For the second time in three games, the Capitals came out flat against a lesser opponent. For the second time in three games they let the other team dictate play early and often. For the second time in three games they gave up at least five goals. For the second time in three games they were shut out.
And for the second time in three games, we'll have to put the tape in the shredder and hope for a better effort next time out. One game in November, or even two or three or four, does not a Cup-winner make (or break). But that doesn't stop us from asking about focus or lack thereof, about effort or lack thereof, about Alex Ovechkin...or lack thereof.
Ten more notes on the game:
- There is plenty of blame to heap on goaltender Braden Holtby, who needs to stop at least a few of those and had too few big saves in the midst of too many weak goals. Still, to blame the entire loss on him is to not have watched the game at all (especially since he made some good saves in the third). A young goaltender in just his fourth full NHL game needs help from the team in front of him...and he didn't get it.
- Speaking of goaltenders, interesting night in net to say the least. Michal Neuvirth's reported morning skate "tweak" thrust Holtby back in net for an unplanned start and forced the Caps to recall Semyon Varlamov - fresh off two games in two nights - from his conditioning stint in Hershey. On another night Holtby probably would have been yanked; tonight the only thing he could do was take the bullet.
- Which of course begs the question, if Varlamov wasn't going to be ready to play tonight, why wasn't Dany Sabourin recalled in his place?
- Was Johan Hedberg really good for the Devils or did he just not face very much in the way of challenging shots? Eh...let's go with a little of both. Give Moose some credit, he made some nice saves. Take some of it away because he saw just about every shot he faced.
- The odds of Alex Ovechkin getting benched aren't great (although with every game one has to think it becomes more of a possibility), but the next "best" thing is to demote him - which has to be why he was seeing plenty of time alongside third-line regulars like Marcus Johansson and Matt Bradley tonight. Still racked up over twenty minutes on the night, though, despite still looking off and lacking that Ovechkin spark. Wish that was surprising.
- A lone bright spot on the night was the play of John Carlson and Karl Alzner, who had as strong a performance as you could expect given the egg laid by the team in general. Carlson in particular seemed to have some jump, no doubt fueled by excitement over playing in an arena he used to visit as a fan. Er...sorry for the lousy homecoming, John.
- Worse ice, Verizon Center or Prudential Center? Unlike the game, that's a tight contest. The puck was bouncing all over the place, players were losing their footing, and nothing seemed smooth. Just awful...or was it the ultimate home ice advantage?
- The Caps had 4 shots in the first period and 16 shots in the second period. You'd be hard pressed to find a difference between the two, however, unless you count the number of goals they gave up.
- By the time the halfway point of the game rolled around and the Caps had dug themselves a five-goal hole, all you can hope for is that the team doesn't do anything stupid and doesn't get injured. Well, Tyler Sloan left after the first period. Mike Green didn't play after the 7:10 mark of the third period. Alzner left the game in pain at one point, although he did ultimately return. So...at least they didn't do anything stupid?
- The Caps were credited with just seven giveaways - that's good. Unfortunately it felt like at least half of them went into the net - that's bad.
The top team in the NHL lost - badly - to a team currently fighting it out for a seat at the draft lottery table. The League's best offense got shut out tonight by one of the League's more questionable (and injury-riddled) defenses, and gave up five goals to one of the League's most anemic offenses. They opened the game by surrendering a power play goal to a team clicking at just over 10% with the extra man on the season. They failed to cash in on four power plays despite having one of the top power play units in the NHL.
It sounds ugly, and it was ugly, and there's no other way to look at it. However, so many things going against the natural order tells us that this was not a game that signified the ultimate decline of the Caps but rather highlighted their need for two healthy goalies and the ability to stay focused...regardless of the opponent. And that falls on the players, the captain, and the coach.
Back in action on Wednesday against a division rival - time to right the ship.