And the hits just keep on coming. The Washington Capitals losing streak is now at six games as they were practically run out of Madison Square Garden, 7-0, on Sunday night. It was the 4th time in the last 13 games the Caps have been shutout, although they did hit four posts in this tilt. Washington was playing their third game in four nights and some of the players, who have been battling the flu, clearly had nothing in the tank. The Rangers, on the other hand, had no problems taking out their frustrations on the Caps. The Capitals record now stands at 18-11-3 and they have a three and four point lead on the Tampa Bay Lightning and Atlanta Thrashers in the Southeast Division, respectively, but both teams have two games in hand on Washington.
Here are the mostly lowlights and analysis from this ugly Caps performance in Manhattan:
– The biggest problem in this game was the Caps defense. The Rangers struck first when Tom Poti misplayed the puck behind his own net and then he compounded the error by deflecting the puck by his own goaltender on an attempted cross crease pass by Brandon Prust. That was the only goal of the first period, one in which Washington and the Rangers played fairly evenly. But then things went bad fast with three goals in three minutes and 31 seconds early in period two. First, Scott Hannan got caught backing in on an Artem Anisimov rush and the Russian, in Alexander Ovechkin style, used #23 as a screen to beat Semyon Varlamov and make it 2-0, Rags. 14 seconds later Hannan’s night got worse as he was whistled for holding. The Blueshirts then capitalized on the bad penalty when Poti was out of position on the penalty kill and Marian Gaborik made a super deflection of a Marc Staal shot five hole on Varly. Then came the dagger as Brandon Dubinsky skated in the Caps zone and Hershey d-man Brian Fahey gave him far too much room and #17’s wrister beat Varlamov (13 saves on 20 shots). At that point Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau normally would have made a goalie change but thanks to the post game work of Corey Masisak and Brian McNally we now know that Michal Neuvirth is the latest to get hit with the flu bug and could not have played. #30 apparently came down with his ailment on Sunday afternoon, which was too late for a recall (again h/t @cmasisak22 & @bmcnally14).
– Between the flu bug and the injuries to Mike Green (flu and possibly shoulder) and Jeff Schultz (fractured thumb), this Capitals team is spread pretty thin right now on the back line. In addition, as Boudreau said after the game, some of the players are “quick to feel sorry for themselves.” Part of that phenomenon is likely the zapping of the energy they feel from their illnesses. It is very apparent that Nicklas Backstrom is not close to 100% and he had another lousy outing (-3). Alexander Semin, who was fined and not suspended for his cross checking major against Colorado on Sunday night, also was bad (-3) and it was his poor decision to pinch with the Caps on a power play midway through period two that led to a Rangers 2 on 1 odd man rush and the fifth goal by Staal. John Carlson was the d-man on that play and he did not do a good job of cutting off the pass, which allowed Staal to have an easy route to beating Varly.
– One of the few positives on the evening was the play of Ovechkin, who had seven hits, four shots on goal, and also fought Dubinsky when it was 4-0. The Great #8 had just laid out Dan Girardi with a clean hit and it was clear #17 was coming his way so Ovie dropped his mitts and had a spirited bout with the big Rangers winger. Afterwards Ovechkin motioned to his bench as if to say “Let’s go.” Immediately the team came to life and drew a penalty but then Semin’s miscue ended that short momentum burst for Washington. It was Ovechkin’s first bout since December of 2006, when he was given five for fighting with Paul Gausted of Buffalo (h/t Dan Rosen of NHL.com)
– Ovechkin, despite his team trailing 6-0, continued to work hard and it literally ended up hurting him as Semin hit the winger inside the right leg with a shot as the Great #8 was trying to screen Henrik Lundqvist (31 saves). Alexander the Great fell to the ground and many Rangers fans loudly cheered his injury (lack of class there, much like Philly fans with Michael Irvin or the idiot Ravens ones who cheered when Kyle Boller got hurt in 2005). Ovechkin did not return to the ice and he sat on the bench as the clock expired. But Ovechkin is fine and Boudreau told Masisak, McNally, Ted Starkey (@TedStarkey), and the other media assembled, that the Great #8 could have played had the contest been competitive.
– Overall, it was a bad loss but the effort was stronger than the other blowouts against Atlanta and New Jersey earlier this season. There are some who are calling for Boudreau’s firing but to me that is a knee jerk move at this early a juncture in the season. The head coach has some bonafide excuses for the team’s poor play and based on what I’ve seen from GM George McPhee I don’t see him hitting any panic button. Need I remind fans once again that he told us point blank at media day that he does not care about the regular season that much and is focused solely on a long playoff run. If the team continues to struggle after this ailment and injury bug is over, then the GM will either look to make trades or examine the status of the bench boss, but I would be shocked if something happens any time soon. After all, the team is 11 points up on the ninth spot in the Eastern Conference so they are comfortably a playoff team at this point in time.
Notes: It was hard to find a Caps best d-man on this night but I would have to give it to Karl Alzner who had five hits in over 21 minutes of work…Washington won the faceoff battle, 32-24, with Boyd Gordon winning 9 of 11 draws and Mathieu Perreault going 10-4…Backstrom hit two posts while Semin and Perreault hit one each as well. When the breaks are going against you those bounce out, unlike the off the pipe shot that Ryan Callahan put by Varlamov…the Caps next game is Wednesday at the Verizon Center against the Anaheim Ducks. Hopefully the flu bug is gone and Green can return as the team really misses him when he is out. Unfortunately, Schultz is out for four more weeks.