Capital Punishment – Rangers Crush Caps

Just when the Washington Capitals appeared to have taken one step forward, going 3-2 on a recent road trip, they took two steps back Friday night at Verizon Center with a 6-0 loss to the New York Rangers.

The Rangers struck first when D Steve Eminger ripped a shot from the blue line which hit traffic and beat Michal Neuvirth. On the same shift, Mike Green was hit high by Derek Stepan, hit his head on the ice and did not return. That’s troublesome for a guy who was experiencing “concussion-like symptoms” two weeks ago.

“He’s day-to-day,” Capitals Head Coach Bruce Boudreau said afterwards. “He’s not gonna play tomorrow. Right now it’s cautionary. I don’t know his status because I haven’t talked to the doctors yet.”

Things only went downhill for the Capitals from there. Later in the frame Erik Christensen scored his seventh goal of the season to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead after killing off the first Capitals’ power play.

“They had the momentum in the first 10 minutes of the game,” Capitals winger Matt Hendricks said. “They pretty much hemmed us in our own zone.”

Alex Ovechkin did his best to keep the game competitive. He was once again dominant and continues to show signs that he’s awakening from his season-long slumber, displaying tremendous explosiveness and dancing around and between white jerseys. He even drew a penalty by blowing past a Rangers’ D and could have been awarded a penalty shot late in the first.

“I think we started well,” Ovechkin said. “I had a couple of chances to score…they scored right away after my chance and kept playing their system.”

But the Capitals failed to convert on the power play opportunity and by the end of the two-minute man advantage the boo birds were in full force. What used to be the second most dangerous power play in the league as plummeted into the bottom-third of the NHL this season, and tonight it put together another lackluster, 0-for-5 performance.

Christensen soon added his eighth on an early second period power play when he was left all alone in the low slow and punched home a one-timer past a helpless Neuvirth. Christensen hadn’t scored a goal since mid-December. Just like that it was 3-0 Rangers, game over.

Stepan added a late second-period power play to put the Rangers up 4-0, then Vinny Prospal joined in with his third of the year to make it 5-0 in the third. Just for good measure, Brian Boyle tacked on another with 30 seconds left (in this case, the “who cares!” chant would have been appropriate).

“Everybody feels embarassed,” Ovechkin added. “We didn’t score. They scored six.”

This wasn’t just another loss – it was a cry for help.

The Rangers are a solid team, but there’s not enough of a talent gap for the Capitals to justify getting throttled so thoroughly on home ice after three days rest. The Blueshirts didn’t even have Marian Gaborik or Marc Staal in the lineup.

Whether they’re aware of it or not, the Capitals don’t have the talent this season to afford to take a night off. Yet with March just three days away they still don’t seem to be playing as hard as their opponents on many nights. It’s a bad omen for a fan base which expects a deep playoff run.

Odds and Ends:

- There was a time when the Capitals were believed to be in a different class than the Rangers with the Caps being Stanley Cup contenders and the Blueshirts a tier below. This season the Rangers completely own the Caps, having outscored them 15-1 in the last three games. While the Rangers have improved incrementally, the trend is more of a reflection of how far the Caps have fallen than anything.

- With the power play struggling so mightily, the Capitals have stayed afloat thanks in large part to the penalty killing unit which not too long ago was ranked second in the league. Over the last couple of weeks it has dropped to fifth and tonight yielded another two goals against. If that unit regresses to its 2009-10 form and the power play doesn’t then bad things are in store for this team.

- Unlike David Steckel’s hit on Sidney Crosby, the replay suggests that there was some intent on Stepan’s hit on Green in retaliation for a cross check. Expect the league to take a look and perhaps suspend Stepan. That doesn’t help the Capitals much. The parallels between Crosby’s injury and Green’s are harrowing. Both were rushed back, both are vital to their teams’ success in the playoffs and now the jury is out on each of their returns.

- The Caps have now been shutout ten times this season. Staggering is the word that comes to mind.

- Nicklas Backstrom suffered a fractured thumb in Monday’s win over the Penguins but was back in the lineup four days later. However, he wasn’t even healthy enough to take a faceoff, and if he’s not healthy enough to win a draw how can he possibly shoot the puck with any strength? Here’s an idea out of left field: rest him so he’s healthy for the playoffs instead of running him out there at 50-percent in February.

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