap was there, and Karl Alzner was too late to keep Tavares from wristing the puck past goalie Braden Holtby for what would be the game-winning goal in a disappointing loss and a lost opportunity.
-- The loss snapped a three game winning streak for the Caps, denying them their first four-game winning streak of the season, and it also snapped a streak of four games in which the Caps allowed two or fewer goals. It was the fourth straight game at home in which the Caps allowed three or more goals.
-- The Caps saw their five-game streak with at least one power play goal ended. It ended with a thud. One power play shot on goal in six minutes of power play time.
-- Alex Ovechkin’s goal-game streak ended at five, but he extended his points streak to six with an assist on the Carlson goal (6-4-10).
-- With his primary assist on the Carlson goal, Marcus Johansson is now 3-5-8 over his last seven games.
-- The Caps either did a horrible job at getting shots to the net, or the Islanders did an extraordinary job of getting in the way. The Caps had more shots blocked (26) than they had shots on goal (22). And as if to add insult to injury, they missed almost as many shots (18) as shots on goal. The silver lining there, one supposes, is that they had 66 shot attempts to 51 for the Islanders. Unfortunately, that is not how score is kept.
-- Jason Chimera did not record a shot on goal in 9:34 of ice time. That is three games in a row with no shots on goal recorded.
-- In the former Cap department, Keith Aucoin had a tidy 10:54 in ice time – four shots on goal, three blocked shots, and he split eight faceoffs to go with an assist on the game’s first goal.
-- When a team records only seven shots on goal in the third period against a team that leads the league handily in goals allowed in the third period, it is fair to say “focus” is not a part of your game. Such was the case with the Caps last night. The Islanders were averaging 1.47 goals allowed per game in the third period going into last night, including nine in the three losses the Islanders suffered last week.
-- Wojtek Wolski… at least he got 6:51 of ice time.
In the end, maybe it was jet lag. Whatever it was, the Caps just never could find that top gear in this one. And the breakdowns in their own end were persistent – you could use a hula hoop to cover the spot from which the Islanders scored all three of their goals. This can’t happen to a team on the wrong side of the playoff divide against a team it should beat at home. Now, the Caps find themselves just that much further out of a playoff spot with just that many fewer games left to play. And with another road trip leading up to the trading deadline next Wednesday.
Oooh, the DRAH-muh.