There are no gimmes in the NHL.
If "easy" games do exist, they aren't typically made readily available for teams like the Washington Capitals, who entered the night with just six regulation wins in 27 games, and they tend not to come against division rivals, no matter how down they might appear.
As we noted earlier in the day, the Carolina Hurricanes came into Tuesday night's visit to Verizon Center ranked 20th in the League or lower in goals per game, goals against per game, five-on-five goal ratio, power-play and penalty kill efficiency and shots for and against per game. For a Caps team trying to establish some consistently solid play, this would seem like a terrific opportunity to convincingly win a very winnable game.
Alas, these Caps hardly do anything convincingly (that eight of their last 14 games have gone to overtime speaks to that), but they did on Tuesday night - they lost convincingly, to the tune of 4-1.
Nine more notes on the game:
- The Caps applied some early pressure (notably from the third line, and most notably when Jason Chimera failed to lift a puck in the crease all of two inches off the ice to beat Justin Peters), but it was the 'Canes who would get on the board first when Jeff Skinner beat Braden Holtby from an awful angle. Holtby, plain and simple, didn't have the post sealed off and the puck leaked through. If there's a "most common softy" for Holtby, that's the type.
- That would be the game's only first-period tally, which had to have been a big boost for Carolina, which had been outscored 20-10 in first periods coming into the night, with that ten being the second-lowest total in the League.
- The 'Canes killed off an early Caps power-play to start the second and doubled their lead just past the half-way point when Skinner beat Holtby with another one that the Washington netminder would want back, a wrister over the right shoulder off of a rush that was in no way whatsoever impeded by whatever Tyson Strachan was trying to do to defend the speedy winger. Brutal, utterly deflating goal.
- But wait! There's more! Not two minutes later, a failed Mikhail Grabovski clear led to a failed Mikhail Grabovski attempt to defend without committing a penalty, which in turn led to a failed Caps penalty kill (thanks, in part, to John Carlson providing a text book screen on Holtby). Three-zippy.
- And then there was four - Jiri Tlusty deposited some trash behind Holtby on the backhand and the Caps we down four, at home, for the third time this season (actually four, if you want to count the two different four-goal leads in that Colorado debacle). On the one hand, it felt like rock bottom. On the other, we've all seen how this team likes to keep digging.
- Philipp Grubauer got the cage for the third period (Holtby exited, having given up four goals on 23 shots) and looked sharp, stopping all nine shots he faced.
- If there's a silver lining at the individual level, it was Mike Green getting his first goal of the season (on the power play). With that simian off his back, perhaps the two-time Norris finalist can regain some of his former form. Yeah, we're grasping.
- And if there's a silver lining at the team level (yeah, a little more grasping), it was that the Caps weren't really that bad when the game was still in question. In fact, in "close" five-on-five situations, the Caps were above 55% in Corsi and Fenwick percentages, which will push their FF% to the season's high-water mark. But, man, those first two goals...
- "Alex Ovechkin: solved" update - not much went right for The Captain on this night. Solved. Clearly.
Where do the Caps go from here? They're two improbable comebacks away from owning a seven-game intra-Conference losing streak, they have five power-play goals in their last ten games and their goaltending is suddenly unreliable. We've said for a while that when the power-play dries up and the goaltending regresses, the Caps could be in a world of trouble. Well, they have. And they might well be.