For most of the last several weeks, the Washington Capitals have played better hockey than the record would indicate. They’ve had several nights in which they’ve played well enough to win, only end up with one or zero points for the effort.
Friday night in Columbus was not one of those nights. The Caps altered the script, turning in a poor performance and getting exactly what they deserved, a 5-1 trouncing at the hands of the host Blue Jackets.
“You have to be ready, 100 percent,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “All the team today – including me – was not ready. It’s shame on us.”
Caps coach Adam Oates echoed those sentiments.
“The biggest frustration,” begins Oates, “my initial reaction would be [we were] mentally not ready. You make mental mistakes, you get in trouble.
“You just can’t let a game get away and be that easy. You can’t. It’s not right. It’s just the way we played. You can’t play like that. It’s bad hockey.”
The Caps looked listless at times, especially in comparison to the Jackets, who were brimming with verve and fire from the opening face-off.
The scoring chances and the territorial play were both fairly even through the first half of the first, but the game took a turn just after the midpoint of that initial frame. Washington’s fourth line was on the ice against Columbus, and both sides were throwing a series of thundering bodychecks. The Jackets’ Corey Tropp went a bit over the line with his hit on Caps’ right wing Tom Wilson, taking a charging call in the process.
Washington had a few seconds with the extra skater on the delayed call, and as soon as the whistle blew, Wilson made a beeline for Tropp. Even though he had 50 more minutes in which to potentially exact some revenge, Wilson bumped Propp into the boards after the whistle. He earned a roughing minor and denied the Caps a power play chance in the process.
Just 24 seconds later, Caps defenseman John Carlson went off for tripping, giving the Jackets a 4-on-3 power play chance for 1:36. Columbus won the ensuing offensive zone draw and commenced to firing. The Jackets’ fourth shot attempt of that power play was a blast from center point from defenseman James Wisniewski, and it whizzed past Caps goaltender Philipp Grubauer at 12:08 to put the Jackets on top 1-0.
Late in the period, the Jackets doubled up their lead. A Washington rush was aborted on a Capitals giveaway at the Columbus line, and the Jackets turned the other way in transition. The Jackets initial shot was from a distance, but the Caps’ coverage down low was poor, giving Columbus two more whacks at the disc. The third time was the charm, as Cam Atkinson chipped it high over Grubauer to make it a 2-0 game with 51.5 seconds left.
“We turned it over and then we didn’t handle the rush,” rues Oates of the Atkinson goal. “They made a drop pass to a player and everybody rushed towards him. That’s mental, that’s not communicating, that’s not going back into your right spot. Guys are over-trying because they panic. That’s just an accumulation of trickle down. That’s all it is. You make a mistake on one end and you over try on the other end to try to figure it out.”
The Jackets scored again early in the second to build a 3-0 lead. R.J. Umberger skated into the Washington end in a 1-on-1 situation with Mike Green. Green kept Umberger from taking a shot, but Umberger was able to hold the puck and pass to Ryan Johansen, the third Jacket to enter the zone. His shot from the slot beat Grubauer through the five-hole, ending the rookie goaltender’s night and making it a 3-1 game at 1:44 of the middle period. Braden Holtby came on in relief of Grubauer at that point, seeing his first action in nearly two weeks (since Jan. 4 at Minnesota).
Washington put a small dent in the Columbus lead at 8:53 of the second when Caps defenseman John Carlson floated a wrister from the right point through a maze of bodies and past Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to make it a 3-1 game.
Columbus opened the door for the Caps when Ryan Murray tripped Caps winger Jason Chimera at 14:22 of the second, but Bobrovsky stopped Alex Ovechkin in a 1-on-1 situation and the Caps were unable to get anything done on an overlapping Columbus minor for too many men on the ice. Washington had a brief two-man advantage of 18 seconds in length.
With seconds left in the second, Caps defenseman Mike Green was called for a ridiculous holding call, and the Jackets started the third period with 1:42 in power play time. Columbus accepted the gift, taking a 4-1 lead on a power play goal from Mark Letestu in the early seconds of the third period. Letestu put his shot in a teacup, over Holtby’s left shoulder and just under the corssbar.
The wheels were already off at that point, but an Ovechkin cross-checking minor in the offensive zone led to another Columbus power play shortly after the Letestu goal, and Atkinson bagged his second of the night to make it a 5-1 game at 4:24 of the third, closing out the scoring for the night.
“The first goal,” says Oates the [power play], we got a [power play] and Willie retaliates, and I know he’s a young kid but he’s got to be smarter. So that’s a mistake and they score a goal. After that, a couple of reads by the defensemen. Purely mental. At the end of the first period we turned it over twice, tired at the end of shifts. And we talked about part of our plan is if you don’t have a play, you’ve got to get it deep and we didn’t. And they score a second goal. Now you’re fighting an uphill battle against a team that’s feeling good about themselves. That’s purely mental, as a group.”
The 500 Club – Caps left wing Martin Erat fed Carlson for Washington’s lone goal of the night, and Erat earned his 500th career point in the process. The point came in Erat’s 772nd career game. Erat’s first NHL point was also an assist, for the Nashville Predators against Calgary on Oct. 11, 2001.
Erat continued his success against the Blue Jackets; he now has 16 goals and 58 points in 60 career games against Columbus.
The 600 Club – Laich played in the 600th game of his NHL career on Friday night, almost a decade shy of the anniversary of his NHL debut. Laich’s first NHL game was the only game he played as a member of the Ottawa Senators and it came on Feb. 3, 2004 against the New Jersey Devils.
First Time Offender – Caps forward Marcus Johansson incurred his first minor penalty of the 2013-14 season when he was sent to the penalty box for hooking at 5:39 of the second period.
Including the last seven games of last season, Johansson had gone 54 straight games without doing time in the penalty box.
Power Outage – Last season, the Caps’ longest power play drought was an 0-for-13 run in midseason. Washington went on to boast the best single-season power play percentage in the league in more than two decades.
The Capitals’ 24.1% extra-man success rate this season is the second-best mark in the NHL, but Washington is now without a power play goal in five straight games for the first time in the 96 games in which Oates has been the team’s head coach. The Caps are 0-for-13 in those five games.
Winter Blahs – The Caps have won only two of eight games (2-3-3) thus far in January. Since its last three-game winning streak (Dec. 7-10), Washington has won only five of 17 games (5-6-6).
Half A Sawbuck South – The 2012-13 Washington Capitals totaled 57 points in a 48-game, lockout-abbreviated campaign. This year’s model has also now played 48 games, and it has managed just 52 points to date (22-18-8).
Last season, the Caps were fourth in the NHL with 146 goals scored and they were 18th with 130 goals against. This season, the Caps are ninth in the circuit with 133 goals scored and they’re 22nd with 140 goals against.
The swing from a plus-16 goal differential in 2012-13 to a minus-7 this season is a net loss of 23 goals.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears were on the road in Syracuse to face the Crunch on Friday night. The Bears wound up on the short end of a 3-2 score.
Chay Genoway scored his second goal of the season and Michael Latta his fourth to account for the Hershey scoring on the night. Goaltender David Leggio stopped 28 of the 31 shots he faced in the game, taking the loss and dropping to 11-12-3-2 on the season.
The Bears are busy this weekend; they head back home to host Bridgeport on Saturday and Albany on Sunday at Giant Center.
The loss leaves the Bears tied with Syracuse for 10th in the AHL’s Eastern Conference standings, three points south of the final Calder Cup playoff spot.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals hosted the Toledo Walleye at Santander Arena on Friday night. Reading got a quick jump on the Walleye and rolled to a 5-2 victory.
Yannick Tifu and T.J. Syner scored for the Royals to make it 2-0 before the game was four minutes old. Syner added what would prove to be the game-winner in the second for his second goal of the night, and Sean Wiles and Domenic Monardo also tallied for Reading. Brandon Anderson made 21 saves in goal to run his record to 9-6-1 on the season.
The Royals play host to the Walleye again on Saturday night at Santander.
The 20-12-1-0 Royals now occupy the top spot in the ECHL’s Atlantic Division standings. Reading is three points clear of second-place Wheeling, and the Royals also have three games in hand on the Nailers.
By The Numbers – Green led the Caps with 22:26 in ice time on the night … Ovechkin led the Caps with seven shots on goal and a dozen shot attempts … Wilson led the Caps with four hits … Karl Alzner led Washington with three blocked shots … Eleven of Washington’s 12 forwards took at least one face-off in the game; only Wilson did not … Columbus was credited with 40 hits in the game to 18 for Washington … Boone Jenner paced the Jackets with eight hits in the game.