Just two days after scoring half a dozen goals in a 6-5 triumph over the Detroit Red Wings, the Washington Capitals shot nothing but blanks in a 1-0 loss to the New York Islanders – the cellar-dwelling team in the Metropolitan Division – on Tuesday night at Verizon Center.
The win halted New York’s losing streak at five and it left Washington with just six wins in its last 22 games (6-10-6).
Veteran Isles netminder and longtime Capitals nemesis Evgeni Nabokov notched his third career shutout over the Capitals, stopping all 22 shots he faced on the night.
“He played well for us,” says Islanders coach Jack Capuano of Nabokov. “He made some big saves, obviously, on their power play but again I thought with all the power plays they had, we still held them under 24, 25 shots.
“I thought we defended real well. I thought we were structured tonight, and again, the guys played hard. We’ve been playing hard and haven’t been getting the results, but they deserved it.”
Islanders blueliner Andrew MacDonald notched the game’s only goal, a short side strike through a screen from the right point at 2:16 of the third period, his fourth goal of the season.
Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth deserved a better fate; he was frequently brilliant in stopping 27 of the 28 shots sent in his direction. Neuvirth robbed the Islanders on more than one occasion, and he also stopped a Michael Grabner penalty shot bid midway through the third period that kept the Capitals within a goal.
“I felt good,” says Neuvirth. “That’s how it goes sometimes. Last game, I let five in and we still one. Today, one goal against and we lose. But that’s hockey.”
The Capitals were unable to convert on six power play chances in the game, including two in the third period. Washington’s passing and puck management were particularly poor while it was on the man advantage, enabling the Islanders to record nearly as many shots on goal (five) while the Caps were on the power play as the Capitals themselves managed (seven).
“I guess our execution wasn’t very good,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “And then there were a couple of times in the third [period] where we saw guys with speed and we go to make the play and [the Islanders] got a stick on it. We were seeing the plays but we weren’t quite executing them the way we’d like to. It probably could have been the difference in the game; maybe give us a few more good rushes offensively.”
Washington fanned or partially fanned on several strong scoring chances with the extra man and wasn’t able to test Nabokov consistently at even strength, either.
The Capitals’ forays into the Islanders’ end of the ice were all too frequently of the “one and done” variety; rarely were the Caps able to apply any sustained pressure on the New York defense – the league’s least experienced blueline corps – or Nabokov.
“I think what it proves is you can’t worry about goals,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “You’ve got to worry about your own end. We turned it over too many times. We gave them a little bit of life. [We lacked] discipline with the penalties. You’ve got to be a defensive team. It’s amazing how when you play good defense how you get chances.”
As they’ve done too frequently of late, the Caps were also guilty of taking too many penalties. Washington put itself shorthanded five times in the game, including twice in the waning seconds of a power play of its own.
“We just have to stay out of the penalty box,” laments Caps forward Eric Fehr. “We’ve been doing this to ourselves for the past two weeks. Takes the momentum right out of the game. I thought we had a great first period. I thought we outplayed them in the first and then we find ourselves in the box for the rest of the game and you can’t get anything going.”
The Capitals are now 0-9-3 in the last 12 games in which they’ve been shorthanded four or more times.
With the game on the line in the third period, the Caps managed only two shots on net in their two power play opportunities, and only four shots on goal at even strength. In the game’s final 10:32, Washington could not muster a single even-strength shot on goal, and its’ only shot on goal of any type during that span was a 58-foot bid from Alex Ovechkin that came on a power play with exactly three minutes remaining.
Two days after taking a 6-5 overtime decision from the Red Wings, the Caps are once again without any momentum to take into the next game, a Thursday night tilt against Winnipeg. The Jets have won nine of their last 11.
As for the Capitals, they are nearly two months removed from their last winning streak of three games (Dec. 7-10), and it has been more than two months since their longest winning streak of the season, a four-game spree at the beginning of November.
“It’s more frustrating than you know,” says Alzner of the team’s inability to put together winning streaks this season. “It’s nice to string a few together and have everybody feeling good. That’s when guys start scoring lots of goals and guys get going on point streaks and all that kind of stuff; goalies get confidence. You can play a bad game personally and the team wins the game and you forget about it pretty easily.
“If we want to put ourselves in a position to play some postseason hockey, we’ve got to string a few together. You can’t just win one and lose one the rest of the way.”
The Caps now find themselves in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division standings and they’re 13th in the 16-team Eastern Conference. Although they remain only three points shy of the final Stanley Cup playoff berth in the conference, the Capitals have five teams to climb over and only 25 games remaining in which to get it done.
“That’s unfortunate,” says Laich of the Capitals’ inability to muster much momentum from game to game, in the form of a winning streak of any significance. “You score six goals on Sunday and you come up with a goose egg tonight.
“So far this season I don’t think we’ve been able to put together a six-, seven- or eight-game streak which gives you a little breathing room in the standings and that’s why we’re in a fight right now. Certainly this is one that’s going to hurt. But we’ve got no choice. We’ve got to move forward. We’ve got two games before the break and we’ve got to have them both.”
Seven Down – Washington has now lost seven consecutive games against Metropolitan Division opponents (0-6-1), and it has been outscored by a combined 25-11 in those seven games.
Each of the Capitals’ last six losses to a divisional opponent has come in regulation. Washington’s last win over a fellow Metropolitan Division denizen was a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers at Verizon Center on Dec. 27.
Minute Man – Caps defenseman John Carlson might be looking forward to the Olympics just so he can relax a bit. For the fourth straight game, Carlson logged at least 28 minutes of ice time in Tuesday’s contest. Those four games have been played in a span of just six nights. It’s difficult to envision him shouldering that heavy of a workload when he heads to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games next week.
Carlson is now tied for 15th in the league in average ice time per night at 24:46. He logged a lot of special teams duty on Tuesday as well. Carlson’s 8:05 in power play ice time on Tuesday was second only to Ovechkin’s 9:23 among all Capitals, and Carlson was on the ice for 5:14 of Washington’s total of 8:15 in shorthanded ice time on the night. No other Caps skater logged as much as four minutes in shorthanded ice time.
With an average of 4:02 in shorthanded ice time per game, Carlson ranks second in the NHL. He trails only Philadelphia’s Braydon Coburn (4:03).
Tuesday night was Carlson’s 271st consecutive game, matching a 21-year-old Capitals franchise record for defensemen held by Calle Johansson, now a Washington assistant coach.
Someone Had To Lose – With his win over Washington on Tuesday, Nabokov runs his career record against Washington to 13-2-3. He owns a 2.19 career GAA and a .923 save pct. against the Capitals.
At the other end of the ice, Neuvirth suffered his first-ever career setback at the hands of the Islanders. He is now 5-1-0 with a 1.71 GAA and a .938 save pct. in seven career appearances (six starts) against New York.
Home Is No Help – The Capitals have won just three of their last 10 games (3-3-4) at Verizon Center and they’ve scored two or fewer goals in half of those games.
Tuesday’s game marks the fourth time this season that Washington has been blanked in its own barn. The last time the Caps suffered more home ice whitewashings in one season was in 1975-76 when they were blanked five times at the Capital Centre in Landover. That was the second season of the franchise’s existence.
The club mark for most times being shutout on home ice was set during the franchise’s maiden voyage in 1974-75 when nine of its dozen shutout defeats came at the Capital Centre.
Three Or Bust – As was pointed out in Tuesday’s Noon Number on JapersRink.com, the Caps simply don’t win low-scoring games. Washington is now 0-19-5 this season when it fails to score three goals, and it is the only team in the league that has failed to win under those circumstances in 2013-14.
Dating back to the start of last season, Washington is now 1-35-7 when it fails to score more than two goals in a game. Oh, and shootout goals don’t count.
You’ll Get Nothing And Like It – For the first time in 57 Washington games this season, Tuesday’s tilt was scoreless on both sides after 40 minutes of play.
By The Numbers – Ovechkin tied for the team lead in shots on net for the night with three and he paced the Caps with 10 shot attempts … Ovechkin’s 24:56 ice time figure in Tuesday’s game is the most he has logged in any 60-minute (regulation) game this season … Carlson, Casey Wellman and Nicklas Backstrom each had three shots on net as well. Wellman managed to get three shots on net in just 7:47 of work on the night … Alzner led the Capitals with four hits … Carlson and John Erskine led the Caps with four blocked shots each … Cal Clutterbuck led New York with seven hits in the contest.