Coming off a sloppy, mistake-filled loss to Tampa, one might assume/hope/pray that the Caps would arrive in Raleigh fired up, ready to take back control of the division against the East's lowliest team. Of course if one did so, one probably hasn't been watching this team all year - because if there's one thing we can count on with this team, it's that we never really know which one is going to show up.
Tonight they never really did show up, once again failing to take advantage of a depleted team and a rare game against the Hurricanes that didn't feature Cam Ward between the pipes. It was bad from the start, with a sloppy first few minutes leading to a sloppy middle... and an ending that couldn't come soon enough.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Winning games is hard when you have to climb out of a hole, and the Caps have been trying to do that far too often lately. Tonight was more of the same, as they gave up the first goal for the fifth straight game and were never able to find their feet. Or the puck. Or their teammates. Or a clue.
- The Caps were down by a goal before the game was four minutes old. Less than two minutes later, the deficit was two, as a bad turnover at the blue line combined with an ill-timed pinch by Mike Green led to a few quick Carolina passes and their second goal of the night.
- Fighting is often a way to shift momentum, to turn the tide in your team's favor or at the very least fire up your teammates. Well, the Caps had three fights (or "fights") tonight, and if there was a shift in the Caps' energy level after, it wasn't visible to the naked eye. Not really sure what Troy Brouwer was doing going after rookie Justin Faulk, but the frustration was understandable. And good on Hendricks for using one of the fights to avenge Jeff Halpern, at least, after Halpern took a high hit from Carolina's Derek Joslin.
- We've seen plenty of games this year where the goalie is the problem, and plenty where the goalie was the only good thing going. And say what you will about that first goal Tomas Vokoun gave up but tonight was most certainly the latter, as he and Michal Neuvirth stood little chance against a Carolina onslaught enabled by shoddy, sloppy play in front of them.
- As if losing in this way wasn't awful enough, as the game went on the Caps also started to lose healthy bodies, as Alex Ovechkin headed back to the locker room toward the end of the second (although he did eventually return for the third) with some sort of ailment and Brooks Laich appeared to have dinged up his knee. Hopefully it's just bumps and bruised egos for both, but time will tell.
- Shut out by a kid who has never had an NHL shutout and whose last shutout at any level was two years ago? Bad. Failing to pepper said kid with as many shots as possible, knowing that he's backing up a team with a lackluster defense? Badder.
- The lone bright spot of the evening was the work of the newly reunited fourth line of Halpern, Jay Beagle and Joel Ward. The trio didn't generate much in terms of shots on goal or scoring chances, but at least they brought energy and a bit of offensive zone presence with them on nearly every shift. Which sadly is what passes for a bright spot in this one.
- Hard not to hate Eric Staal, isn't it?
- At some point the Caps need to explore new options for either using Marcus Johansson more effectively or sitting his butt down until he figures some stuff out. We love the kid, and he's still young, but his lack of awareness with the puck and his inability to create anything resembling offense is disturbing - and thanks to the ongoing absence of Nicklas Backstrom, incredibly noticeable.
- There weren't many Caps who emerged from this one relatively unscathed. In fact, only John Carlson, Joel Ward, Matt Hendricks and Karl Alzner managed to not be on the ice for a single goal-against. And considering the way things have gone lately, at least one of those names is pretty surprising.
Games like this belong in one place and one place only: the trash can. Very little about this game was encouraging, inspiring, entertaining or even worth salvaging. All we can do is what we hope the Caps are doing - taking what few lessons they can from the experience and putting it completely out of their mind.
Because thanks to a light NHL schedule today, even with the loss the Caps are exactly where they were before, with another chance to climb back into the playoffs and continue to challenge Florida for the division on Wednesday night. Let's hope that when they depart from Raleigh, they leave whatever that was behind and focus on the task ahead.