Undoubtedly, Winnipeg is a tough place to play. Their fans are hungry and passionate. They make it miserable on opposing players. On top of that you have a Jets team that is fighting for its playoff life. So when the Caps walked into Manitoba to play the beloved Jets, they knew that it was going to be a game with playoff-level intensity - and playoff ramifications.
The game matched the build-up. But, for Caps fans at least, the end result didn't. The Jets were simply too strong for the Caps, who used a third period Dustin Byfuglien goal to take a third period 3-2 lead, which would end up being the final score. The unsatisfying loss leaves the Caps only two points ahead of Winnipeg for the eighth spot in the conference with 11 games to go.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Comebacks have been the M.O. of the Caps the past several wins. This game, however, did not follow that narrative. The Caps cannot keep on spotting opponents leads and having to fight back, especially on the road. Additionally, star players have to start performing to their level of play. Mike Green missed the net too frequently; Alexander Semin was invisible for long stretches and finished -2; and Alex Ovechkin's mistake(s) cost the team a goal.
- Atlanta was never known for being a difficult place to play. What a change a year makes, huh? The Thrashers/Jets franchise now plays in front of a raucous crowd on a nightly basis, and it's likely propelled them to a few more points than they would have earned had they stayed in Georgia.
- Not a good game by the Captain tonight. He came out hard in the first period and deserves credit for setting up the first goal (although he did have his assist taken away), but his freelancing in the second led to a Nik Antropov score, and his third period attempts at skating through the entire Jet defense were ineffective. Letting the puck go through your legs at the point with 40 seconds left didn't help matters. This year's Caps are neither immensely talented nor very cohesive. Ovi must carry this team if it wants to make the playoffs and win a few rounds. He didn't do it tonight.
- There was, however, a point tonight where the Caps looked like they "got it", that they were figuring out how to play hockey in a way that would even make RJ Umberger proud. The first period was a close-checking, intense hockey game. The Caps played physical, didn't try and force things, limited the cuteness and took the high-percentage plays. Then the second period happened and the usual shameful assortment of mistakes, blown assignments and braincramps occurred. But for a second they almost had me convinced that they were about to turn that corner.
- Say what you want about Winnipeg hitting a lot of goalposts, but Tomas Vokoun played a whale of a game. His angles were sharp and he was on his game. Had any of those goalpost bombs actually been on net, he would have likely stopped the puck. It's too bad the team in front of him was overwhelmed at times and gave up a lot of quality scoring chances.
- The mistakes tonight were frequent. Mike Green handed the puck to a Jet player at the blueline, whiffed on his body check and lost his footing, giving the Jets a mini-breakway. Jason Chimera took two absurd and worthless neutral zone penalties. Brooks Laich put the Caps down two men with a bad clear in the second. We've already discussed Ovi's transgressions. We can go on. But this has to stop. The Caps can get away with it against the Islanders and Lightning and Canadiens, they won't get away with it against good teams. And the Jets at home are a good team.
- Even though this hasn't been the most positive recap - it is after all a loss the Caps didn't need - there are folks (besides Vokoun) who deserve some love tonight: Jay Beagle kept on hustling; Matthieu Perreault muscled home a five-hole goal to tie the game in the second; Dmitry Orlov continued his growth trajectory with another steady game. If only the stars could be as effective.
- Power play: 1-3. Penalty kill: 5-5. Usually, winning the special team battle spells victory. Not tonight. Sigh.
- Up until this year, the Caps had a feared 4-on-4 unit. Teams were downright scared to take matching minors because it would give the Caps skill players even more time and space to carve up their defense. This year the Caps have lost that edge, as evidenced (yet again) by getting dominated in the only 4-on-4 time tonight, allowing Winnipeg to muscle in the GWG.
- Punishment for Mark Stuart's hit on Marcus Johansson? I would think so.
The Caps road ahead doesn't get any easier. Games against Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia are coming up, all on the road. The cushion between eighth and ninth place that the Caps had built for themselves the past two weeks may be gone by the time the Caps and Jets face off in one week's time. That is unless the Caps find some road magic. And their stars showing up would be a helpful elixir as well.