A Familiar Story – Groundhog’s Day has come and gone, but that doesn’t mean the Caps have shaken their Bill Murray complex.
Even Caps coach Adam Oates realizes that the script is getting to be familiar. On Tuesday night at Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals lost a 3-2 decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Toronto played and lost at home on Monday night, dropping its home ice record to 1-4. The Leafs arrived in D.C. in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, a team on short rest that had lost two straight in its own barn, scoring a total of just one goal in the two games.
Certainly Washington’s plan was to give the goal-deprived Leafs nothing to feel good about offensively, especially since the Caps’ own offensive fortunes haven’t been trending upward for quite some time now.
But while fans in attendance were each given a Nicklas Backstrom garden gnome, the Leafs were given their first goal.
Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth and defenseman Tom Poti miscommunicated behind the Washington net, and before they could figure out which was to do what with the puck, Toronto’s James vanRiemsdyk scooped it up and deposited it into the Washington net.
vanRiemsdyk scored again on a rebound on his next shift just 2:35 later, and the Caps were suddenly up against it. A Washington team that hadn’t scored more than three goals in any game all season and hadn’t come back from a deficit of more than one goal had suddenly and stunningly surrendered all of its margin for error.
Once again, the Caps played well and did good things all over the ice. But once again those good things did not include picking up two points in the standings.
After the game, the first question asked of Oates related to whether this was another of those nights where Washington’s mistakes are ending up in its net.
“I know you guys don’t want to hear the same thing from me but that’s how I feel,” says Oates. “Obviously the first goal is a huge deflator for us. Miscommunication, not something we needed at that time.
“We got a goal back at the end of the period to kind of make it a game, and we played hard. We need to figure out a way to score more goals, but once again the guys played pretty hard.”
Players echoed Oates’ thoughts after the game.
“I thought we played pretty well,” says Poti. “It seems like the last three or four games, we give up three or four chances and they get three or four goals. We’ve got to find a way to stop that. I thought we played great. I thought we had a lot of chances to score. We just couldn’t find the back of the net. At the end of the day, we’ve just got to find a way to win somehow, some way.”
“I think we played great but there were some mistakes and they scored goals from it,” says rookie defenseman Tomas Kundratek. “Hockey is about mistakes and whoever makes less mistakes is going to win.”
The Caps lost each of their first three games of the season, and they really didn’t play well enough to expect to win any of those contests. In each of their last seven games, they feel they’ve played good hockey. It could be argued that they haven’t done so for as many as 60 minutes in all seven of those games, but certainly they believe they’ve played well enough to win more than two of them.
Yet this Washington team is 2-4-1 in those last seven games and 2-7-1 on the abbreviated season, which will reach the quarter-pole this weekend. Only a sustained winning streak can lift Washington from its current basement spot up the rungs of the Eastern Conference standings, and only the Caps can help themselves to that feat.
“It’s tough,” says Neuvirth. “But no one’s going to help us. It’s all on us right now. It’s a difficult situation right now, but I still believe we’re going win a couple more games and we’re going to be on a roll.”
Neuvirth was asked what it would take for the Caps to get their confidence back.
“Just get a couple of wins in a row, I think,” he says.
If it’s to happen soon, it’s going to have to happen on the road. Washington – the only Eastern Conference team without a road win on the season – will play four of its next five away from Verizon Center. The Caps visit Pittsburgh on Thursday; the Pens are now owners of a four-game winning streak of their own.
The Caps are frustrated, but not broken.
“We’ve got to believe in what we’re doing,” says Marcus Johansson, who scored his first goal of the season on Tuesday. “We’ve got to believe we’ll get better and keep working on it. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
“You run out of clichés to say to the guys, obviously,” says Oates. “We’ll talk [Wednesday] and we’ll figure out a plan on how to approach it because we’ve got to rebound for Thursday again.
“We obviously did a lot of good things tonight. We held them to 20 shots and a few chances. Our special teams were better tonight, which is good. There are always positives.”
Dry Gulch – The Caps have now played 30 full periods of hockey this season. They’ve scored zero or one goal in 26 of those periods and they have yet to score more than two goals in any of them.
Washington’s foes have already managed seven two-goal periods and three periods with more than two goals.
The Caps have gone 10 straight games with three or fewer goals scored for the first time since Dec. 23, 2010 to Jan. 20, 2011, when they went a dozen straight games with three or fewer goals.
Some stark differences exist between the two streaks.
Washington currently owns the league’s worst goal differential at minus-13. During its 12-game streak just over two years ago, the Caps scored a mere 26 goals in those dozen games, but they only permitted 27. Washington has surrendered 36 goals this season; only Buffalo (37) has allowed more.
Also, despite their prolonged drought in 2010-11, the Caps somehow managed to earn a point in 10 of those 12 games (6-2-4).
Streaking – Backstrom has a point (and an assist) in each of his last five games, with a goal and five assists during that span.
Discipline Mismatch – When the Leafs and Caps met last week in Toronto, Washington’s parade to the penalty box started early and was extremely consistent for the game’s first 40 minutes. The Caps faced eight shorthanded situations in that game to just three for the Maple Leafs.
Looking at the small sample of games that are in the books thus far this season, that discrepancy shouldn’t come as a surprise.
It hasn’t helped them yet, but Toronto has been the league’s most disciplined team so far. Coming into Tuesday’s slate of NHL action, the Maple Leafs’ plus-18 special teams differential (47 power plays to just 29 times shorthanded) is far and away the best in the league. The San Jose Sharks are second in that department, and they have just half of Toronto’s differential (plus-9).
As you’d expect, Washington is at the other end of the spectrum. Dallas has the worst differential at minus-17 on the season. Colorado is at minus-15, Ottawa is next worst at minus-9, and then Washington (37 power plays, 44 times shorthanded) is tied with Buffalo and the New York Rangers at 27th in the NHL.
Crooked Number -- The Caps were 2-for-3 on the power play in Tuesday's game. It's the first time this season that Washington has had multiple power-play goals in a game. Including the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Capitals had gone 33 straight games without a multiple power-play goal game.
Tuesday's game against Toronto marks the first time the Caps have scored multiple power-play goals in a regulation loss since a 5-3 setback to the Calgary Flames at Verizon Center on March 28, 2010.
No Second Helping – Washington has been outscored 15-6 in the second period of its 10 games this season. The Capitals have been outshot by a combined 110-70 in the middle stanza this season.
Fatigue No Factor – The Caps are now 0-3 this season when they are the more rested team and are playing against a team that played the previous day or night. All three of those losses have come on home ice.
Firsts – Kundratek recorded his first career NHL point with a pretty primary assist on Johansson’s power-play goal late in the first period.
Midway through the second period, Leafs defenseman Korbinian Holzer victimized Neuvirth for his first NHL goal, a point shot through traffic that nicked off Caps forward Jason Chimera and went between Neuvirth’s legs.
Holzer’s strike proved to be the game-winner.
At Home On The Road – Toronto is now 4-1 on the road this season. Only PIttsburgh (six) and Chicago (six) have authored more road victories than the Maple Leafs.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears were in action on the road Tuesday night, taking on the Lake Erie Monsters in Cleveland. Hershey skated off with a 3-2 shootout win.
Lake Erie drew first blood, taking a 1-0 lead in the first minute of the first period. But Hershey rebounded with an even-strength strike from Mike Carman at 9:19 and a power play tally from Barry Almeida at 15:27 of the first period.
Lake Erie drew even in the second, and the game remained knotted through the third and overtime. The Bears won it in the shootout when Ryan Potulny and Jeff Taffe scored while goaltender Dany Sabourin stopped four of the five shootout bids he faced. Sabourin made 35 stops during the 65 minutes of actual hockey, too.
By The Numbers – Washington is assured of having its first losing record against Toronto since 2003-04 when it went 0-2-2 against the Leafs … Mike Green led the Caps in ice time for the 10th time in as many games this season, skating 27:54 on the night … Poti skated 22:36, the most he has logged since Dec. 11, 2010 against Colorado (22:53) … The Leafs blocked nearly as many shots (22) as the Caps got on sophomore netminder Ben Scrivens (26), led by Holzer’s five.