The Washington Capitals were on a two-game winning streak thanks to a renewed work ethic in victories on Monday and Wednesday. On Friday afternoon at the Verizon Center, John Tortorella’s New York Rangers club came in and schooled the Caps in the effort department en route to a 6-3 victory. Ruslan Fedotenko had two goals, high-priced free agent Brad Richards had a tally and an assist, and Ryan Callahan had three helpers as the Blueshirts top line went +3 in an impressive performance. New York is now 11-5-3 while Washington falls to 12-8-1.
Here are the quotes, highlights, and analysis from a contest that saw Washington revert to the form they displayed in their recent four game losing streak:
– When coaches talk about getting the puck deep and putting pressure on opponents’ defensemen being a key to success all one has to do is watch what Tortorella’s crew did to Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s defense in this one. The Rangers aren’t a fancy team at all, they work hard, and on Friday they got pucks in behind the Washington net and just made the Capitals life miserable in their own zone. Dennis Wideman had what was probably his worst game as a Cap with five giveaways and he and his partner, Roman Hamrlik, were both -3 and benched after just two shifts in the third period. John Carlson and Jeff Schultz also had some misplays but those two, after a shaky first 25 or so minutes, rallied to be +1 for the contest. Washington’s best blue line duo was Karl Alzner and rookie Dmitry Orlov but you can’t win with one pair playing well for the whole game. What was hard to watch were how the mistakes seemed to keep on coming and many of the Capitals player didn’t move on from them and keep working, instead choosing to sulk and lose confidence.
“We’re getting too down. As soon as we get a goal scored against us it kind of feels like it’s the end of the world. It’s just one goal. It’s bound to happen every game. We’re killing our momentum by having them score and then giving up another one,” said King Karl when asked about trying to find ways to respond to quick goals allowed.
– After Wednesday’s victory over Winnipeg I talked about the Capitals excellent performance with puck support. On Friday, it was not good and the Rangers won the game on that alone. On the pivotal fourth Rangers goal, which came after the Caps had all of the momentum, Hamrlik needed to just take a strong step forward to push the biscuit outside the Washington zone but because his skates have resembled cinder blocks lately, he backpedaled and that allowed one of the Blueshirts lesser lines to score when Wideman got beat in the corner and then #44 couldn’t cover anyone in front of Michal Neuvirth (27 saves on 33 shots). Hamrlik is now a team worst -7 and likely deserves a game in the press box, if John Erskine is healthy enough to play on Saturday in Buffalo. Simply put the Rangers determination resembled the personality of their fiery coach in this tilt.
“I thought our forecheck was better and our back pressure was better. I thought we were up in fives and back in fives. It was one of our better games out of the past four or five…I thought we just played better defensively, it just doesn’t mean in our end zone. Playing away from the puck I thought we did a pretty good job of that…our whole focus was to play better away from the puck and tonight I thought we did,” said a pleased Rangers bench boss.
– Remember when the Capitals rallied from a 3-0 deficit to silence Madison Square Garden in game four of last season’s first round playoff series? Well when Troy Brouwer and then John Carlson scored midway through period two the Caps were in position to do that again. The crowd was really into it and the players seemed to be getting energy from the fans. Washington put pressure on the Rangers and Alexander Semin had a golden opportunity to tie it up but fired high on Henrik Lundqvist (18 saves). But Brian Boyle would score that key goal I mentioned above at 16:49 to really take the air out of the building and then just over four minutes into period three Wideman tried to do too much in the offensive zone and Richards got the fifth Blueshirts tally in transition.
“Not so much last year, I thought that was a big part of it when they scored those goals to get back in the game because it’s such a team that can score in bunches. I thought we handled ourselves very well. That’s a very important part of the game was not getting scored on again for it to tie. We found a way to score a couple. Nothing was said, we’ve had enough meetings the past couple of days to talk about how we need to play, we just went out, and I think they allowed themselves to play tonight. That is why they were skating, it was a more fluid game for us,” said Tortorella when asked about the quick Caps goals and if anything was discussed on the bench about it, especially given Washington’s big comeback from last year’s post season.
– As the Alzner quote hinted at above, this team is mentally weak right now. There are several guys who can’t hold it together when things go wrong. Semin is culprit #1. He once again took a LAZY penalty by putting his stick in Callahan’s gut instead of moving his feet and afterwards #28 was pretty much a no show. He took long shifts and only had 1 shot on goal following his hooking minor. He was -2 and on the Richards goal he didn’t backcheck hard after Wideman and Hamrlik made mistakes. In addition, the Caps had a 3 on 2 late in the middle frame and he stopped at the blue line, which allowed the Rangers to break up the rush easily. Somehow though, Semin had 47 more seconds of ice time than Alexander Ovechkin (1st goal at home in 2011-12, 8 hits, four shots on net)? This makes no sense to me. The Gr8 still has his poor defensive zone moments but his effort was good while Semin’s was terrible after his penalty at the 8:56 mark of the opening frame.
“Well he definitely was a main factor in our first goal and he scored the third goal. He set up a couple really good plays. If that’s getting him out of his little funk, then that’s a bright spot out of a not necessarily bright game,” commented Boudreau on his captain’s play versus New York.
– Speaking of bright spots, Orlov was my Caps first star. The young Russian logged 17:33 of ice time and was super solid with three hits and an assist. He also used his superior skating and positioning to spring Jason Chimera for a first period breakaway but King Henrik would not allow #25 to beat him again. #81 did have four giveaways but for his 3rd NHL game I thought he was fabulous and he has played better than Hamrlik, Schultz, and Erskine this week.
– In summary, a trend that was going up for Washington took a big nosedive on Friday. The work ethic and mental toughness of the previous two games went out the window. It will be up to the coaching staff and the team’s leadership core to get the club to re-focus and tackle a Buffalo Sabres squad that was beaten soundly (5-1) by Columbus on Friday night. So you can bet that Lindy Ruff’s crew will be ready to go on Saturday night in Buffalo. Will the Caps show some grit and desire and bounce back? Stay tuned.
Notes: Mike Knuble’s ice time was cut from over 20 minutes on Wednesday to just 11:57 on Friday. He was -1 and took a minor penalty…Neuvirth wasn’t very good in net but the skaters in front of him were worse…I expect Tomas Vokoun to start on Saturday and Washington needs a strong outing from him…Johansson had a brutal giveaway that directly led to the Rangers third goal but he worked hard on his next couple of shifts and played a big role in Carlson’s goal. Unfortunately MJ90 was saddled with Semin in period three and finished -3 on the night…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 24:11…the Caps were buried on face-offs, 37-28, with MJ90 losing 14 of 20 draws and Brooks Laich losing 13 of 19…Laich was put on defense in the third period when 6 and 44 were riding the pine and was on the ice for the 6th NY tally. Boudreau said afterwards that his move “backfired”…the Caps did have 40 hits to 28 for the Blueshirts.