As the Caps wrap up their tenth game (and eighth loss) of the season, reality starts to set in - they're now about a fifth of the way through the season with just five points to show for it and fourteen teams ahead of them. This has been a season filled with bad luck and bad mistakes, a season filled with glimpses of what could be followed by reminders of what is. And tonight was no different.
Special teams were clicking but the goaltending was off; dominant offensive zone presence turned into mental lapses around the net. And the result was something we've become all too familiar with: another loss.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Last time these two teams met, the Caps wasted half of the opening frame on a march to the penalty box, something which seemed to take them out of the game early. The key this time around would be to stay out of the box...so obviously they took a penalty less than two minutes in, with Jason Chimera heading to the sin bin for boarding. Just as the coach drew it up, right?
- No harm, no foul, however, as they would kill off that infraction as well as the two other penalties they took tonight...a marked improvement from the last time they faced Toronto, to say the least. Not only were they more disciplined and stronger on the penalty kill, they also struck twice on the power play, reminding us that sometimes their special teams actually can be special.
- He may have been on the ice for yet another goal-against (that would be a League-leading 21, for those of you keeping track at home) but John Carlson had one of his better games of the young season. He was engaged, he was jumping into the play, he blocked a couple of shots (another category in which he leads the League) and generally just looked more mobile and effective than he has all year.
- A little miscommunication behind the net led to Toronto's first goal of the night, as Michal Neuvirth went to play the puck behind the net with Tom Poti lurking nearby. Neuvirth clearly thought Poti was going to take it, Poti thought Neuvirth was going to play it, and James van Riemsdyk thought of nothing but the wide open net, curling it around before Neuvirth was able to scramble back into position.
- Speaking of scrambling, whatever was going on before van Riemsdyk struck a second time could only be described as mass chaos. Bad play all around, from the confused-looking forwards right down to Neuvirth. Not the goalie's best game, either, which is frustrating because it's perhaps one that could have been stolen.
- JVR's two-goal cushion would be cut in half late in the first when the power play finally cashed in on a nice all-around play. Good puck movement combined with a great pass from Tomas Kundratek set up Marcus Johansson with a chance even he couldn't blow... although credit to him for putting himself in a position to strike. For Johansson, it was his first goal in almost a year (Mojo says "haters gonna hate"). And congrats to Kundratek, who picked up his first career NHL point with the assist.
- Strange but true: one of the Caps' three penalties tonight was a call for too many men on the ice, their first such penalty of the season. Considering how confused they've looked at times (particularly early on) and considering their usual propensity to have rough line changes, it's kind of amazing that they haven't gotten nabbed for it before tonight. Pucks over the glass, however...that's a Caps' special.
- If you're saying "Korbinian who??", that should pretty much be a sign of just how surprising that goal by Korbinian Holzer was to give the Leafs back their two-goal cushion. We'll give Neuvirth a bit of the benefit of the doubt, as it did seem to take a weird hop on its way to the net before dribbling through the five hole. Because if it didn't...yikes.
- Right now the entire team seems to be suffering from one-too-many-passitis tonight (...it's a real thing), a disease that flared up particularly badly early in this game. It's either a sign that people are trying to do too much, which comes from not winning, or a sign of a lack of confidence, which comes from not scoring. Or the most likely scenario... both.
- Great movement on the power play again (seriously, whodathunkit??) in the third period gave the Caps their second goal of the night - and raised the hopes of every Caps fan hoping for a late-game rally, admit it. Solid effort by Alex Ovechkin to carry the puck into the zone and zip it to Troy Brouwer, equally solid effort by Brouwer to get it on the tape of Mike Ribeiro. And because Ribeiro continues to be the best player on the team, he fired a laser of a shot past Scrivens to cut the lead to one.
And there you have it. Three home games gone with just one win to show, eleven goals allowed, two pretty bad goalie performances and the honor of being dead last in the entire League. There are positives to take from this, of course - most notably that the Caps really did outplay the Leafs for most of the game, both at even strength and on special teams, that the power play was clicking, and that they didn't get blown out in their own building.
The more this season trickles away, however, the less these moral victories matter - because at some point they need to turn into actual victories, with actual points and actual movement in the standings.
But hey, at least everyone got a Backstrom gnome. So that's good.