When the Caps were playing poorly and losing over the past couple of weeks, some of the problems were painfully obvious and seemingly correctable - poor special teams, defensive breakdowns, disappointing goaltending, questionable work ethic, etc. Then along came two far-from-flawless (but much-needed) wins and the ship appeared to have been righted.
Not so fast.
Bad habits die hard, and they were back in force tonight. Couple that with one of the League's best in the opposition's net and it's a sure recipe for a loss... and that's exactly what the Caps got. And they've got no one to blame but themselves.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Eventually, the Caps' team defense and goaltending will come together and be better than it has been. But "eventually" wasn't going to start today, apparently, as the team struggled with defensive coverage and got legitimately below average goaltending from Michal Neuvirth, who simply hasn't gotten on track yet this season. Since his opening night win, Neuvirth is now 1-4-1/3.98/.862, and his inability to control what appeared to be a rather routine puck with his glove led to the Rangers' fourth goal, pretty much sealing the deal on this one.
Alexander Semin had ten points entering this afternoon's action, and nine of those had come without him having first visited the penalty box in the games in which they were scored. An early penalty (hooking in the neutral zone - shocking, I know) gave Semin a chance to break that trend and put a miscue behind him. That wasn't to be, however, as Semin had one shot on goal and was a minus-2 thereafter.
- The Rangers jumped out to a 3-0 lead thanks in large part to a fumbled puck at the offensive blueline by John Carlson that led to a two-on-one the other way, a partial screen/block by Jeff Schultz on the penalty kill and an awful turnover by Marcus Johansson in front of his own net. All three could probably fairly be considered mental errors, in varying degrees. All three could definitely fairly be considered the types of play that can be killers.
- If the power play has been a crippling weakness of late (and it has - more on that later), the other special teams unit, the penalty kill, has been a strength - in seven of the ten games prior to Friday's matinee, the Caps didn't allow a single power-play goal against (and lost all three games in which they did). This afternoon, the Caps' lack of discipline hurt them, as they did a decent job shorthanded, but did allow a tally in New York's five power-play opportunities.
Troy Brouwer tapped in a shot that leaked through Henrik Lundqvist to cut the Rangers' lead to 3-1. Nicklas Backstrom picked up the second assist on the goal, but Alex Ovechkin made the play happen by absolutely crushing Marian Gaborik along the boards (and distracting Dan Girardi for some reason as a result). That was some vintage Ovi.
- The Caps' power play entered the game on an 0-for-29 streak on its 5-on-4 advantages, totaling 54:34 of game time over seven-plus games. That streak stretched to 0-for-31 (and 57:46) before a Carlson bomb drew the Caps to within 3-2.
- Of note on that Carlson goal, it was assisted by Dmitri Orlov. At not-quite 22-years-old, Carlson is the old man of that trio. The "Young Guns" may no longer be so young, but the Next Ones sure are.
Roman Hamrlik and Dennis Wideman had plenty of trouble as a pair, combining for a minus-six rating, nary a shot on goal, Hamrlik's holding penalty and Wideman's five (yes, five) giveaways.
- Though they entered the third period down two goals, the Caps mustered all of four shots on goal in the third period and were out-shot 25-13 over the final two frames.
- Silver lining? Alex Ovechkin finally scored a goal at Verizon Center this season. Huzzah.
On the plus side, the Caps won't have to wait long for a chance to at least partially erase this effort as they're right back at it tomorrow night in Buffalo. On the other hand... they're right back at it tomorrow night in Buffalo, and if things don't turn around in a hurry, the Caps could be at the front-end of another slide.