By any reasonable definition of "should-win," the Caps' Tuesday night match-up with the Islanders was one for the boys in red at Verizon Center. The Isles came into the game having played a day earlier and with a record that had them near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and a .395 points percentage away from Nassau Coliseum. Their hosts had Monday off, a tenuous hold on a playoff spot, and a .761 home points percentage (third-best in the League).
Perhaps it was that assumption - those two presumed points to be awarded simply for showing up - that doomed the Caps from the outset, as they came out flat and stayed that way en route to a 3-0 loss.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Entering the game, the Caps had won seven-straight at home and hadn't trailed for a second in any of 'em. They ran that streak to 432:05 before John Tavares (one of the top under-25 players in the League, for my money) converted on the power-play. After a perfect 30-for-30 start to the home portion of the Dale Hunter penalty kill, the Tavares tally marked the third power-play goal-against in the last six times short for the Caps over the last three games, and the Isles would go on to add another late power-play goal. Regression to the mean!
- The Caps actually would go shorthanded two more times in the first, including an undisciplined retaliatory slash by Jason Chimera after Karl Alzner's uncharacteristic hold (Alzner has nine minors on the season now) and Jeff Halpern's uncharacteristic trip (Halpern has just five minors). And yet, Alzner had his stick yanked from his hand after his penalty and Chimera got hit square in the numbers moments before his. What's that you say? Stephane Auger had an orange arm band for this one? Go figure.
- But enough about the officiating and discipline - the Caps were out-shot 8-4 at even strength (and 10-5 overall) in the first period, and the only shot they took from inside 33 feet was shorthanded. That simply will not do, especially against a team that hasn't been particularly good at even strength in close games. As we noted earlier in the day, even during the seven-game home win streak, the Caps had been out-shot by an average margin of 29-22 in those games; great goaltending has masked an awful lot of awful.
- The Isles pushed their lead to 2-0 after a bad Dmitry Orlov turnover in the defensive zone (unfamiliarity with his partner at the moment?) was followed up by John Carlson screening his goaltender and a P.A. Parenteau wrister beat Tomas Vokoun. Carlson was caught a bit in no-man's land on the play... but there's got to be a better way to defend there than what he did.
- When NHL teams fall behind by a goal or two, they tend to start tilting the ice in their favor, for any number of reasons (the team with the lead becoming less-aggressive, greater sense of urgency, favorable officiating, etc.). That phenomenon is generally referred to as the score effect. The Caps, however, seem immune to it, as they're near the bottom of the League when down a couple of goals. Tuesday night didn't look much different in that respect.
- Look, people, the best power play in the League (which, entering the night, was the Caps' on home ice) fails around three out of every four times it takes the ice. Calm yourselves down when the Caps don't score (or even look good while not scoring) on each and every one.
- The Caps liked their five-shot, no-goals, one-goal-against first period so much they played it again in the second. In fact, they out-did themselves in one respect - none of the five second-period shots on goal were from closer than 48 feet. So... forty minutes played with one shot on goal from closer than 33 feet. And it came shorthanded.
- Kudos to Matt Hendricks and his seven hits in 12:33 of ice time. His teammates mustered up just a dozen more.
- The Caps managed a grand total of 17 shots on goal for the game, marking the third time under Hunter that they failed to hit the 20-shot mark... something that happened just four times in Bruce Boudreau's entire tenure in D.C.
- We mentioned "great goaltending" above, and the Caps got a good effort from Tomas Vokoun on Tuesday night. Maybe even very good. But with these Caps, it seems that any type of "good" won't be good enough.
On the one hand, a three-for-four homestand has certainly helped the Caps in the standings. On the other hand, how they've played doesn't necessarily bode well going forward, and dropping a "should-win" to wrap things up leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth. And now the Caps head back out on the unkind road to face an unkind foe or three. It would be a little dramatic to say that this is a make-or-break trip for the team... but it might very well be just that for some of the players on it. This team, right now, is not good enough.