NEW YORK NY - DECEMBER 12: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals trades punches during the second period against Brandon Dubinsky #17 of the New York Rangers on December 12 2010 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
It's hard to define "rock bottom" until you see what comes after it, because until it gets better there's no frame of reference. Still, losing a sixth straight game in such an embarrassing fashion has to be seen as something of a rock bottom point for this team - this team that is expected to do so much, this team that has all the talent in the world, not only failing to score but giving up a seven-spot to the Rangers.
There were opportunities missed by the Caps and opportunities cashed in - repeatedly - by the Rangers. There was shaky goaltending at one end and goaltending that was as good as it needed to be at the other. And with the injuries, the sickness, the inability of a once potent offensive team to generate anything more than a series of dented posts, there was a lopsided loss and a streak that goes to six for the first time in the Bruce Boudreau era.
Hello, rock bottom.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Scott Hannan is probably wishing he was back in Colorado after this one, as it was certainly not the most brilliant of his brief tenure in Washington. Hannan was on the ice for three of the seven Rangers' goals and in the box for their lone power play strike, at times a victim of poor play by his defensive partner but at times simply not challenging enough.
- Of course that only sheds more of a spotlight on the fact that, without Mike Green and Jeff Schultz in the lineup, the defense is forced to take on roles for which most of them are not equipped. When Brian Fahey has to skate over 16 minutes in the NHL and the forwards seem less than interested in helping out...well, we saw what happens.
- The scary thing about this one is how quickly it elevated, because for most of the first period the Caps were playing a relatively good game. But with just over two minutes left a series of events led to the Rangers cracking the stalemate - Tom Poti got the puck away but failed to clear the zone, Semyon Varlamov failed to hold the post, the puck deflected off a stick and voila, 1-0.
- Rough night for Varlamov overall. He faced far too many odd-man rushes en route to that shot total and his team didn't exactly help him out, but this outing will not help him in his attempt to wrestle back the starting goalie job from Michal Neuvirth.
- It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...or so the story on Alex Ovechkin 's night shall be written. The worst of times came on the Rangers' fourth goal, when Ovechkin turned over the puck and failed to get it deep, then left the ice for a badly executed line change.
- The best of times came about five minutes later as he laid out Girardi with a big hit and then hunted down Mike Green 's old sparring partner Brandon Dubinsky for an uncharacteristic fight. Say what you will about superstars fighting, but this was the most captainlike thing Ovechkin has done in a long time - attempting to fire up his team, from the moment the gloves were dropped to the almost primal screams he directed at the bench en route to the penalty box. The fact that it didn't work is on the shoulders of his teammates.
- It doesn't matter how much you may hate a player, you don't boo someone when he's injured. At some point you'd think humanity has to play a role - it wasn't evident tonight in the Garden when Ovechkin was felled by a Semin shot, though, that's for sure. Classless, MSG. Classless.
- Never has a break in the schedule been so welcome as the two days off before the next Caps' game, if only because (hopefully) it gives Mike Green time to get back - from the flu, from injury, from whatever it is that's been bugging him.
- For all the talk about poor defense by the Caps tonight, they amazingly only gave up twenty shots on goal. It's a small sliver of good news wrapped in the reality that most of those twenty shots came as a result of odd-man rushes - and poorly played ones, since seven of them went in.
- Alexander Semin finds himself mired in a bit of a slump, which is fine and certainly not news considering the wealth of teammates struggling around him. What is not fine is the fact that he's gone back to the selfish, lazy play that we thought had gone by the wayside. He continues a stretch of really poor play with a bad pinch on the power play that led directly to the shorthanded goal, killing any momentum the Caps might have had.
- The usually stalwart defensive presence of Nicklas Backstrom went missing again tonight, as he was dinged with a minus-three (tied with four of his teammates for that dubious distinction) and still doesn't look 100%. Chicken soup and bed rest, Nicky - we need you healthy.
Injuries, a vicious flu bug, the December doldrums...chalk it up to whatever you like, the fact is that the Caps have been slumbering for awhile now. And if it takes a game like this to snap them out of it, so be it. Because it's better to hit rock bottom in December than in April when you can't fix it - let's hope this is as low as it gets.