Been Caught Stealing – Going into Sunday’s game with the Rangers in New York, the Caps hadn’t had a goaltender steal a game for them yet this season. While that’s still the case after Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the Rangers in Manhattan, Caps goalie Braden Holtby certainly did everything he could to help his team slink out of town with a pair of points.
Holtby played his best game of the season, making 38 saves, including 20 in the first period. He wasn’t beaten until the 30th shot he faced, but the Caps were ultimately undone by their inability to bury some of their own chances.
“He played great,” says Caps left wing Wojtek Wolski of Holtby. “We want to score goals, we want to give him support and we had a ton of chances. We just didn’t capitalize.”
Holtby made 28 saves at even strength, seven on the power play and three strong ones – all from inside 25 feet – in a span of just seven seconds while Washington was on a power play of its own in the first period.
Even on the two stops Holtby didn’t make, there was nothing he could have done. Carl Hagelin got behind the Caps defense and tipped a Ryan McDonagh point shot past Holtby midway through the second to even the game at 1-1 after Washington’s John Carlson had staked the Caps to an early 1-0 lead. Carlson’s goal came on the Caps’ second shot on goal of the game.
Washington took three first-period penalties, giving the Rangers a good deal of momentum although the Caps had the advantage on the scoreboard.
“It makes it so difficult because the team has no rhythm,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “You’ve got some guys who don’t kill penalties who don’t get to play. And you’re using guys in other situations where you’d want to save that energy if possible. And you give them life. We had a 1-0 lead, all of a sudden you give them life. You get their good players on the ice getting touches with the puck. You’ve got to stay out of the box.”
Derek Stepan cashed in on a New York power play early in the third period, and Washington wasn’t able to regain the lead.
For the third straight game, Wolski had multiple strong scoring chances but was unable to convert. Washington had a few good looks on its final power play chance in the third, but wasn’t able to draw even.
An Alex Ovechkin power play shot clicked off the crossbar, and Joel Ward fanned on a one-timer opportunity in the slot.
“It was just a tad in front of me,” says Ward. “I just totally whiffed it, I guess. I saw guys collapsing to the net and I just tried to back out a little bit and give myself some space. I just – for a split second – took my eyes off it when he delivered it. That was one I should have had a good crack at and I just definitely missed it.”
As for Holtby, he downplayed his contributions.
“I felt comfortable,” Holtby says. “Hasn’t been a lot different as it has been in the last few games. When you break it down, I don’t know if we gave up any more scoring chances than we usually do. It was just a lot of shots the first couple of periods. That’s my job, to stay in it and give us a chance to win.”
It was just the fourth time this season the Caps held an opponent to two or fewer goals, and the first time they lost one of those games.
“We talked about it the practice before, that the offense should start from the [defensive] zone and we really didn’t nail it down too hard on them,” says Carlson. “Once we were in their zone, I thought we did a great job. It just didn’t seem like we had much transition and much [offensive] zone time. Obviously Holtsy can only do so much for us back there.”
“Holts played great,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer. “That’s a huge positive. We’ve been needing our goaltenders to really shine for us and Holts did tonight.”
Measuring Stick – Coming into Sunday night’s game against the Rangers, all five of Washington’s wins in the 2012-13 season had come against teams currently below the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
Meanwhile, the Rangers themselves sat in that eighth spot, a season after finishing first overall in the East. While Washington certainly feels it is better than its 5-8-1 record (coming in), the Rangers must also feel they’re better than the 7-5-1 mark they brought on.
The Caps were winners of three straight heading into Sunday’s game while the Rangers were 3-0-1 in their last four. Still mired in the Eastern Conference basement at puck drop, the Caps were hoping to rise to the occasion and extend their winning streak to four against a team many figured would be among the Eastern Conference’s elite this season.
“They play well in their own building,” notes Brouwer of the Rangers. “We know this from last year and in the playoffs. It’s a fun place to play. They feed off the crowd and we feed off the crowd because it’s such a good building.
“Even though we did get on the board early, I thought they had a lot of good push tonight, they had a lot of energy tonight. And then we just had a little bit of trouble trying to get out of our zone with possession to create some offense and get down in their zone. We needed to be a little bit cleaner out there with our passes and our decision-making.”
“I still think we could have played a lot better,” laments Oates. “We obviously did some good things, but we took too many penalties and it ended up costing us. Our penalty-killing has been better, but it ended up still costing us.
“You use a lot of minutes, a lot of guys use a lot of energy killing penalties – Nick [Backstrom] and Troy [Bruwer] – guys that we need at the other end especially. But once again we obviously did some good things. We didn’t give them a lot of chances, they had a lot of shots but a lot of [them were from the] perimeter, not really a lot of Grade A chances. We did some good things, but we still made a lot of mistakes.”
Although the Caps came up short in Sunday’s game, they’ll have some chances to prove they can beat the teams in the Eastern Conference’s top eight. Fourth-place New Jersey provides the opposition for the first two games of Washington’s upcoming three-game homestand. Third-place Carolina follows.
“We’re disappointed that we lost,” says Wolski. “But I think we’ve been playing well. We’ve definitely been moving in the right direction. We’ve been doing the right things. We’ve got to think about it tonight, look at some video and move past it.”
Missing Man – Caps defenseman Mike Green missed Sunday’s game with a lower body injury suffered in Thursday’s 4-3 win over the Lightning in Tampa Bay. Green has averaged 26:33 in ice time per game this season, with 19:54 of that coming at even strength. Both of those figures rank Green in the league’s top 10 among defensemen.
Tom Poti stepped into the lineup in Green’s absence, but he logged just 9:46 on the night. Rookie blueliner Tomas Kundratek was the biggest benefactor of Green’s absence. Kundratek skated 23:25 on the night, including a team-high 18:56 at even strength.
Prior to Sunday’s game, Kundratek had averaged just 13:06 in his 13-game NHL career with a single-game high of 16:26 on Feb. 9 against Florida.
“I thought he did a good job,” says Oates of Kundratek’s night. “It’s a tough environment. You bump up, it’s the New York Rangers, Madison Square Garden; it’s a lot of minutes, a lot of responsibility and obviously a great opportunity for him learning curve-wise.
“We’d still rather have Greenie in the lineup, but that happens to every team.”
Green is day-to-day. With Sunday’s game being the only one for Washington in the span of six days, the Caps hope Green will be ready to go when New Jersey visits the District on Thursday.
F-16 – Caps winger Eric Fehr keeps on rolling. He assisted on Carlson’s first-period goal, hitting the post with a shot of his own just seconds before the goal. With the point, Fehr now has recorded a point in each of four straight games (three goals, three assists) for the first time since a five-game run (four goals, one assist) with the Caps from March 14-24, 2010.
Fehr also drew a second-period slashing call on New York’s J.T. Miller. Fehr finished the night with 16:12 in ice time, the most he has had in an NHL game since he skated 16:56 in a game at Ottawa on Dec. 19, 2010.
Fehr’s 14:48 of even-strength ice time was tops among all Washington forwards in Sunday’s game.
Streaks Stopped – The Caps’ three-game winning streak came to a halt, as did Washington’s streak of six straight games with a power play goal. The Caps had eight minutes worth of power-play time in Sunday’s game, and they fired a total of 15 shots toward New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist, getting nine of them on net.
Six of Washington’s nine power-play shots on goal came from captain Alex Ovechkin; he had one shot at even strength. Carlson had two power-play shots on net and Mathieu Perreault had one.
First Not Always Best – For the sixth straight road game, Washington scored the game’s first goal. The Caps are 2-4 in those games, and they are now 2-5-1 on the road this season.
Power Poor – New York came into Sunday’s game with a struggling power-play unit that ranked dead last in the NHL with a 10.4 extra-man conversion rate. The Rangers cashed in on the fourth of their five power-play chances in Sunday’s game, an iffy tripping call on Caps defenseman Karl Alzner at 4:18 of the third period.
New York won the offensive zone draw, made a series of strong passes and finished with Derek Stepan’s back door tap-in just seven seconds after Alzner’s penalty started.
Caps Killer – Rangers forward Rick Nash is in his first season in the Eastern Conference, but even in sporadic appearances against Washington over the years he has proven to be a Caps killer.
Nash made a play that helped lead to the first New York goal – he was credited with the second assist – and he made a great play on the game-winning power-play goal, but the Caps managed to keep him from lighting the lamp. Nash skated 22:33 on the night, firing eight shots on net.
For his career, he has seven goals and 13 points in 10 games against Washington.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears were on the road in Rochester on Sunday, taking on the Americans at Blue Cross Arena. Hershey skated off with a 4-1 victory thanks to a 35-save effort in nets from Philipp Grubauer.
Ryan Potulny scored a shorthanded goal (his eighth goal of the season) just 26 seconds into the second period to stake the Bears to a 1-0 lead. Just under five minutes later, Ryan Stoa doubled the Hershey advantage with his eighth of the season.
Rochester halved its deficit on a power play near the midpoint of the third period, but Hershey got third-period goals from Boyd Kane (11th) and Garrett Mitchell (10th) to enable the Bears to cruise to a pair of points. Peter LeBlanc had a pair of helpers for Hershey.
Hershey is tied for seventh in the Eastern Conference standings with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals took a 4-3 decision from the Elmira Jackals at Soverign Center on Saturday night. Reading got a pair of goals from Ian O’Connor and singles from Stanislav Galiev and Yannick Tifu to support the 26-save efforts of Sergey Kostenko in goal.
Reading remains in first place in the ECHL’s Eastern Conference standings, six points ahead of second-place Cincinnati.
By The Numbers – This was the first Washington game this season with fewer than five goals scored by both teams, the longest such stretch the Caps have had since Bruce Boudreau was behind the Washington bench … Carlson led all skaters on both sides with 26:15 in ice time … Carlson and Ovechkin combined to take 22 of the 51 shots Washington attempted in the game, and the duo accounted for 12 of the Caps’ total of 28 shots on goal … Carlson and John Erskine led the Capitals with three blocked shots each … Backstrom won 12 of 18 draws (67%) … The Caps were outhit 34-22 … Ryan Callahan led the Rangers with six hits and six blocked shots.