The Washington Capitals laid an egg in their second game of the season when they were shutout by the San Jose Sharks, 5-0, at home. Since then they were diligent in rising to the top of the Metropolitan Division. Until Tuesday night. The Caps played an iffy first period, were just poor enough in the second period, and didn’t have enough in the third period to catch the New York Rangers, who defeated the Caps, 5-2, to take over the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.
The Rangers started the scoring just before the eight-minute mark of the first period when the Caps got loose with the puck in their own end. Brooks Orpik chased down a loose puck along the end wall in his own end, but his attempted pass to John Carlson was intercepted by Kevin Hayes behind the Caps’ net. He threw the puck in front, but Evgeny Kuznetsov got a stick on the pass. It was not enough. Dan Girardi sent a shot on net that Braden Holtby stopped. Hayes took a swipe at the puck from top of the crease but missed. Oscar Lindberg did not, though, darting in on the weak side and poking the puck past Holtby for the 1-0 lead.
The Caps tied it late in the period off what might have been a disaster. Girardi snapped a shot from the slot that hit the post to Holtby’s right and kicked out to the side boards where Alex Ovechkin pick up the puck. He skated it out to the neutral zone and slid it over to Nate Schmidt approaching the Ranger blue line. Schmidt skated in with Marc Staal trying to cut off his path to the net. Staal laid out trying to deny a passing lane, but Schmidt found enough room to get the puck to Ovechkin for a one-timer past goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
Getting out of the first period tied would have been a plus for the Caps, but they didn’t, allowing a Kevin Hayes goal two minutes after the Ovechkin strike, the product of lackadaisical coverage by the Caps that allowed a two-on-one to form slowly and give Hayes the chance to snap the puck past Holtby’s left shoulder to make it 2-1 at the first intermission.
The Rangers scored twice in the second period on their only two shots on goal – one from Kevin Klein less than two minutes into the period on a four-on-two jail break after a Caps power play expired. The other came in the seventh minute when Mats Zuccarello picked Marcus Johansson’s pocket, fed Derick Brassard,and Brassard finished the play from between the hashmarks.
That more or less ended the competitive portion of the evening. The teams exchanged goals, the Caps scoring on a Johansson re-direct of a Karl Alzner drive with less than two minutes to go in the second period, the Rangers restoring the three-goal lead mid-way through the third period on Jarret Stoll’s first goal as a Ranger. That would be the end of the scoring in a 5-2 Ranger win.
-- The Rangers were an extremely efficient team, especially in the second period. So much so that they scored a goal without recording a shot on goal…
-- Washington was the 29th team in the NHL to lose a game on the road this season, now with a record of 4-1-0 away from Verizon Center. Only the Boston Bruins remain as a team yet to lose on the road (5-0-0).
-- It was a difficult night for the Brooks Orpik-John Carlson defensive pair. They were on the ice for three goals, and Orpik was on for a fourth – the Stoll goal at the end – paired with Matt Niskanen.
-- That was the 15th time in his career that Braden Holtby surrendered five or more goals in a game. The 21 shots he faced was not the fewest number of shots he faced in doing so. There was the five goals on 11 shots he saw against the Minnesota Wild on January 4, 2014 that stands at the top (or bottom, depending on your point of view).
-- In addition to his goal, “eight” was the number dominating Alex Ovechkin’s score sheet – eight shots on goal, eight hits.
-- The Caps were 0-for-2 on the power play, making them 0-for-9 on the man advantage over their last four games. The Caps just are not generating chances. It was the sixth time in their last nine games they were held to two power play opportunities.
-- Alex Ovechkin still does not have a power play goal this season. Part of the problem is shots. With one shot on goal against the Rangers, he has 14 shots on goal in ten games (1.40/game). Last season he had 134 shots on goal in 81 games (1.65/game).
-- Let’s go through some numbers… Caps won the faceoff duel, 31-21. Caps had 67 shot attempts to 37 for the Rangers. At 5-on-5 the Caps had 62 shot attempts to the Rangers’ 33. They had 20 offensive zone starts at 5-on-5 to the Rangers’ 11. You would think the Caps won this game, 5-2.
-- So why didn’t they? Breakdowns. You could point to one in every goal scored by the Rangers. First goal? Poor execution of a pass behind the Caps’ net and sloppy coverage in front of it that allowed only Rangers to get sticks on the puck. Second goal? Slow coverage getting back into their own end that allowed a two-on-one in deep that never should have happened. Third goal? Turnover at the Rangers’ blue line when Alex Ovechkin could not corral a pass from Justin Williams (it is worth noting, it was at the end of a 1:53 shift to open the second period since the Caps were on a power play to start the frame). Fourth goal? Giveaway in their own end. Fifth goal? Allowing the Rangers to enter the offensive zone on a 3-on-2 after a power play expired for the Rangers (although that goal is on Holtby).
-- Andre Burakovsky looks a bit lost in the offensive end. He has yet to record more than two shots in any game this season. He did have two in this game, but that minus-3 sticks out a lot more.
In the end…
Splat! That was the high-flying 8-2-0, Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals falling back to earth. It seems when it comes time for the Caps to make a statement against this team, especially in this arena, they come up short. The stakes were not as high in this game as they were in Game 5 in last spring’s playoffs, when the Caps had a chance to close out the Rangers in this rink, but the Caps were in a position to stake a claim to being the class of the division in this contest. They didn’t, and how they lost was unsettling. They dominated the numbers, but they had moments when they were awful, and the Rangers dutifully accepted the gifts. The recent history of this club is characterized by the Rangers’ opportunistic style of play, their capacity to convert those moments of indecision or poor play by the Caps into goals. And they have a world-class goaltender to make it stand up. It was the formula for a Rangers win in this game.