The Washington Capitals entered Thursday night’s contest in D.C. seeking to get back on track after seeing their three-game winning streak snapped on Monday. Moreover, they were out to prove that they could skate with one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference in the New Jersey Devils. It wasn’t to be, as the Devils came back late, scoring two third period goals en route to a 3-2 victory.
Things started off much the way they left ended in the Monday’s loss against the Rangers, with the Capitals getting absolutely dominated in the shot column. The Devils carried much of the play through the first 20 minutes registering 13 shots to just four for the Caps. Contrary to Monday night’s loss, however the Caps began to turn things around led by their captain.
Alex Ovechkin skated around a defender late in the first to draw a power play which spilled over into the second. The Caps failed to convert that chance, but several minutes later Ovechkin drew another tripping call, this time dancing around Anton Volchenkov to force the call.
Despite registering just two shots on their first couple of man-advantage situations, the league’s fourth best power-play unit cashed in on the third. Troy Brouwer toe-dragged around Henrik Tallinder and was denied by Martin Brodeur but Mathieu Perreault put home the rebound A few minutes later the Caps were awarded another power play and things were looking up for the home team.
But Adam Henrique and Patrick Elias outworked the Caps around Braden Holtby’s net, aided by questionable defensive efforts from John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom. Henrique skated nearly uncontested to the side of the crease and slid the puck to a wide open Elias for an easy tap-in and a shorthanded tally to tie it up.
Thankfully for the Caps, Mike Ribeiro came through in the clutch yet again on the same power play, sneaking a five-hole squibbler through Brodeur for his sixth on the year.
Things turned south in the third when the Caps found themselves in penalty trouble. Matt Hendricks and Tomas Kundratek both took two minute minors which led to an extended five-on-three for the Devils, but Holtby and the penalty killers held on to kill it off. Minutes later Ovechkin took a minor penalty for tripping, which the Caps also killed off.
But shortly thereafter Andrei Loktionov tied it a 2-2 when he banged home a rebound off Andy Greene’s point shot.
Things degenerated quickly from there for the Caps. John Erskine took a hooking minor 38 seconds later after the goal. Less than a minute after that Tom Poti took an interference minor, an easy call to spot as David Clarkson tried to gain the zone. It didn’t take long for Ilya Kovalchuk to make them pay, and just like that it was 3-2 Devils.
– For the second straight game the Caps were brutalized in the shot column, with the final total ending 37-19 in favor of the Devils. That includes just three third period shots by the Caps. For a team desperate for a long winning streak, that’s not a good sign.
– When something has gone wrong for the Caps this season, things have had a tendency to snowball out of control thereafter. Case in point: six minor penalties taken including two five-on-threes against, all in the first 11 minutes of the third. Beyond that storyline, the Caps have been spending far too much time in their own penalty box this season, with the 6th most time spent in their own box among NHL teams and the 25th-ranked penalty kill.
– Alex Ovechkin has been criticized frequently in the press and blogosphere this season, sometimes for good reason and other times not as much. The performance he put on Thursday night might have been his best of 2013. He drew two penalties on his own and just in the second period used his speed to generate another breakaway, which could have easily resulted in a goal. He was hitting everything that moved. With Ovechkin getting more rubber on net than anytime over the last two and half seasons, a category in which he ranks 4th in the league, it’s only a matter of time until the goals come in bunches.
– Braden Holtby started his fifth game in net for Adam Oates, an assignment he clearly deserved following his Herculean efforts to keep the Caps in Monday night’s game at Madison Square Garden. With another decent performance between the pipes Thursday, he appears to have grabbed the reigns as the number one on the depth chart for now.
– Ribeiro, far and away the club’s leader in points, seems to get all the bounces so far this season and his power play goal against Brodeur was no exception. On the flipside, he was brutal defensively on the Loktionov tally, losing a faceoff cleanly then losing Loktionov on the ensuing rebound.
It’s too early to start using phrases like “must win” and “make or break” regarding this shortened season. However, with each loss, the math is beginning to look overwhelming against the Caps making a serious run at a playoff spot. So is the logic test. The Capitals still have yet to beat a team in playoff position this year and have looked rather feeble against teams not based in Florida.
The Devils return to Verizon Center on Saturday. If they’re unable to beat the Devils yet again, it may be time for fans to start thinking about what the 2013-2014 roster will look like.