WASHINGTON, D.C. – At this point in the season, the ninth-placed Washington Capitals need every win at home they can get, given their brutal upcoming road schedule (and road record). Friday night they hosted the New Jersey Devils, who were coming off an overtime loss to the Bruins the night before.
Apparently the two days of rest did nothing to help the Capitals, who were unceremoniously shutout 5-0 by Devils’ backup goaltender Johan Hedberg.
For the first ten minutes, the game was relatively even, but once the Devils scored first, things unravelled quickly for the home team.
“This was an embarrassing game,” Capitals center Jeff Halpern said. “We were terrible. They seemed to turn it up and we had absolutely no response.”
The Devils jumped ahead on their first power play on a tic-tac-toe play, with Patrik Elias finding David Clarkson, who threaded a no-look pass to captain Zach Parise to roof the puck over a sprawling Michal Neuvirth.
The Capitals carried much of the play for the next few minutes and in fact were outshooting the Devils 7-2, before Parise struck again late in the first.
Ilya Kovalchuk fired a shot on the rush that dribbled through Neuvirth into the blue paint and Parise beat Caps forward Keith Aucoin to the loose puck for a tap-in.
29 seconds later, Dainius Zubrus followed up his own rebound for a pretty backhander to put New Jersey ahead 3-0 on their first seven shots to end the period and, for all intents and purposes, the game.
Parise would complete the hat-trick just 23:08 into the game to put the visitors ahead 4-0. The Devils took advantage of a Capitals’ breakout that actually went backwards, finally leading to a turnover, and beat Neuvirth on a two-on-one.
The rest of the game seemed a mere formality. On the Capitals’ first power play of the night, Elias made it 5-0 when Zubrus blew past Brooks Laich at the point for a two-on-one and an easy tap-in for the veteran winger.
The Devils by then had scored five goals on thirteen shots, and yet Capitals head coach Dale Hunter elected to leave Neuvirth in the game.
“I wanted Neuvy to battle through it,” Hunter said. “He didn’t have a great start, so I wanted him to battle through it.”
By that point, the crowd was loudly booing the Capitals, who had already given up a quality short-handed chance less than a minute earlier. Who could blame them?
Those left on hand to witness the third period likely weren’t too thrilled with what they saw.
“I don’t think we worked very hard in the third period; I thought we packed it in,” forward Troy Brouwer said. “We looked like a real timid, beaten down hockey team. We have to address that and make sure there is no quit in us, ever.”
Then again, should anyone have really have been surprised? The Capitals have won exactly two games in the last two months against teams in playoff position aside from the Florida Panthers. Not only are they losing to those teams, they’re regularly losing by two or more goals.
“It seems to be that way with us,” said Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman of the team’s recent habit of losing games in blowout fashion. “When things aren’t going our way, we try to do a little bit too much.”
After standing pat at the trade deadline, Capitals’ GM George McPhee said he believed this team is capable of making the playoffs with the roster they have in place. Losses like Friday night against Devils raise serious doubts, not only about their ability to qualify but whether they’ll even compete if they do get in.