Lost Weekend -- For the second time in as many meetings with the New York Rangers this season, the Caps jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in Sunday’s game on a goal from a blueliner. But for the second time in as many games, Washington was unable to add any offense to that early lead and it suffered its second loss to the Rangers in as many games this season, this one a 4-1 defeat at Verizon Center.
Caps defenseman Steve Oleksy notched his first NHL goal at 2:16 of the first period to put the Caps on top. Washington had some decent chances in the first and the Caps enjoyed periods of offensive-zone domination in the second period, but by then the game was knotted at 1-1 courtesy of a fortuitous bounce off the skate of Caps goaltender Braden Holtby.
Midway through the second period, an odd series of events turned the game in New York’s favor. As the Rangers cycled the puck in the Washington end, the Caps were whistled for a delayed tripping penalty on captain Alex Ovechkin. New York goaltender Martin Biron went to the bench in favor of a sixth attacker, and before the Caps could gain possession of the puck, New York’s Brian Boyle pumped home his first goal of the season to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead.
But there was more. Ovechkin was also called for a second infraction for holding by the other referee later in the same sequence. So in addition to Boyle’s goal, the Rangers were also given the man advantage on the second Ovechkin minor. Forty-one seconds after Ovechkin was seated in the penalty box, Ryan Callahan deflected a Rick Nash shot past Holtby to make it 3-1.
“The outside ref had the original call on Alex, which is the one I saw,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “And they said that he held the guy 10 seconds later, which obviously watching the tape, he didn’t. I thought maybe they made a mistake there.”
Oates pulled Holtby in favor of Michal Neuvirth at that point, but New York already had more than enough offense to win it. Brad Richards scored in the game’s penultimate minute to account for the 4-1 final score.
For the ninth time in 13 regulation losses, the game-winning goal and/or the goal that put the opposition ahead to stay came as the result of a Washington penalty. The Caps have spent 87 minutes and 17 seconds killing penalties this season, fifth most in the NHL.
After putting together a modest three-game winning streak, the Caps went without a point this weekend, losing both weekend games as a direct result of penalties.
“We shot ourselves again with the penalties,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer. “They scored on a delayed penalty and then again right away on the power play."
Both of Washington's losses this weekend came as a direct result of extra-man tallies from the opposition that broke open tied games.
“It’s frustrating," says Brouwer. "It shows you how dependent this league is with the power play and how games are changed as a result of special teams. The nights where we’re out-chancing them with power plays, those are the nights that we’re winning. When we’re parading to the box all the time, we don’t have a hope. Every team’s power play is good, whether they’re 25th in the league or third in the league. It’s still a good power play. Teams have good guys and skilled guys on every one of their power plays. They’re going to make it hurt.”
Two-Man Trouble – The Caps have been victimized for five 5-on-3 goals against in 24 games this season, tied with Winnipeg for the most in the NHL. On the other side of that coin, the Caps have scored just one 5-on-3 power-play goal of their own this season, that’s tied for 17th in the NHL. Five teams have none.
Down 3-1 late in the second period of Sunday’s game, the Caps had a two-man advantage for 31 seconds. They called their timeout, won the ensuing offensive-zone draw and generated some strong looks and scoring chances, but were unable to cash in on the two-man opportunity that could have put them back in the contest.
“We had some good looks,” says Brouwer. “we weren’t able to get anything to go. We had a lot of good chances. I had a couple in front, [joel Ward] had a back-door stuff, Ovi had a few shots. Things just didn’t work themselves out for us tonight.”
“Obviously we need the power play to score one on the 5-on-3,” says Oates. “ We had a couple of chances to make it 2-0 and we didn’t.”
First Goal – Oleksy scored his first NHL goal on Sunday against the Rangers and Biron, doing so in his fourth NHL contest. The 27-year-old Michigan native has recorded at least a point in three of his first four NHL contests, and he joins Tomas Kundratek as the second Capitals defenseman to notch his first NHL goal in less than a week.
“I don’t score a lot of goals, so every one is nice,” says Oleksy. “To get that one out of the way helps a lot, but at the end of the day we were looking for two points and we were unable to get that.”
Kundratek beat Boston’s Tuukka Rask for his first NHL marker in a Tuesday game against the Bruins at Verizon Center.
Back In The Saddle Again – Caps center Marcus Johansson was back in the lineup on Sunday against New York after more than a month on the sidelines because of an upper body injury. Prior to Sunday, Johansson hadn’t played since a Feb. 7 game against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.
Johansson picked up an assist – his first of the season – on Oleksy’s goal, and he logged 15:12 in ice time for the day.
“I thought he was one of our best players,” says Oates of Johansson’s game on Sunday. “Maybe that hit on training camp really did affect him, because that looked like what I saw on tape [from previous seasons].”
Three G Network – When Neuvirth entered the game in relief of Holtby in the second, he became the third Caps’ goaltender in a span of 24 hours. Rookie goalie Philipp Grubauer made his first NHL start in New York against the Islanders on Saturday, making 40 saves in a 5-2 Washington loss.
Neuvirth’s Sunday appearance was his first since Feb. 7.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears hosted the Binghamton Senators at Giant Center on Sunday, suffering an excruciating 3-2 regulation loss in the game’s final seconds.
A day after starting for the Caps on Long Island, Grubauer started for Hershey on Sunday. He made 27 saves and got offensive support from Peter LeBlanc and Casey Wellwood, but Hershey’s 2-1 lead evaporated late. Binghamton got a power-play goal from Shane Prince with 3:37 left in the third and the Sens won it on Derek Grant’s tally at 19:57 of the third.
The Bears were pointless on the weekend.
Defenseman Dmitry Orlov played for the second time in as many nights after missing three months with an upper body injury. He picked up an assist in Sunday’s game.
The 28-24-3-5 (64 points) Bears have lost three straight and are tied for seventh in the AHL’s Eastern Conference standings with the Connecticut Whale. In the rear view mirror, Albany and Manchester (63 points each), Worcester (61) and Norfolk (59) are all within striking distance.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals took a 3-1 road decision in Elmira on Sunday. T.J. Syner scored twice and Nikita Kashirsky added a solo tally to support the 21-save efforts of Riley Gill in the Reading nets.
The 39-18-3-3 Royals are now second in the ECHL’s Eastern Conference, three points behind torrid Cincinnati.
By The Numbers – Nicklas Backstrom won all 14 face-offs he took in Sunday’s game … John Carlson led the Capitals with 26:49 in ice time … Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer led the Caps with four shots on goal each … Oleksy and Brouwer each had four hits to top the Capitals … Carlson paced the Caps with five blocked shots … Callahan led the Rangers with five hits … Dan Girardi led the Blueshirts with five blocked shots.