On several occasions through the first half of this 2013-14 season, the Washington Capitals have escaped a game with two points despite being handily outplayed, so when those tables were turned on them Sunday night in Buffalo by the League's worst team, it felt a bit like an inside joke among the hockey gods. Very funny, let's move on.
The question, then, was whether or not the Caps could build off a strong performance against a lousy team as they headed to Ottawa against a somewhat better opponent. The answer? Meh. The Caps had strong stretches, but for a second-straight night were held to a single goal-for, and ultimately a couple of defensive breakdowns led to a 3-1 defeat (and a fourth loss in five games).
Ten more notes on the game:
Joel Ward opened up the scoring just over two minutes in with a low no-look backhander... that would have gone wide had it not hit the knob of Craig Anderson's stick. Then again, Ward may have called bank, so it's all good.
- Eleven minutes later, an ill-timed pinch by Dmitry Orlov led to a Senators two-on-one the other way that Mike Green did a whole lot of nothing on as Mike Zibanejad and Cory Conachar gave-and-went around him before the latter deposited the puck behind Philipp Grubauer. Remember when risk-taking blueliners would typically be paired with steady partners capable of covering for their gambles? Yeah, not so much.
- The first period would end tied at one, with the Caps holding a 11-10 advantage in shots. So far... not so bad.
- Early in the second period, Kyle Turris was able to take a pretty pass on a bad Caps line change and get to the inside on Green (who was able to get a stick on him), and John Erskine was unable to slide over and impede Turris before some nifty balance and stickhandling allowed the lanky Ottawa wing to get around Grubauer for a highlight reel tally. Two bad defensive plays by Mike Green and his partners and the Caps trailed.
- Sticking with Green, after the second period, a quick look at his possession metrics would have led you to believe he was having a terrific game - 21 shot attempts for, 7 against. And yet... the two woefully inadequate defensive plays. That's pretty much been his story all year - he has posted some of the best underlying stats on the blueline, but making critical, costly mistakes. But before you think that he's been snake-bitten, his on-ice save percentage coming into the game was .927 (above average). If ever there was a guy who needed better coaching and a more consistent partner, this would be him.
- The second line was once again terrific for the most part, with each of Eric Fehr, Mikhail Grabovski and Troy Brouwer up above 75% in Corsi after the second period. The top line was all under 50%, so it was really that trio keeping them afloat. You can hope for more finish, but when you have puck possession, it's just a matter of time; when you don't, you're just hoping.
- The third defensive pairing of Erskine and Steve Oleksy is totally untenable and their good fortune has to run out at some point - Oleksy isn't going to get .940 goaltending behind him forever, and with the Caps giving up more than 60% of five-on-five shot attempts with the pair on the ice, it's a minor miracle that they haven't been victimized more often.
- Trailing by one heading into the third period, the Caps came out and... gave up eight of the period's first nine shot on goals... to a team that gives up a ton of shots... and a bunch of third-period goals... en route to the fifth-worst winning percentage in the League when leading after two periods coming in. Solid. The Caps threatened on occasion, but it wasn't sustained and it wasn't enough, and an empty-netter salted this one away.
- Grubauer was very good again, stopping 35 of the 37 shots he faced. He gave the Caps a chance (again), they just couldn't take advantage of it (again). Sorry, Braden.
Alex Ovechkin hasn't scored in four games now, his longest streak of the season, which might be concerning if he hadn't put 30 shots on goal over that span. He's fine, but the Caps need more from their top line at even-strength... and here's an idea of how to get it - swap Marcus Johansson and Martin Erat. In case you hadn't noticed, Erat is now tied with Nicklas Backstrom for second on the team in even-strength assists (h/t your boys @RMNB), and it's time to mix it up a little up top.
So the Caps play a decent game, but score one goal on a shot that wouldn't have even gone in if there was no goalie on the ice. That's... just not enough. The Caps are treading water in the East, but something has to change to get them heading back in the right direction. Got any ideas?