Two nights ago the Caps stormed out of the gate, played a solid forty minutes, built a lead and let it (and the two points) slip through their fingers in the third period.
Just forty-eight hours later it was more of the same, albeit in a much uglier fashion. Despite a strong start and a one-goal lead through forty minutes, the Caps were once again unable to establish any sort of offense, any sort of forecheck and any sort of attack in the final frame... and once again it resulted in a disappointing 3-2 finish, with no points to show for it.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Things started out with a bang - literally - as John Erskine introduced himself to Phil Kessel (and by extension, introduced Kessel to the ice) with a huge bone-rattling check on his first shift of the game. Guess even goal-scorers know how to lay out the body now and then, eh, Ersk?
- Granted, there's not a ton of inventory from which to choose, but the prettiest move of the season so far has to be the one Mike Ribeiro made in the first period as he slid along the boards, swiveled away from a defender, corralled the puck and made a great pass to a wide-open Joel Ward for the game's opening tally. And speaking of Joel Ward... what on earth has gotten into Joel Ward? Whatever it is, capture it, bottle it, and feed it to some of his teammates.
- That goal would be the only pretty part of the first period, unfortunately, as the opening twenty minutes consisted almost entirely of players carving out a path to the penalty box (most of them in white jerseys). In fact, just about half of the first period - 10:01, to be exact - was played with at least one of the two teams down a man, the Caps outpacing the Leafs 5-2.
- The fact that the Leafs only capitalized on one of their eight power plays is a credit to the Caps' previously-maligned PK unit, who improved from a lowly 70% effectiveness to a slightly less lowly 73.7% in one night. Yeah. Of course, it's also probably a sign of just how bad Toronto's power play has been to start the year (although it's not as if the Caps have set the world on fire in that department).
- Alex Ovechkin would put the Caps back on top early in the second with a power play goal of his own, his second of the year coming on a wrist shot that dribbled through James Reimer. And naturally the pass that set up Ovechkin was a beautiful cross-ice feed from Mike Ribeiro, who saucered the puck to #8 without telegraphing it en route to his second assist on the night. Hey, Adam Oates... more 8-9, please? Pretty please?
- Just as the teams exchanged power play goals early on, so too did the goalies exchange dribbly goals that otherwise should have been stopped, with Michal Neuvirth taking some of the heat off of Reimer with the Leafs' second goal of the night. It may have only been a second or two, but man, did it ever feel like that puck sat behind him for a lifetime before getting tapped in...
- That goal aside, though, another stellar performance for Neuvirth squandered by the players in front of him. It feels like we've said this a lot about a variety of goalie performances over the past few years, but he truly deserved better as he turned aside 37 of 40 shots en route to yet another loss (and could do very little on two of the three he let in). Some of his best saves came late in the game, too, as he did all he could to give his teammates a chance to tie it up - including making a sparkling glove save on Phil Kessel.
- Eric Fehr logged a whopping 4:11 of ice time tonight, including exactly zero minutes in the second period. The lack of ice time was likely a side effect of the march to the penalty box - by both sides - as Fehr doesn't currently have a spot on either the penalty-killing or power play units. Which of course begs the question... what good is a fourth-liner who doesn't participate in special teams?
- The Caps ended up being outshot 16-9 in the final period, but it was only even that close thanks to a few desperation flurries in the final minutes of the game. In fact, it took the Caps almost ten minutes to register their first shot of the third period, during which time the Leafs tied it up and then took the lead.
- Further to that point, this is the second straight game in which the Caps went into the third period up and ended the game without even a point - this after going 103 straight games with at least a point in that same position. So what's going on here - is it mental? Is it conditioning (or lack thereof)? Whatever it is, it's inexcusable, and Oates and company need to fix it. Fast.
For all the parallels between Tuesday's loss and the loss tonight in Toronto, the loss to Ottawa is infinitely easier to swallow when we know that the Caps at least played well for most of the game. It's something positive, a sign that the team is at least moving in the right direction even if they don't get a point to show for their effort.
Tonight was just sloppy, from start to finish. The refs may have been overzealous but there was no sign of adjustment from the Caps, no discipline - and as a result they spent the early part of the game on their heels with no way to build their own momentum and find their own rhythm. Their best players were either on the bench or in their own zone for most of the opening forty minutes, which is hardly a recipe for success. And once the penalties stopped, the aggressive, attacking Caps we're supposed to be seeing, the ones we saw for long stretches over the last three games, were nowhere to be found.
So the Caps depart Ontario with back-to-back blown leads, back-to-back games without a single point in the standings, and a comfortable hold on 15th place in the conference before they even board the plane. It's still early, and things are still falling into place, but it doesn't get easier - and the season isn't getting any longer.