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Capitals vs. Blue Jackets Recap: Rested but Rusty, Caps Fall 4-3

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A game filled with too many penalties, too many goals and not enough good stuff results in the Caps' fourth-straight loss.

Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

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After dropping their third-straight game to the Oilers last week, the Caps got a nice little break courtesy of the All-Star weekend - some time to regroup, relax, and return to the type of hockey they've been playing for the better part of two months.

If they found their game over the break, it didn't show in a game that showed flashes of brilliance at times, flashes of forehead-slapping idiocy at others, and a generally sloppy return to the ice for a team that needs to keep accumulating points.

Tuesday night's Plus/Minus:

  • Plus: The second line. If the Caps are going to have any success going forward, they'll need to get some consistent secondary scoring, and it starts with guys like Marcus Johansson, Troy Brouwer and Evgeny Kuznetsov. They came up big tonight, picking up two of the Caps' three goals.
  • Minus: The defense. To a man, it's not good enough lately, as evidenced by the fact that they've ceded at least four goals in each of their last four games. Some of that is on the goaltending, which has sputtered a bit after being so dominant, but the guys in net need to get a little help and they're just not getting it, from forwards or defensemen.

Ten more notes on the game:

  • Another night, another parade to the penalty box for the Caps. It didn't directly impact the score this time around, but the Caps took five minor penalties tonight (including one particularly ill-timed one by Nicklas Backstrom while trailing by one late in the game). Over the last four games, in fact, the Caps have been shorthanded a total of 20 times - losses, all. Not good, and something one would imagine could be easily fixed.
  • Thankfully the Caps' penalty kill, with some help from Braden Holtby and a bit of luck, was more effective than usual tonight. Five penalties, five kills? That's one way to boost your penalty-killing rate.
  • At some point you have to wonder if the Caps' record when giving up the game's first goal is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, because once again they failed to strike first and now have just one win in the 19 games in which their opponent has gotten the first goal. Of course, if you want a silver lining (and we could all use one at the moment), those 19 trail-first games are tied for the second-fewest in the League. Only Pittsburgh and the Rangers have fewer, both having given up the first goal just 16 times.
  • Columbus fans may not have been so thrilled with Ryan Johansen during his contract discussions over the summer, but they certainly love him now - and for good reason. He's really good at hockey, something which was on display all weekend at the All-Star festivities and continued through to tonight, where he gave the home team a two-goal lead with a ridiculous shot past Holtby.
  • The Caps continue to come up with quick answers to goals (albeit not enough these days) and did so again in this one, the first of which came when a Matt Niskanen shot from the point deflected off of Andre Burakovsky to give the Caps their first goal of the evening and cut the lead in half.
  • And oh, by the way, the secondary assist on that goal was picked up by none other than Nicklas Backstrom, giving him 400 assists in just his 541st-career game. A nice milestone in a rather up-and-down game for Nick, who had his chin blown open by a point shot (that eventually made its way into the net) and took a penalty. But more on that in a minute.
  • After opening the game with twenty scoreless minutes, the Caps and Jackets went a little nuts in the second frame, scoring five goals by the final whistle - including four in the last five minutes of the period (and a goal apiece in the last minute). Exciting, but perhaps not the type of game a visiting team should get into with an opponent capable of scoring in bunches.
  • That chaotic second period included a goal from the second line of Johansson, Brouwer, and Kuznetsov, part of a strong performance overall by the trio. Brouwer's deflection with 20 seconds to go in the second brought the Caps to within one, and was the team's second quick-response goal, just 36 seconds after Columbus jumped up 3-1. And late in the third, it was Kuznetsov picking up his fifth goal of the season - and first in over a month - with a nice play on a big rebound to give the Caps a bit of hope as they once again drew within one.
  • Ah, but if you know anything about this Caps' team of late, it's that they like to shoot themselves in the foot with ill-timed penalties - and as if on cue, there was Nicklas Backstrom taking yet another minor with less than three minutes in regulation. Granted, the Blue Jackets didn't score on the ensuing power play, but they didn't have to; they succeeded in keeping the Caps out of the offensive zone, eating up the clock and effectively ending any chance of a comeback. Just one of many such late-game infractions by the Caps in general, and Backstrom specifically, this year.
  • The Caps' defense, once a source of strength for this team, has really fallen flat over the last week. Take your pick of goats, whether it's the stumbling duo of John Carlson and Brooks Orpik, the suddenly ineffective play of Niskanen or just the entire team as a whole, from the goalie on up to the forwards. No one should escape the blame here, and the scary part is that the schedule gets very tight and tough over the next few weeks - with very little time to fix things in practice.

So the Caps fail to pick up a point for the third time in their last four games, and drop their fourth straight overall, in an uneven effort. Call it rust if you want, but the Jackets had the same amount of time off - as did the rest of the League. Right now the Caps are simply floundering a bit, and it needs to be fixed fast. Too many goals against, too many penalties, and too many missed opportunities that could cost them in the end.

And now, this...

Backstrom 400

(Graphic by Brendan Sheridan)

Game highlights: