[Ed. note: We are thrilled to add another member to our Japers' Rink family (albeit under less than ideal circumstances). You may be familiar with his excellent work over at the Washington Post's Box Seats - please join us in welcoming aboard Kareem!]
Dazzling. Sublime. Artistic. Those are words that will never be used to describe tonight’s 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Rangers, a game that may make Versus execs think twice before lining these two teams up on national TV again. The loss now leaves the Caps two points back of division leading Tampa and only two ahead of a depleted Rangers squad that found a way to win in a tough arena.
On paper, tonight’s matchup should have been circled as a two-point night for the Caps. The Rangers came to town banged up – missing key forwards Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan and Ruslan Fedotenko – and were starting a goalie who has only started six games since Thanksgiving. The Caps weren’t the sign of good health themselves, starting their third-string goalie and missing key players as well, but good teams have to find ways to win these games at home, especially when the team’s core stars (Ovechkin, Green and Backstrom) are healthy.
Credit the Rangers with playing a perfect road game with lots of dump and chase, ample time spent in the neutral zone and a best-on-best defensive plan that had Marc Staal shadowing Alex Ovechkin the entire night. The end result for the Caps? A disappointing "loser" point and further proof that the sputtering Caps offense is not where it needs to be, mustering a season-low 17 shots on goal in regulation.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Can’t fault Braden Holtby for this loss. He had another stellar performance, giving up one (flukish) goal on 29 shots, and he looks more and more comfortable in net. His shootout performance was another story, but gaining more NHL experience will solve that problem. Still, it’s a shame the team couldn’t get a win for him in regulation.
- Alex Ovechkin came out on fire, drawing a penalty on his first shift. By the end of the night he had 6 shots on goal with another five that were missed or blocked. Although he didn’t score his energy and drive was able to open up space for Backstrom to create. Credit Marc Staal with keeping the first line off the scoreboard, but don’t expect herculean efforts from defenders like that every night. These guys appear to be regaining their old form.
- A sign of a well-coached team is the way they play on the road, and like him or not, John Torterella is a good coach. The Rangers have now earned 35 points on the road this year, good enough for second in the league – and tonight they showed why.
- The Cinderella season for Matt Hendricks continues. Four shots, 3 hits, 1 goal, +1 and a shootout goal to boot. Hendricks has been on a tear. Too bad Derek Boogaard wasn’t skating, Hendricks is on such a roll that he may have challenged the Boogeyman for a little dance at center ice. (Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself.)
- Nicklas Backstrom was a very impressive 13 for 20 in the faceoff circle tonight. The problem was that nine of those draws were in the defensive zone, far and away the most on the team. Acquiring a second-line center that can take some of those d-zone draws and free up Nicky to take more o-zone draws is a must for the Caps.
- I once saw Phil Bradley, leadoff hitter for the Orioles back in 1989, decline a walk when he took ball four. Maybe the Caps should take note and consider declining power plays? The PP continued to frustrate, going 0-for-2 on the night. Careless, nonchalant and cutesy were how I’d best describe it. It got so bad that Bruce put out the David Steckel/D.J. King/Boyd Gordon line out for the last 30 seconds of the first PP. If the Caps want to be taken seriously in April and May, they have to fix the PP….
- …however, the PK continues to impress, killing off both penalties the team faced.
- Steve Eminger got a hardly noticed 15:11 tonight. There was a time a few years ago where I thought that he…you know….he could have been….well….never mind. Glad to see that he landed in NY and is getting playing time there.
- With about 10:10 left to play in the third period, there was a puck along the boards that the Old Mike Green would have pinched in on, only to find that Chris Drury would have beat him to the puck and been off on an odd-man break. But the New Mike Green didn’t pinch and Chris Drury came down 2-on-2 before harmlessly giving away the puck. A minor detail in the evolution of Mike Green’s game, but definitely noticed and appreciated.
- Mathieu Perreault got the call tonight centering Mike Knuble and Brooks Laich on the second line. They generated some scoring chances tonight but having Knuble and Laich on the same line doesn’t seem right. It’s hard getting away with two power forwards on the same line and you can tell that the trio lacks the "creativity" that you need from a scoring line. Get well soon, Alex Semin. The team needs your skills... or for you to be an asset used in acquiring such a player.
As much as this loss stings the Caps need to erase it from their memory and prepare for a Wednesday night contest against a Thrashers team that has given them fits this year. A win would be a good send-off going into the six-day layoff due to the All-Star break, and, more importantly, it will also get the Caps two points closer to first place in the division.