Five thoughts on the Capitals’ loss to the Islanders

February 5

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The Capitals lost again last night, this time 1-0 to the New York Islanders, continuing their inability to build any kind of game-to-game momentum this season or triumph in a low-scoring game.

Five thoughts on the loss to the Islanders.

1. Powerless. The Capitals’ power play has been generally reliable this season, but over the past several weeks that steady stream of offense has been far more intermittent. Take Tuesday when Washington went 0 for 6 on the power play against an Islanders squad that entered the contest with a league-worst penalty kill. (Thanks to those six kills the Islanders moved up to 29th in the league shorthanded with a 77.6 percent  effectiveness rate.)

Washington mustered only seven shots on 10 minutes 27 seconds of power-play time, featured several prominent whiffs and misses on outstanding looks. (Consider, also, that the Islanders had five shorthanded shots several of which were quality chances.)

The Capitals cut two of those power plays short by taking penalties themselves – more on the penalty problem later today – but for a team that has spent the bulk of the season leaning on its power play over 10 minutes should be enough to generate more than what they did Tuesday night. On their last two man advantages, which both offered opportunities to tie the game in the third period the Capitals fired only two shots on goal.

“A lot of turnovers – especially the last couple,” Coach Adam Oates said of the power play. “We had a couple chances early, and then we got away from some of the simple plays, simple reads.”

It’s not so much the one game that is cause for concern, but over the last 19 games the Capitals’ power play has gone without a goal 13 times. In that same span the unit is 10 for 66 for a hardly flattering 15.2 percent conversion rate.

2. Divisional failings. The Capitals haven’t won a division game since Dec. 27. Sit back and think about that. A month and nine days have passed since they last were able to defeat a Metropolitan Division opponent and they’re 0-6-1 in the seven such contests they’ve played since then.

They’ve lost to six of the seven other teams in the division in that span – Philadelphia is the only one they have not faced since this streak began. Of the defeats four were one-goal losses: a 4-3 overtime defeat to Carolina on Jan. 2; a 4-3 loss in Pittsburgh on Jan. 17; a 2-1 loss on Jan. 24 in New Jersey and Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat to the Islanders. The others were of the lopsided variety and include three of the ugliest losses of the season: the 5-1 drubbing by Columbus on Jan. 19, falling 4-1 to the Rangers on Jan. 21 and then a nearly repeat performance in Columbus, 5-2, on Jan. 30.

The Capitals need wins against any and all opponents right now, but their extended run of futility within the division isn’t doing them any favors. All but one of those teams (Islanders) are currently ahead of them either by points or tie-breaks in the race for a playoff spot. They will have one more game against a Metropolitan opponent before the Olympic break, Saturday when they host the New Jersey Devils.

3. Orlov is the new Green? Over the years much has been written about Mike Green’s life as a target for opposing teams by myself and others. Teams are sure to finish heavy, forceful checks against him and on some occasions they will go looking for him – watch Green take a shift against the Rangers over the last four years and you’ll be watching New York’s forwards all but seek to demolish him with their forecheck.

Green has missed three straight games with a concussion and isn’t likely to play again before the Olympic break, but Tuesday night the Islanders appeared to find a replacement for that level of physical contact in Dmitry Orlov. The young defenseman was hit solidly at least half a dozen times Tuesday night. Oates seemed to dismiss the notion that the Islanders deliberately targeted Orlov and that the blueliner was simply a victim of circumstance.

“We mentioned to the defensemen all night long the guys you’ve got to worry about on the forecheck, which guys aren’t. Some guys intimidate you with their speed, like a Grabner. Other guys are more physical,” Oates said. “You know, Orly’s still learning his way through this league. Sometimes he’s got to be more aware of it. Sometimes it’s part of the game.”

When Matt Martin, who had already hit Orlov several times, checked the 22-year-old into the boards 17:41 into the second period he was in a bit of a vulnerable position having just turned. It would seem supplemental discipline is unlikely in this instance but Orlov, for one, took exception to that hit and after he came up from the ice started swinging.

4. Nabby time. For whatever reason Evgeni Nabokov has had a career of success against Washington. His 22 saves Tuesday night marked his third career shutout against the Caps and improved his overall numbers against them to 13-2-3 with a .923 save percentage and 2.19 goals-against average.

The 38-year-old didn’t face many especially daunting stops on this occasion – many of the Capitals best looks hit the post or missed the net entirely – but whenever the Capitals did challenge him on the power play Nabokov made the stops look easy.

“In order to get the shutout, everybody is pinching in and paying attention to details,” Nabokov said of his 57th career shutout. “Sometimes, the luck has got to be on your side, too. A little bit of luck and pay attention to details and [you can get the win].”

5. Oddly-timed fisticuffs. For as ugly a game as Tuesday night was by both sides, the Capitals got off to a rather decent start. The third line especially was able to generate chance, sustain offensive zone pressure and get to work on the cycle but in the middle of one of their shifts as they worked the puck down low it was cut short when Tyson Strachan fought Matt Martin. The bout occurred just 2:34 into the game and didn’t seem to stem from anything specific. But it did derail the momentum of that one shift. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered in the long run but considering the Capitals aren’t able to get much going on a consistent basis these days interrupting what strong play they do have for a fight doesn’t make much sense.

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