Despite jumping to an early 2-0 lead the Alexander Ovechkin-less Washington Capitals made too many offensive zone turnovers and had a horror show second period that saw the New Jersey Devils score three times as they rolled to a 5-2 victory. The Caps were on a four game winning streak heading into this contest against the Devils, who were even hotter themselves having won seven in a row, so something had to give at the Rock on Saturday night. Washington played on Friday while the Devils rested and making the task even tougher for Washington was having to face goaltender Martin Brodeur, who is not only good between the pipes but also is the best net minder in the league at playing the puck, making him like a 3rd defenseman on the ice. This loss was by far the worst performance by Washington all season, was also the Caps third straight defeat to New Jersey in the first 20 games, and dropped their record to 12-4-4. This contest marked the first time Washington has lost by more than a goal in the 2009-10 campaign and it was an ugly defeat that denied Head Coach Bruce Boudreau his 100th NHL win behind the bench.
The game started really fast for the Caps and Alexander Semin drew a penatly in the neutural zone just 3:23 into the contest. On the ensuing power play the Caps moved the puck incredibly well and Mike Green and Brendan Morrison passed it crisply at the point to set up Fleischmann for a one timer in the slot and he buried it by Brodeur for his 7th goal of the season at 4:15. Washington then came right back 47 seconds later in transition and Mathieu Perreault and Green had a nice give and go with #52’s feed to #85 being one timed by Brodeur to make it 2-0 just five minutes into the contest. The Caps continued to pressure and they had the first five shots on net until the Devils got their first one seven and a half minutes into the period.
The Devils then began to find their legs and after a Semin offensive zone turnover New Jersey came back 4 on 3 and defensemen Colin White’s quick point shot, that was going wide, hit Brian Pothier and went right into the net to cut the Washington lead in half just over 10 minutes in.
The play went back and forth and then Quintin Laing, Dave Steckel and Brooks Laich put together a solid forecheck and Laich went in alone on Brodeur from the corner but #30 made a great save with just under 3 minutes left in the first period. Then late in the period Theodore made a great pad save on Brian Rolston on a 2 on 1 break after Green was late coming back from the offensive zone. The period ended with it 2-1 Caps.
The Devils carried the majority of the play early in the second period and just over five minutes into it Green tripped Travis Zajac to put Washington shorthanded for the first time in the contest. New Jersey took only 18 seconds to tie it up as Jamie Langenbrunner ripped a clear point shot over Theodore’s glove. #60 should have had this one and it was another shaky goal allowed by the net minder who is in the last year of his contract.
Washington had a good shift around the period’s midpoint and Perreault received a nice feed from Semin but his one timer was squeezed between the pads by Brodeur. The minimal momentum would be short lived as the Caps were called for too many men on the ice, although Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau argued against it loudly. New Jersey, who held an 8-3 advantage in shots in the period to that point, were unable to connect on the power play and Washington looked to try and get the lead back.
However, Semin had another one of his AWFUL offensive turnovers as he tried a weak cross ice pass instead of shooting the puck at the net and the Devils Zajac fed Zach Parise for a breakaway and he easily beat Theodore to make it 3-2 Devils at 14:40. It was another terrible play by #28 and it was the second goal off of one of his giveaways. It also set the stage for the loss.
The Caps almost tied it with less than two minutes left in the period as Perreault threw a hard backhander on goal that Marty could not handle cleanly but Brodeur and the post robbed Chris Clark on the rebound. Then disaster struck as the Devils generated a three on two break and Niclas Bergfors, who had two goals against Washington 10 days ago in the last Caps defeat, fed Matt Halischuk streaking down the right wing and he beat #60 top shelf to make it 4-2. It was Halischuk’s first NHL goal.
To start the 3rd period, Tyler Sloan, Nicklas Backstrom, and Tom Poti all stood around and watched as Zajac came in and grabbed the puck and almost made it a three goal Devils lead. If you don’t move your feet bad things usually happen and the Caps were nearly a victim of that on that play. Right after that former Capital Danius Zubrus put a nifty move on Shaone Morrisonn in the offensive zone but the Caps and Theodore were saved by the right post. Washington’s fortune was short lived and when Zajac cleanly beat Backstrom on the face-off Cory Murphy shot one from the point that #60 didn’t see until the last minute and it went off of Theo’s shoulder and into the net to make it 5-2 Devils. The rest of the period turned into pretty much a scrimmage as both teams skated back and forth with very few whistles with each squad seemingly just hoping to get this one over.
Here is my post game analysis and some quotes from Boudreau:
Remember that really good line of Mike Knuble, Backstrom, and Fleischmann that we saw over the last week? Well you now see how important #22 is to the Caps because Fleischmann was -4 and Backstrom -3 on the night without the hard working right wing. Semin, who we will get to in a minute, does not fit there so Boudreau needs to re-think his lines but that will be made easier by the likely return of Ovechkin on Tuesday night against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Now to Semin. I have been reluctant to write this hoping the moody Russian would become more consistent but the time has finally come. This guy is killing this team! Boudreau talked about how well #28 plays when he is motivated but those days seem to be fewer and fewer (maybe once every five games lately, at best?). Semin seems to be reluctant to take on any contact, he makes too many offensive zone turnovers with awful cross ice passes or lazy plays, and he floats around the ice trying to play the easy game. He doesn’t hit anyone anymore, even though he has the ability to do so, and he is just plain stupid with the puck most of the time. He tries to pass when he should shoot or get the puck deep and he made two giveaways that directly led to goals on Saturday night. If this guy does not shape up soon and start playing more consistently then if I am GM George McPhee I get whatever I can for him in a trade and move on. I don’t care if he is healthy or not, he makes stupid plays too often, and you don’t have to be 100% healthy to think the game and play the system properly. So no more “he is playing injured” excuses from anyone, okay?
“You can only tell certain people so many times, that was the biggest goal against us at that point and we wanted to keep it deep and work them in the corners and they turned it around and they get a breakaway and it was just a bad play,” said Boudreau on the turnover by Semin, who clearly has been told time and time again to stop making boneheaded plays in the offensive zone.
Theodore had his third straight subpar effort tonight and he is struggling. Right now Semyon Varlamov has seized back the #1 goalie job on this team.
“I don’t know if I see anything wrong with him but he just has to stop the puck. The power play goal was a clear shot by Langenbrunner with no screen, I know Parise’s was a breakaway but he made it look pretty easy, and the next one was a short side over the blocker from outside the dot. Those things Jose has got to stop,” started the head coach on #60, “He had a bad game and he’ll be ready to go the next time he starts, I hope. His history has been he plays a whole bunch of good games then he plays a couple bad games and then he turns it around because he is mentally strong and we are hoping the same situation is occuring today,” finished Boudreau on Theodore.
Washington CLEARLY has problems with the Devils. Most of that I think goes to the tough task of facing Brodeur. The future Hall of Famer is good in net and so hard to get the puck by that teams start taking chances and turning it over because they try to get too cute and make the perfect play. This is exactly what happened tonight, the Caps did not play smart in the second period, led primarily by Semin, but other guys jumped up too far in the play or were caught out of position and that allowed the Devils to burn Washington in transition. The way to beat the Devils is to not take chances, get the puck deep, work their defense, and crash the net for rebound goals. Without Ovechkin and Knuble they had little to no net presence and with #28 not willing to play the system, along with some other guys on isolated occassions, this game got out of hand. Yes the Caps may have been tired but you still have to play more intelligently. We also have to caveat the fact that the two regulation losses to New Jersey came with the Great #8 out of the line-up but it still has not been a good match-up for Washington.
Notes: Washington was 1 for 1 on the power play while the Devils were 1 for 3. The Caps outshot the Devils 29-23 but New Jersey had far superior goaltending and took advantage of the Capitals mistakes. Jeff Schultz returned to the lineup tonight while John Erskine was scratched. Milan Jurcina is still out with an injury and Boyd Gordon returned to the lineup only to leave again because of a creaky back. If I had to pick a best Cap tonight, it would have been Perreault as he worked hard on every shift creating scoring chances, had a goal and was even for the night.