If there were any messages to be sent in last night’s game between the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers, it was the Rangers doing the sending, that they are the team to be beat in the Metropolitan Division, if not the Eastern Conference. The Rangers smothered the Caps behind goalie Cam Talbot’s 28 saves, 3-1, at Verizon Center.
Carl Hagelin got the Rangers on the board first, finishing after some persistent pressure in the Caps’ end by batting in a loose puck from the top of the crease past goalie Braden Holtby 8:20 into the game.
Washington tied it three minutes later on a power play. After the Caps put in some hard work digging out the puck from below the Ranger goal line, Evgeny Kuznetsov collected the loose puck in the corner and fed Alex Ovechkin for a one timer above the left wing circle. The shot hit the stick of Ranger defender Jesper Fast and changed direction, sailing past Talbot’s blocker to tie the game.
J.T. Miller broke the tie before the first intermission when the Caps could not clear the puck out of their own zone. Tim Gleason’s attempted clear hit a seam in the glass and ricocheted back to the middle of the ice where Kevin Hayes picked it up. Hayes backed through the high slot, then fed Miller, who wristed the puck past Holtby on the short side to make it 2-1 for the visitors.
That would be all for the scoring until late in the third period when John Carlson’s pass to Nate Schmidt at the top of the offensive zone was intercepted by Chris Kreider. It set up a two-on-one break with Martin St. Louis that became a two-on-none as Carlson was left chasing the pair as they entered the Caps’ zone. Krieder skated in and fed St. Louis for the tap-in that ended the suspense for the evening, the Rangers skating off with the 3-1 win.
-- The loss was the fourth in the last five games the Caps have played against Metropolitan Division opponents.
-- Ovechkin’s power play goal made it five straight games in which the Caps recorded a goal with the extra man. They are 6-for-11 over that span (54.5 percent).
-- The Caps were a perfect 3-for-3 killing penalties, making it five games in six that they have been so and going 15-for-16 over those six games (93.8 percent).
-- Mike Green and Brooks Orpik sat out with ailments; Cameron Schilling and Nate Schmidt taking over. It was Orpik’s first missed game as a Capital.
-- The absences made a difference. All three Ranger goals were scored with make-shift pairs on the ice for the Caps. Schmidt and John Carlson were on for the first and third Ranger goals, Tim Gleason and Schilling for the second New York goal (although that was bad luck as much as anything).
-- Fifteen of the 18 skaters for the Caps were credited with hits, Tom Wilson leading the team with six. Evgeny Kuznetsov was next in line with four (and you thought “hits” was an arbitrary stat).
-- Joel Ward’s assist on the Ovechkin goal made it four in his last five games with a point.
-- Ovechkin’s goal was his 45th of the season; he joins four other players in NHL history with seven or more 45-goal seasons (Marcel Dionne, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, and Wayne Gretzky).
-- Jay Beagle, who has enjoyed a substantial amount of time on scoring lines this season, skated under eight minutes for just the third time this season (7:43). He suffered an upper body injury and did not skate in the third period.
-- Eric Fehr was 12-for-15 on faceoffs, accounting for all of the advantage the Caps had in the circle for the game (38 wins, 29 losses).
In the end…
Barry Trotz said the right things about a third of his defense being spare parts… “They were both fine. We handled it okay. That’s a pretty good team on the other side there. They’re deep and they’re fast. They were a good test for our guys. We’re missing a couple important guys. Would they make a difference in the game? I don’t know. But it’s not an excuse. We played well enough to at least get a point tonight.”
That’s fine for media consumption, but the fact is that the Caps have lost three straight games to the Rangers, dating back to last season. This is a team that is likely to be standing in the Caps’ path at some point in the post season, and the Caps need to demonstrate that they can do better than “well enough,” even if they are nicked up. They will have two more chances in the regular season, perhaps facing a once-more healthy Henrik Lundqvist in goal. Cam Talbot did a pretty good imitation of him on Wednesday night, a demonstration that injury – even to the team’s most important player – need not be debilitating. The Caps have work to do.