Coming off of a four to one loss to the New York Rangers in the hotly contested Metropolitan Division put the Capitals on the outside looking in towards the playoff positioned teams. The task of picking up two much needed points against the Senators, and avoid a six game losing streak, became decidedly harder with the pre-game decision to scratch Captain Alex Ovechkin (lower body injury) for preventative measure. Ottawa was coming into town off of their own four to one loss to Alain Vigneault's Rangers but they were the ones to bounce back strongly, taking two points in regulation. A second period goal from Kyle Turris proved to be the game winner - a stingy, perfect effort from goaltender Craig Anderson keeping the sparse Verizon Center crowd in their seats for the entire contest. Washington's season worst losing streak extends to six games - and seven straight to this Senators' club.
The lack of Washington's primary offensive threat was noticeable throughout and really underscores a problem Adam Oates inherited when he came to the Capitals; entering tonight's game Ovechkin has accounted for 20.3% (406 of 2,000) of Washington's goals since he skated in his first game for the club in 2005 (h/t AdamVingan). When Ovechkin is out of the lineup, or in an offensive slump, the team and their game's results suffer noticeably, and immediately.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Capitals’ rookie defenseman Connor Carrick took the game’s first penalty against Senators’ rookie backliner Cody Ceci. Washington, offensively on their heels minus their Captain, was forced to hold off a potent Ottawa attack only 1:56 after puck drop - successful in their defensive endeavor and starting their game on the right foot.
- Great hit in neutral ice by Erik Karlsson on Washington’s Mikhail Grabovski, a solid right shoulder check to the meaty part of Grabovski’s (unsuspecting) left arm. The only thing better than the solid hockey collision was the lack of retribution from anyone on the home team. Great stuff to see on NHL ice - and something we can all hope continues (see Grabo/Smith later).
- John Carlson had the first period, and possibly game's, best scoring chance for the good guys, a nice pass from Troy Brouwer into space that sent the Olympian in behind Patrick Wiercioch late in the frame. A strong save from Anderson with his goal stick was the only reason that the first twenty minutes ended tied.
- After the first intermission it was Jason Spezza immediately finding some real estate between Holtby’s legs, a smart, in stride snapshot that ping-ponged in the crease between Braden’s pads before escaping wide of the short side post. Strong chances were being traded by both teams, game situations you'd love to see number 8 involved in.
- Kyle Turris was noticeable from the game’s get go, carrying the puck and dictating offensive play in the Capitals’ zone. A quick snap shot from the right face off circle, with a head of steam that kept Karl Alzner ineffective, beat Holtby through the legs and broke the scoreless tie. Expect this to be one that Goaltenders Coach Olaf Kolzig will have a session with Holtby regarding stick position between his skates - gotta have those ones.
- Bobby Ryan, benefitting from an Eric Fehr bobble and fall one stride short of the blue line, had a great third period opportunity in alone from forty feet. The right-handed shooting sniper deked to his strong side but was unable to tuck the puck into the net because of a left toe deflection before Ryan could regain possession. Adam Oates mentioned his team might be squeezing their sticks too hard in the post-game press conference - Fehr's turnover there would be a textbook example.
- Spezza would score his thirteenth goal of the year a few minutes later, a power play tally nine minutes into the third that made the eleven minutes remaining twice as daunting. The Senators' Captain took the puck off the right wall and snapped a wrist shot past Holtby on the short side, ending hope for a comeback in many Washington fans.
- Grabovski and Zack Smith had an exchange at center ice by the Capitals' bench less than a minute after Spezza's insurance tally. Another good open ice hit in the neutral zone turned mean spirited after what appeared to be a late left jab from Washington's centerman. An ungloved left palm to the face of Smith in the resulting post-whistle scrum sent a frustrated Grabovski to Washington's locker room and rumors of eye-gouging circling the web.
- The resulting four on four play benefitted no one but the game's masked men, the available ice keeping the puck further away from the crease than the trailing Capitals would have liked. In the end it would be Anderson's night, a 34 save shutout that maybe even the League's leading goal scorer couldn't have changed.
- The Capitals have six wins on the season without Ovechkin tallying a goal, two of those in games without Ovechkin in Washington's lineup. The home team had no problem piling up shots, even outshooting their opposition tonight, but the absence of Ovechkin forces the Capitals' shooters to make plays with less space - their All-Star teammate not on the ice to distract the defense's main focus.
Holtby had a good outing in his first full game since the five goal on 11 shot debacle against the Minnesota Wild but without scoreboard support the margin for error was too small to keep pace with. The team's six game losing streak could not come at a worse time with the Captains' health in question, but with his scratching being a game-time decision that bodes well for a return to action Friday against the New Jersey Devils. Tonight served as a stark reminder - this team needs him to stop the bleeding and begin this season's redirection.