The Capitals failed to build any sort of positive momentum off of their win against Edmonton by following it up with a disastrous showing against the New York Rangers. Washington’s 2-0 loss Wednesday night at Verizon Center demonstrated the flaws in its game, particularly in the defensive zone, and left the team searching for more at even strength once again.
With the loss to New York, the Capitals are guaranteed to finish this homestand with a losing record, and at 2-5-0 they’re far from having the type of positive start this year that they were looking for.
Five thoughts on the Capitals’ loss:
1. Five-on-threes. When Anton Stralman and then Taylor Pyatt received hooking minors in quick succession, the Capitals had a 55-second five-on-three in the first period. It was the perfect opportunity for Washington to take an initial lead and assert themselves in the contest. That’s not how things played out.
The Capitals recorded two shots on goal during the two-man advantage but saw Alex Ovechkin’s stick break and had Joel Ward whiff on a prime backdoor opportunity. New York killed off both penalties, which at that early stage of the game maybe shouldn’t hold as much sway over the contest as it did. With the Capitals struggling to generate anything at even strength failed power play chances carry more weight.
“We still have plenty of time to regroup and make a difference but we didn’t,” Ovechkin said. “They score 4-on-4 winning goal and we try to put pressure on them but we didn’t.”
Where the missed opportunities become interesting is that the Capitals have played 2:21 with a two-man advantage this season but have yet to score a goal five-on-three. The Capitals had some of the same issues last year. They owned the league’s best power play (26.8 percent) and recorded 41 five-on-four goals but they were 1-for-7 five-on-three with 7:57 of ice time in that situation. While the usual five-on-four power play functions like clockwork, the two-man advantage drought seems counterintuitive.
“We had an empty net there, we didn’t put it in,” Coach Adam Oates said. “We had a couple good chances. Sometimes you get a little too cute, you don’t want to make a dirty play. But we made a great play there [on Ward’s attempt], if it goes in it’s a different game.”
2. Ranger woes. After being shutout by New York for a third consecutive game, dating back to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last spring and having Henrik Lundqvist stop each of the past 84 shots he’s faced from them, the Capitals likely can’t wait long enough to see the Rangers again.
For as much as they’ve struggled, the Rangers had four days between games before visiting Washington and likely used the opportunity to shore up their game. Or maybe playing a very familiar foe helped their cause. Either way, Wednesday night’s contest was far from a constructive outing for the Capitals as they struggled to tread water in their own zone against the Blueshirts.
3. “Defensively, it’s like a fire drill in there.” Karl Alzner described the chaos that consumed Washington’s own zone best. Turnovers, failed clearing attempts, missed assignments, inability to recover — you name the mistake and it probably happened in the Capitals defensive zone play Wednesday night.
For as much as the lack of even strength goals is a problem for the Capitals, creating more offense starts from strong play in their own end. It’s tough to manufacture scoring chances when stuck behind the defensive blueline.
“I talked going out for the third that we’ve got to take care of our own end better and we do,” Coach Adam Oates said. “Obviously, we want to score, we want to get down the ice but until we cross the blueline we can’t.”
More on the defensive problems a little later today.
4. Rotating D pairs. As the contest wore on Oates shook up his defensive pairings, using Nate Schmidt alongside Mike Green in the former’s third NHL game. He also reunited Alzner and John Carlson as a unit and found rotating time for Steve Oleksy. Alex Urbom saw his ice time diminish the most in the third, when he skated only four shifts for a total of 2:54.
Of the trio of inexperience blueliners in the mix, Schmidt finished with the highest ice time at 20:01 while Oleksy and Urbom clocked in at 15:13 and 14:30 respectively. Schmidt’s mark was only seven seconds behind Carlson for the second-highest ice time among the team’s defensemen. (Green led in that category, as he usually does with 26:02.
While Oates was certainly looking for anything that might improve what was, by then, a rough night for the defense it will be interesting to see if any of the altered pairings stick for Saturday’s game against Columbus. The coaching staff split up Alzner and Carlson to provide balance last year. This year they might need to see if the pair can reprise their collective role as a shut down pair.
5. Tom Wilson. The rookie winger played his lowest ice time of the season so far with only 5:26 against the Rangers. Oates told reporters Wednesday morning that the team will make a decision on whether to keep Wilson beyond the nine games he can play before this year counts against his entry level contract before leaving for their four-game road trip next Monday.
He showed his willingness to drop the gloves once again when he fought Justin Falk in the first period, but at this stage it’s already apparent Wilson knows how to hold his own in a fight. The looming question is whether such limited ice time – the most he’s played in any single game is 8:02 against Edmonton – will stunt his development into the top-six power forward the Capitals want him to become.
Unless there are injuries it seems unlikely that Wilson will see significantly more ice time in the near future. So are fourth line minutes enough to keep pushing Wilson’s progression forward? Or would it make him more of an NHL ‘survivor’, as General Manager George McPhee likes to call it, rather than someone who thrives in the league?