There's no way to sugarcoat it - this Caps' team is flailing right now, and after dropping their last four, came into New York badly needing two points against a division rival that has since overtaken them in the standings. It wasn't going to be an easy task; not only had the Rangers won five of their last seven games, but they'd also been getting lights-out goaltending from a rejuvenated Henrik Lundqvist.
Armed with new (and old) lines and the knowledge that their play of late had been better than the outcomes, there was the hope that perhaps tonight would be the night the Caps' fortunes would be reversed. But as has been the case in each of their last four losses, stupid mistakes and an opportunistic opponent again cost the Caps - and the streak extends to five.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Usually the Caps have trouble keeping teams from scoring within two minutes of a goal. Tonight they had trouble keeping the Rangers off the board two minutes into the game, as a bad turnover up the boards by Dmitry Orlov turned into a break the other way for Rick Nash. And since Nash has suddenly remembered that he's a highly-paid athlete over the last few weeks, he was able to make a few moves and put it past Philipp Grubauer without much trouble for the early 1-0 lead.
- Noteworthy in this one is the fact that the Caps actually responded quite well to that opening goal, putting the pressure on the Rangers and outshooting them 7-2 after falling behind early. That's exactly what you want to see out of a team that is struggling to win and struggling with confidence. All good things...
- Right up until they start to be themselves and shoot themselves in the foot, starting with penalties. The biggest perpetrator? Martin Erat, who had three on the night - all of them bad, all of them stupid, two of which came in the offensive zone and one of which negated a goal that would have been Mike Green's 100th (and on a beautiful move, too). Want to be traded, Marty? Stop doing stupid shit. Just a thought.
- Even a hot hand can be shaky at times, and Grubauer wasn't as strong as he could have been early on (although there's nothing he could have done on the Nash goal or the third Rangers goal). After ceding three goals in the first, Grubauer found himself on the bench for the second-straight time and Braden Holtby was back in net. Last time Grubauer struggled, he was given the next start; it'll be interesting to see if the leash is as long this time around, especially considering that Holtby has been very good in relief on both occasions.
- All the talk heading into this one was about the Caps' ever-changing lines, with Jason Chimera getting a look in the top six and the trio of Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin being reunited. Hard to say that the change made any difference, as the Rangers did a good job of shutting down that top line (as they usually do) and the rest of the team failed to register much after tilting the ice in the first period.
- Lately the Caps once-dominant power play has struggled, going 0-for-13 over the last five games; on top of that they had yet to score a goal with a two-man advantage prior to tonight. So when the Rangers put themselves down by two men for a full minute, there probably wasn't a lot of hope for either streak to end... but Alex Ovechkin made sure it did with a shot that just makes you go "wow". He's pretty good, that Ovechkin.
- Even the tiniest bit of hope for the Caps these days seems to fall by the wayside within minutes - or 90 seconds, to be more precise, because that's all the time teams need to snatch momentum back. And it was just under that 90-second mark after Ovechkin's goal that the Rangers struck right back to regain the three-goal cushion, and shorthanded no less. For those keeping track at home, that was the 22nd time the Caps have given up a goal within that time after scoring. It was also the 6th shorthanded goal given up by the team this season, which moves them into a tie w/ Ottawa and Winnipeg for second-most in the NHL. So... good times all around.
- Ryan Callahan scoring a goal shouldn't be that much of a surprise, considering that the Caps have been pretty well beaten up by Team USA since the roster was announced - Ryan Suter's hat trick, Ryan Miller being Ryan Miller... well, that or maybe guys named "Ryan" just like to dominate the Caps. Or something.
- After a strong few weeks on the blue line, Dmitry Orlov has struggled - a lot - over the last few games. He's making bad decisions, he's not moving the puck well and he's not generating anything in terms of offense. Whatever the issue is there, it's troubling, because the Caps just can't afford to have another questionable player on that defense.
- There are some things about this Caps' team which are good right now, and that's what makes losses like tonight all the more frustrating. Another game where the underlying numbers tell a very different tale than the ones that show up on the scoreboard, and the Caps just weren't able to get out of their own way against a team that has found theirs. Throw in a very good goalie playing as well as he has in a long time and this game was over before it was twenty minutes old.
Keep shooting yourself in the foot, you're going to be limping... and the Caps are limping right now. At some point something needs to be done, answers need to be found. Whether that means bringing someone up from Hershey (or sending someone down, ahem) or making a trade or having a team meeting - the Caps need to do something that shows this team is willing to fight for their season, and something that shows the coaches have an interest in doing more than just rearrange the deck chairs on a rapidly-sinking ship.