The Washington Capitals, the top team in the Eastern Conference when the day started, headed to New Jersey on Monday night to play the team tied for last place in the East with the New York Islanders. In addition, the Devils had lost three straight contests, were going to be without their future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur (elbow injury), had only won one of their eight home contests this season, and to top it all off there have been recent rumors that their head coach, John MacLean, was in danger of losing his job. With that kind of scenario either two things were going to happen at The Rock, the Caps were going to win easy or they were going to get the Devils best game and lose. The latter is what occurred as the Devils came out strong while Washington slept through the first period. New Jersey jumped to a 3-0 lead in that opening frame and increased it to five midway through the second stanza en route to a 5-0 blanking of the Caps. Washington drops to 14-6-2 and is now tied for first in the East with the Philadelphia Flyers, who defeated the Montreal Canadiens, 3-2 on Monday. In addition, their Southeast Division lead has dwindled to just four points over Tampa, who defeated the Boston Bruins, 3-1, this evening. The Bolts also have a game in hand.
Below are the details, lowlights, and analysis of the second straight road blanking for the Caps:
- The plan prior to the morning skate was to start Michal Neuvirth in goal but that is when this whole day started going bad for Washington. Neuvirth, according to Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, tweaked something in his lower body and as a result Semyon Varlamov was recalled from Hershey. Varly, who had been down with the Bears on a rehab assignment for his bad groin, made it in time to the game to back up Braden Holtby, but his skates were late. Thus Neuvirth sat on the bench until Varly’s equipment arrived (in time for the start of period two). The head coach did say afterwards that the only way Varlamov was going to play was if Holtby was injured because it would have been too risky to throw in #1 without a warmup.
- Holtby, who was coming off of his worst game of the season in Atlanta last Friday night (gave up three goals in less than 10 minutes and was yanked), really needed his team to come out strong and get him a lead so that he could try and regain his confidence. That didn’t come close to happening and when Brooks Laich took a lazy stick infraction in the defensive zone the Devils received a power play just 4:36 into the contest. 73 seconds into the man advantage Patrick Elias scored off his body from the slot after Mike Green deflected a Mattias Tedenby centering pass to make it 1-0. Then #70 made his biggest mistake after a John Erskine giveaway at the blue line. Jason Arnott jumped on the turnover by #4 and raced down the right wing. Holtby, who is an aggressive goalie, came out to challenge and went a bit too far and when Tyler Sloan stupidly chased the Devil behind the net, #25 had an easy wrap around goal. Erskine and Sloan were then vicitimized again yielding a breakaway to Tedenby and when #4 hauled him down from behind, #21 received a penalty shot. Tedenby would beat Holtby with a nice backhand move to make it 3-0 at the 18:14 mark.
- The Saskatchewan native would also yield a couple of rebound goals in period two but he did make some good saves, many of which came because his teammates were downright awful and allowed what seemed to be a continuous flow of odd man rushes. Holtby played poorly tonight but he is a 21 year old kid and will have those moments. What was pathetic was the effort in front of him and team captain Alexander Ovechkin should apologize for himself and his entire team for hanging Holtby out to dry in New Jersey. #70 deserved better and his next game likely will come in the AHL, partly because his team didn’t show up on Monday.
- Speaking of Ovechkin, the Great #8 continues to be in a funk, especially on the road. Last season the Caps lost only 10 contests away from the Verizon Center in regulation and this year they have been defeated five times before overtime in the first 10 road games. Simply put, this squad has not been ready to play and Boudreau can preach and yell all he wants but if the team captain consistently mails it in, then the rest of the crew is going to start doing so as well and that is when you get back to back road defeats by 4-0 and 5-0 tallies.
- Many skaters were bad on Monday but the pair that stood out most was the Sloan/Erskine combo. They were directly involved in goals two and three. #89 only played 3:25 and didn’t come out for the last two periods. In addition, Green left the bench midway through the third period after playing 20:59 (he usually logs 25+ minutes). Afterwards Boudreau said both had suffered injuries and he would know more in the morning. Tom Poti is already out of the lineup due to a creaky groin but he did skate with the other scratches on Monday and possibly could play Wednesday in Carolina.
- John Carlson, who hails from Jersey and had numerous family and friends in attendance, was the best Capital on the ice but that wasn’t saying much. #74 played over 27 minutes and was even for the night.
Notes: Washington ended up outshooting the Devils 30-23 but 26 of those shots came in periods two and three, when this one was pretty much over…the face-off battle was tied at 23 apiece…the Caps were 0 for 3 on the power play while the Devils went 1 for 2…the Caps will get a much needed practice on Tuesday in Raleigh before taking on the Canes on Wednesday at 7pm.