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Caps' Offense Goes Cold on Road

December 31, 2013

Limiting the opposition to three goals (excluding empty-netters) in a span of two games should produce good results for NHL teams, but that was not the case for the Washington Capitals on their just-concluded two-game trip up north.


Facing a pair of Atlantic Division teams currently ranked among the bottom three in that division, the Caps went cold offensively in the frigid weather and they’ll return home with just one point on the journey after Monday’s 3-1 loss to the Senators in Ottawa.


Despite matching a season high with 50 shots on goal on Sunday against the Sabres in Buffalo, the Caps tumbled to a 2-1 shootout loss to the Sabres. Caps goaltender Philipp Grubauer stopped 16 of 17 shots against the Sabres and had the answer for 35 of the 37 shots he faced in Ottawa on Monday. But for the second straight night, Washington was only good for one goal of its own, this time firing 35 shots on the Ottawa net.


On Monday, Ottawa’s Craig Anderson made 34 saves against the Caps.


“I thought it was a little more of an even game than last night,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “Both teams played well. We need to get some more traffic in front of the goalie on some of the shots. We had some really good chances, especially in the second period. [Mikhail Grabovski] breakaway, [Troy Brouwer] right after, guys in alone, [Joel Ward] misses a tip and [Anderson] made some great saves.


“He stood tall. He’s had a good week. He played good earlier in the week. He played great tonight and we just couldn’t figure out a way to get it by him.”


The Caps got off to a quick start in Monday’s game, taking a 1-0 lead on Ward’s 12th goal of the season at the 2:11 mark of the first period. The play started with a smart pinch by Caps defenseman Karl Alzner at the left point. From there, Jason Chimera and Martin Erat made a pair of exchanges down low and Erat fed Ward in the slot. With his back to the net and Ottawa’s Mika Zibanejad covering him closely, the big right wing put a backhander just inside the left post to give Washington an early lead.


The Capitals had the better of the territorial advantage for the first several minutes of the game, but the Sens soon turned the tide with the help of a couple of power play chances.


Ottawa pulled even at 13:49 of the first on a 2-on-1 rush that resulted when Washington lost possession of the puck near its own blueline. Cory Conacher and Zibanejad took off on the rush with Mike Green as the only Capital defender back. Zibanejad passed to Conacher who passed right back, and Zibanejad finished the tic-tac-toe play by tapping the puck into a vacant net to make it a 1-1 game.


The first of Washington’s two power-play opportunities on the night came with a minute left in the first period and the second half of that advantage carried over into the first minute of the middle period. The Caps managed two shots on net and one miss during the man-advantage.


Ottawa broke the deadlock early in the second, taking a lead it would not relinquish.


Bobby Ryan collected the puck in the Ottawa end and skated up the left side. He floated a perfect backhand pass to Kyle Turris, who drove right down the center lane between Green and John Erskine, quickly getting behind both defenders.  At the end of a shift nearly two minutes in length, Green hacked Turris’ glove, but the Ottawa forward shook it off, deked and scored to make it a 2-1 game at 3:14 of the second.


“The second one there we had a bad line change and they spun their guy through the middle,” says Green. “Bad luck there with the line change. The first one, they made a good play, 2-on-1. [Conacher] made a good play to pass it back and they got a goal.”


Aside from the Turris tally, Washington played a strong second and had several Grade A scoring chances, but was never able to net the equalizer. Grabovski had a breakaway chance in the second, but didn’t get much on his backhand bid. Almost immediately, he set up linemate Brouwer for a great one-timer look from the shot, but Brouwer’s shot whistled wide.


Brouwer had a couple good looks from the diamond on Washington’s second and final power play chance of the night in the third period, but Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson made glove stops on both of those shots. Eric Fehr had a good chance in the game’s waning seconds, but Anderson made the stop on that one as well.


“Tonight we had a lot of chances,” says Green. “Brouw had a couple in the slot, Fehrsie had that one at the end. They just weren’t going in. That could be the difference in the game.”


Ottawa finished the Caps off in the final minute when Clarke MacArthur scored into an empty Washington net to account for the 3-1 final.


“Obviously we have great chances to score the goals again, but we didn’t,” rues Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “[We hit] crossbars, the post and [Anderson] makes a good save. Of course when you make the goalie hot, he’s going to play hot. He’s a great goalie but we gave up lots of chances and gave them a pretty goal.”


Empty-netter aside, the Caps have now limited the opposition to two or fewer goals in three straight games for the first time since the first four games of November. Washington went 4-0 in those four games, but the Caps are just 1-1-1 in their current three-game run because they’ve scored five goals of their own in the last three games.


“Even strength lately has been pretty decent,” says Oates. “Obviously you’re looking for more. And every team is grinding every single night.


“It was a very close game. Second period we had our chances to get a couple of goals but we didn’t. And then we gave them one and it was an uphill battle for the third period and we just couldn’t get it done.”


Dry Gulch – Monday night marked the Caps’ 40th game of the season and this is the second time in the 2013-14 campaign that Washington has scored a combined total of two or fewer goals in a span of two games.


The Caps suffered a 4-0 loss to Pittsburgh on Nov. 20 and a 3-2 setback to Montreal two nights later, both of those games coming at Verizon Center.


Ovechkin is now without a goal in four straight games for the first time since a four-game drought from Feb. 26-March 5. Four games without a goal was his longest dry spell of last season. The last time Ovechkin went as many as five games without lighting the lamp was a five-game gap from Nov. 26-Dec. 5, 2011, a spell that began with Bruce Boudreau’s final game as Washington’s head coach.


Goaltending Squandered – The Caps have surrendered a combined total of three or fewer goals (excluding empty-netters) over a span of two straight games for the fourth time this season, but the one point they managed in these two games is the fewest they’ve pulled from any of the previous sets.


Washington lost 2-0 to the New York Rangers on Oct. 16 at Verizon Center but followed that game with a 4-1 win over Columbus, also on home ice. The Caps put together a 7-0 win in Philadelphia on Nov. 1 consecutively with a 3-2 shootout victory the next night in the District over the Florida Panthers. And the Caps had a 5-2 home ice win over Nashville on Dec. 7 followed with a 4-1 win over the Rangers in New York.

The Caps went 18-2-1 last season when limiting the opposition to two or fewer goals. Washington is 15-3-2 in such games this season.


Twenty For Forty – Washington has won half (20) of its 40 games this season, with only a dozen of those wins coming in regulation. The Caps have 45 points on the season and are one game shy of the halfway mark of the 2013-14 campaign.


Only once all season (Dec. 7-8) have the Capitals managed to piece together consecutive victories in regulation.


Not Happy – Near the midpoint of the first period, Ottawa winger Chris Neil delivered what Ovechkin perceived to be a hit to the head to the Washington captain. Ovechkin launched into a rant against the game’s officials after the contest, doing so without any prompting from the media.


“To be honest with you,” begins Ovechkin, “tonight I think both teams play well but four guys out there didn’t do their job. I think they started celebrating New Year’s [Eve] too early, right before the game. They didn’t see head shot on Neil against me. I fell on the ice and it’s embarrassing to see.”


Neil may have suffered an injury on the play; he did not return to the game thereafter and his night ended with just three shifts totaling 3:02 in ice time.


“He just hit me straight up in the chin,” says Ovechkin. “I think that’s why he left the game. It was a I think a bad hit and I think the league has to look at it.”


Six Pack Of Setbacks – The Caps have now dropped six straight meetings with the Senators, and they’ve been held to two or fewer goals in five of those six games. Washington is 0-5-1 in its last six games against the Sens and it has been outscored by a combined total of 22-10 in the process.


“I think other than today,” says Alzner, “I think normally their speed through the neutral zone and their cycle game has really gotten us. We really paid a lot of attention to it, we looked at video, we talked about it so we would be ready for it as much as possible. And I think we were better at it tonight.


“But they come out hot, they come out with a lot of speed, Anderson has played great games against us. It’s fun to play them because it’s always a pretty intense game but I don’t know what it is that we can’t seem to crack them.”


The last time the Caps defeated the Senators was on Dec. 7, 2011 in Ottawa, the first road win in Dale Hunter’s tenure as the Washington bench boss. Washington has defeated every other team in the Eastern Conference at least once since then.


“Sometimes throughout the league you play teams that know how to play you and have the upper hand on the stats sheet,” explains Green. “But we really needed these two points and we’re obviously disappointed at falling short so we’ve got to work that much harder to win these next few games.”


Back-To-Back – The Caps are now 3-2-2 thus far this season in the back end of games on successive nights. Washington has 10 more sets of back-to-back games ahead this season, including four in the month of January.


Helping Hands – Although he is still seeking his first goal of the season and now has just one goal in his last 65 games dating back to last season, Erat now has six assists in his last seven games.


Erat has 15 assists on the season, with 13 of those coming at even-strength. Only Grabovski (14) has more even-strength helpers among all Caps forwards.


By The Numbers – John Carlson led the Caps with 24:42 in ice time … Ovechkin led the Capitals with seven shots on goal and nine shot attempts … Ovechkin and Brouwer paced the Caps with six hits each … Nicklas Backstrom led the Caps with three blocked shots … Erik Karlsson led the Senators with 29:42 in ice time … Ottawa defenseman Jared Cowen was the only Sens skater who did not register at least one shot on goal in the game … Zibanejad and Turris paced Ottawa with five shots on goal each … Colin Greening led the way for Ottawa with five hits.