Caps Fall to Leafs, Look for Answers

Another frustrating night for one of the most frustrating teams in the NHL this season.

The Caps gave up an ugly goal early, fell behind by two goals twelve minutes into the game and couldn’t recover as they lost 3-2 to continue a disturbing trend of failing to score more than three goals in any game this season.

The Caps have the fewest points in the entire NHL.

There were some bright spots Tuesday night, most notably the play of Marcus Johansson, who scored his first goal of the year and who brought energy to the ice on the penalty kill, drawing applause from a fan base that was beginning to lose patience with the young center who entered the game with a team-worst minus seven plus/minus rating and who hadn’t recorded a point all season.

The Caps should also be encouraged that they connected twice on the power play, both pretty goals that featured pinpoint passing and offensive skill that Capitals fans have come to expect from their team during the Alex Ovechkin era.  Late in the first period, Nicklas Backstrom poked the puck away from Maple Leafs goalie Ben Scrivens behind the net and passed to defenseman Tomas Kundratek who found Johansson waiting alone at the post to knock in the Caps first goal of the night cutting the deficit to 2-1.  In the third period, with the Caps trailing 3-1, the fans rose to their feet after Mike Ribeiro scored his third goal of the season from up close after perfect passes from Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer.

Ribeiro has clearly been a great acquisition for this team and always seems to be in the middle of the action when he is on the ice.  He now leads the team with eleven points and has brought the Capitals a second high-end center to help generate some much needed offense.

Capitals coach Adam Oates tried to focus on positives after the game, pointing out that the Leafs were held to only twenty shots on goal and didn’t have too many scoring opportunities.

But too much inconsistency, particularly on the defensive end, continues to plague this team.  The Leafs scored their first goal ten minutes in after goalie Michal Neuvirth and defenseman Tom Poti botched a handoff behind the net allowing Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk to swoop in, steal the puck, and slam it into the net on a wraparound.  Both Caps players admitted after the game that there was a miscommunication on the exchange.  The groan and boos from the crowd after the goal told the story—that this team can’t afford to make those types of mistakes and that the margin for error is too thin right now with the offense failing to generate much scoring.

Van Riemsdyk lit the lamp again less than three minutes later when the Caps defense failed to clear the puck after several attempts and appeared to be caught flatfooted in their own zone.  Although not as bad a breakdown as on the first goal, it was still a disappointing moment for the defense.

Oates expressed his frustration with the first goal: “It kinds of deflates you when you make a mistake like that that early in the game. . . it takes the wind out of your sails.”  Oates stopped short of blaming Neuvirth for the goal, pointing out that it was a miscommunication between the two players and it was an unfortunate result.

Johansson added that “everyone is frustrated, we’re not winning games, and that’s what we’re here for” “We need to battle through it and find a way to win games.”

Caps fans are frustrated too and have to be concerned that finding silver linings in losses is not a long term solution to turning this team into a consistent winner.  With a healthy core of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and defenseman Mike Green, along with the addition of players like Ribeiro, Caps faithful expect more from this team.  They want to be loud, they are ready to explode, but they continue to sit and wait as their ship takes on water.

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