The Caps have a somewhat uncanny way of taking something good and making it go bad, before you've even had a chance to process the positives. They do it within games - snatching the momentum away with a goal only to then lose it by giving up a goal; they do it within seasons, putting together a glimmer-of-hope winning streak only to have it be undone by a losing one.
Tonight we saw both happen. A penalty shot awarded to uber-hot Jason Chimera cut the deficit in half, a chance for the good guys to grab some momentum only to see the lead extended back to two just seconds later. And with the loss, the Caps once again find themselves in a losing streak just days after putting together the shortest of winning streaks.
So if you're feeling nauseous after that game... well, let's just say there's a reason.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Usually when the Caps take on the Buffalo Sabres, it's Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek who team up to give the Caps fits, as the two have combined for fifteen goals and fifteen assists over the last seven seasons (23 GP) against Washington. And while they did cash in once again tonight, it was the somewhat lesser-knowns on the Sabres - the Luke Adams, the Zack Kassians, the Paul Szczechuras doing the honors. Take from that what you will.
- The fact that they were able to run up the score against Washington has at least a little to do with the fact that Dennis Wideman and Roman Hamrlik were paired up on defense (at least in the beginning). Their respective goals-against numbers are scary in general, but the two together have been much more disastrous than when they've been apart and at least one was on for each of Buffalo's first four goals.
- Of course, it didn't help their cause when their last line of defense failed them, too. Tomas Vokoun struggled early and often tonight; he wasn't controlling rebounds, he was bobbling pucks, and at least two of the goals were pretty much on him. A very un-Vokoun-esque performance, to be sure.
- Whether or not Jason Chimera had a clear breakaway could probably be argued either way, but the replay pretty clearly shows that the defender took out his skates first, then the puck. Good call, better finish by Chimera to get his ninth (!) of the season.
- On that whole officiating thing, it didn't change the course of this game (no, only some sort of supernatural being could have done that) but the diving call on Alexander Semin was weaker than a tree branch heaped with snow on a blustery winter's day. We get it, he has a reputation - that he's never given a chance to shake said reputation (or at the very least live up to it) is beyond frustrating. Didn't seem to get the benefit of the doubt from his coach, either, as he had only four shifts after the infraction and none in the final six minutes of the game.
- That shorthanded goal by Jochen Hecht is a perfectly illustrated example of why Alex Ovechkin, regardless of what he thinks, should not be on the power play point.
- And for those keeping track at home, the Caps have now given up four shorthanded goals in the last week - which is bad on its own, and worse when you factor in that the Caps have scored just two goals with the extra man over that same stretch. I'm no expert, but generally you don't want to have a negative goal-differential with the extra-man...
- A lone bright spot tonight, as has been the case for much of the season, is the consistently steady play of Karl Alzner on the blueline. He logged over twenty minutes of ice time tonight, wasn't on for a single goal-against and led all defensemen in hits with four (tied with Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer for the team lead).
- It's no secret that the Caps' top line is easily their most suspect defensively. The fact that Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom were both out for four of the five goals-against, though, goes beyond defensively suspect into the "dear god, get them off the ice" territory. And again, without having expert status it's probably safe to say that you don't want to be thinking that about your top ("top"?) line.
- This is the second time in the last week that the Caps have lost to a banged-up team playing their backup goalie (even if Jhonas Enroth is a much better backup in general than Jonas Gustavsson). Surprising, considering it's the kind of game that usually requires a lot of hard work and energy because the opponent is full of young, hard-working, energetic call-ups trying to make their mark. Wait, that's not right...what's the opposite of surprising?
So after winning their first seven games of the season (remember that?), the Caps are now losers in two straight, ten of their last fifteen and haven't looked good in the process.
At some point it goes from being a slump to a trend, and a scary one at that. If this team isn't capable of putting together more than a few wins - or at the very least the kind of effort that should result in a win, whether that's the ultimate outcome - then they have much bigger problems than shaky goaltending one night or disappearing offense another (or both). They have problems that may require some sort of change... what that change needs to be, we may be getting closer and closer to finding out.