March 2, 2012;Washington D.C., USA; Washington Capitals right wing Keith Aucoin (23) is checked into the boards by New Jersey Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador (24) at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE
It's not unusual for teams appearing in the second of back-to-back games to appear lethargic, unfocused and slow to get going...or so goes the story. It certainly wasn't on display from the visiting New Jersey Devils tonight, "fresh" off an overtime loss to the Bruins less than 24 hours earlier.
Despite some steady, even, back-and-forth play early on, the Devils pounced on their first power play opportunity and built momentum from there, pummeling the Caps and putting an end to that brief but glorious winning streak.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The massacre started about halfway through the first, as Matt Hendricks was whistled for high-sticking on an overly enthusiastic forecheck. After some solid puck movement likely to make any Caps fan green with envy, the puck made it's way to the short side where Zach Parise was ready and waiting to drive it home. The sharp angle shot by the Devils' captain was the first power play goal the Caps have given up at home in three games, first in four games overall.
- Having backstopped the Caps to three straight victories coming into tonight, it wasn't a surprising decision to see Michal Neuvirth get the nod again tonight. The performance in this one, however, was something less than the stellar work we've seen out of him of late. Most of the goals could be pinned on his teammates rather than him, but that second Devils' goal needs to be stopped. Parise's never had an easier goal than he did on this one, merely tapping the dribbling puck over the goal line after it squeezed through Neuvirth's armpit. But hey, at least there's not much question who starts on Sunday, right?
- Even in gut-wrenching losses like this one it's rare that everyone plays badly for the whole sixty minutes. No, really. In the first half of the first period, the Caps got some excellent offensive zone presence and forechecking work by Alexander Semin, Mathieu Perreault and Jason Chimera. The trio combined for 8 shots on goal (although they were split up as the deficit increased), with Devil-killer Chimera leading the way with five of those.
- You know, it doesn't seem to matter who is behind the bench for the Devils or what system they choose to put in place - the fact that they are an opportunistic squad never seems to change. Give them an opening, they'll take it, as was demonstrated by New Jersey's third goal (and most of the game, for that matter). A bad turnover by Semin along the boards lands on the stick of old pal Dainius Zubrus, who gets a good shot on goal and follows up on the rebound for one of the more acrobatic goals you'll see.
- Right when you thought it would just be some first period doldrums and the Caps would claw back into the game once the second period got underway, the Devils decided to squash all hope. Throw the hats for Captain Parise, who put the Devils up by four when a baffling Mike Green fly-by at the blue line left John Carlson alone on a 2-on-1.
- Even-strength play was the story for most of the first half until finally the Caps got their first power play of the night with a little over 6 minutes left in the 2nd. Of course that man-advantage actually resulted in more Devils' chances than Caps' chances, as well as New Jersey's 14th shorthanded goal of the season after a Brooks Laich turnover at the blue line. About those special teams being better at home...
- Beneath the rubble of a New Jersey onslaught, the numbers aren't pretty. Sure, plus-minus rarely tells the whole story, but the fact that just four players emerged from this one unscathed in that department sums it up pretty well.
- Alex Ovechkin was visible but largely ineffective tonight, as he couldn't seem to get the puck to settle down for him tonight, and when he did he couldn't get it past the Devils' defenders. But he was hitting everything in sight, which is... something.
- Caps dominated in faceoffs (29-for-48) and managed to keep the Devils to just 20 shots on goal, which is... something, too. Or perhaps just a reminder that success in either area is just one part of the game and the rest of the time you have to actually score more goals than the other team. Also, Neuvirth's save percentage says "ouch".
- Know how you see a moment that makes you think "...huh"? That moment came early, when Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer got a two-on-one on Johan Hedberg, Laich elected to pass, Brouwer got the shot off and Hedberg made an impressive left pad save. At the time the game was tied at 0. It wouldn't be for much longer. Turning point? Maybe not, but it was certainly one you look back on and wonder what could have been.
Some nights it's hard to believe that this Caps team is only out of the playoffs by one point. Some nights it's hard to believe they're in the race at all.
This would be one of the latter.
One loss in the last four isn't reason to panic, but with Winnipeg quiet tonight this was one of the precious games in hand the Caps had on the Jets, as well as a precious home game, and they squandered it. Now they need to regroup - and fast - before playing host to some bullies from Broad Street Sunday night.