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Capitals Moments that Mattered: Toughness Doesn't Make Plays

For all the inexperience on the Caps' blue line, last night it was the play of the elder statesmen that cost the Caps the game-winning goal.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Last night the Washington Capitals hosted the only division rival lower in the standings than they are, the New York Islanders. Riding a streak of relative success (3-1-1 in the last five), and desperate for points, the Caps should have found a way to come away with the win, and Michal Neuvirth did all that he could to make that happen. Unfortunately for Neuvirth, the injury-riddled roster in front of him was unable to give him any offensive support, and frequently unable to give him any defensive support either - especially when it came to the lone goal of the contest.

With the game tied at zero early in the third period, Nicklas Backstrom gained control of the puck in the defensive zone. He played the puck to open ice behind the net, the two closest players to the puck both being teammates. Easy clear, right? Well, due to who those two Capitals were, not so much. Let's take a look at the play:

Tyson Strachan and John Erskine both have relatively simple angles to the puck. Strachan is a journeyman, not a regular NHL player, and would have needed a quicker first-step to get to that puck. But he doesn't, which is why he's a journeyman, so we can let that slide. But John Erskine? Guy had forever and a day to get to the puck, and he still couldn't make it.

The problem starts because he wanders a bit to the strong side of the ice, despite no clear Islander threat in the area, which means he has to go behind the net on the short side rather than meeting the puck on the far side. He doesn't have the speed to make it, and ends up chasing the puck along the end boards. Erskine reaches the puck at the goal line in the corner just as Martin Erat shows up to provide support. Had Erskine made it to the puck sooner, Erat would have moved to the half-wall to set up for a breakout pass; instead, Erat is forced to try and retrieve a loose puck - so when Erskine does finally reach the puck, he has nobody to pass to.

So he passed to Brock Nelson. Who plays for the Islanders.

Brock Nelson passes to Andy MacDonald, who also plays for the Islanders and is set up at the point... the one Erat would have been covering if he wasn't in his own defensive corner. MacDonald fires a shot through traffic that finds its way over Neuvirth's shoulder, past his ear. Strachan is unable to block the shot, and the traffic may have given Neuvirth a late read on the puck. Even if Neuvirth had made the save, Josh Bailey was standing all alone outside the crease ready to add to the "Caps can't defend their own net" highlight reel.

One breakdown by a supposedly veteran player and that's all it takes to spoil an otherwise stellar night for a goalie... and as it turned out, that was all the Islanders would need to win the game. Despite several great saves, Neuvirth picked up the hard-luck loss and, for a day, Evgeny Nabokov looked like he was wearing the black and teal of the San Jose Sharks.

And on the heels of George McPhee's comments about goaltending costing the Caps ten points in the standings, it's only too fitting that the team would waste a great goaltending performance with inept offense and timely defensive breakdowns.