The Washington Capitals gave fans a glimpse of what life would be like without Alex Ovechkin last night when they lost to the Ottawa Senators, 2-0, at Verizon Center.
With Ovechkin out with a lower-body injury and the Caps otherwise stuck in an offensive drought, the task for the Senators was simple. Get a lead, hold a lead. They did, putting the recent woes of the Caps on display. Kyle Turris gave Ottawa that lead in the second period when he sped down the right wing and fired a shot past defenseman Connor Carrick that goalie Braden Holtby had trouble picking up. Holtby defended the shot awkwardly, tumbling backwards as the puck flew past him into the net.
That would be it until the third period. While nursing that 1-0 lead, the Senators got a break when Martin Erat was sent off for hooking Cody Ceci. With just a half minute left on the penalty, Jason Spezza walked out from the left wing wall and snapped a shot past Holtby’s blocker on the short side.
It was all Craig Anderson would need to finish off the Caps with his third shutout of the season, sending the Caps to their sixth straight loss and tenth in their last dozen games (2-6-4).
-- Just how bad is this? The Caps have seven goals scored in this six-game losing streak. The last time they scored so few over a six-game stretch was February 28-March 10, 2004 when they recorded just seven goals in six games. At least they won a game in that streak, a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on March 6, 2004. The last time that the Caps recorded fewer goals in a six-game span was the final six games of the 1998-1999 season. From April 7-18, 1999 the Caps recorded just five goals in six games as they closed the season on a six-game losing streak (no Bettman points in those days, all the losses were in regulation).
-- This was the first game this season that the Caps lost when Alex Ovechkin was out of the lineup. In the other two games the Caps beat the Philadelphia Flyers, 7-0, and beat Florida, 3-2, in a shootout.
-- The Caps had 34 shots on goal. A lot of good that did. Craig Anderson went to 13-4-5 when facing more than 30 shots in a game. What was telling was that the Caps leading shooters – John Carlson and Mike Green (five apiece) – are defensemen. If you were looking for offense from elsewhere… Nicklas Backstrom, Troy Brouwer, Brooks Laich, Mikhail Grabovski, Eric Fehr… one shot on goal apiece. Even Karl Alzner had two.
-- Speaking of Alzner, he started the game with John Carlson as his partner, but he was on ice with Connor Carrick when Ottawa scored both of their goals.
-- There were days when Mike Green getting 26 minutes was a common thing. Not so much these days, which is not necessarily a bad thing as it keeps him fresher. Last night Green skated 26:42, the most ice time he has had since logging 26:42 against Montreal on November 29th. That was 24 games ago.
-- The big minutes for Green might have been the flip side of Nate Schmidt returning to the roster from Hershey and getting a sweater. Schmidt skated in place of John Erskine and had 11:04 in ice time.
-- There is a thought that goes that hockey is a young man’s game, but in one sense the Caps might be overdoing it. At a difficult position – defense – the Caps’ average age among the six defensemen they iced last night: 23.7 years. Mike Green, at 28 years and 99 days, is the old man of this bunch.
-- At least the Caps are giving themselves chances on the power play, even if they aren’t converting. Last night was the third straight game in which they had four power play opportunities. It was the first time the Caps had four or more man advantages in three consecutive games since October 26-November 1. They were 2-for-15 in those games; they are 1-for-12 in these most recent three games.
-- The Caps did tilt the ice in one respect. They had 25 offensive zone draws versus 18 defensive zone draws.
-- The loss made it seven straight losses to Ottawa. In those losses the Caps have only 11 goals to their credit.
-- Lost in this, and it should not be, is that Braden Holtby had a solid game, stopping 24 of 26 shots. That makes 61 saves on 66 shots (.924 save percentage) in three appearances since his epic frustration against Minnesota back on January 4th.
With Alex Ovechkin out, you can see how threadbare the roster is when it comes to offensive talent. Nicklas Backstrom is a gifted playmaker, but playmakers need finishers, and the Caps don’t have one. Not a consistent or reliable one, anyway. They have a lot of diligent players who even when they give an honest effort are not among the better goal-scorers in the league. And an honest effort they gave last night, to their credit. It is hard to focus and do the dirty work when you are in the midst of a bad run of luck. But this was one of those games, very much like the last throes of that eight-game losing streak in 2010, where you can see the end of the dark tunnel and a light shining through. Things look bad, but one has the feeling they are about to look up.