By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 9, 2009
New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist gifted a goal to Nicklas Backstrom early in the third period, and the center scored again a few minutes later to put the Washington Capitals ahead.
It should have been enough. It wasn't.
Rangers sniper Marian Gaborik scored two goals of questionable quality on José Theodore in the span of 2 minutes 33 seconds to send the Capitals to their second consecutive loss, 4-3 at Verizon Center.
"Any time you have the lead [late] in the game, you have to [hold on] if you're going to be a good team," a furious Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We've blown two leads like that and almost a third in four games. It's a really upsetting trend that better stop in a hurry."
While Theodore does not deserve all of the blame for the loss, which dropped the Capitals to 2-1-1, Boudreau said he should have stopped both of Gaborik's goals. Theodore was good for the first 40 minutes and finished with 25 saves. But his third-period meltdown will do nothing but stoke the goaltending debate in Washington.
"Both of them were top of the circles," Boudreau said. "Those are the ones in the third period you've got to stop. You have to stop them. He kept us in the game for most of the game, but those are ones -- goals three and four -- that you've got to stop."
Although the season is only four games old, frustration already is running high. Boudreau, who is normally affable after wins and losses, grew agitated in the postgame news conference, snapped at one question, then left the podium briskly.
But before he departed, he said there was plenty of blame to spread around.
Although the Capitals' power play scored once, it was 0 for 7 before Backstrom put his team ahead 3-2 after firing a centering feed from Brooks Laich past Lundqvist (25 saves). Earlier in the period, Backstrom scored from the red line on a dump-in that caught Lundqvist napping deep in his crease.
But instead of clamping down, Gaborik beat Theodore from between the faceoff circles just 18 seconds after Backstrom's second goal to tie the game at 8:09.
About two minutes later, fourth-line winger Boyd Gordon was whistled for tripping and Gaborik, who was permitted far too much time and space, snapped a shot through Theodore to restore the Rangers' lead.
The Capitals got one power play, courtesy of a Donald Brashear trip. But once again, the unit had its troubles.
"We didn't work like usual," Backstrom said of the power play. "We tried to play too cute and too difficult. We need more shots on the net. They wanted to win a little bit more than us, especially in the third period. We had a 3-2 lead."
Boudreau said of the power play, which squandered 1:33 of five-on-three time: "If you're going to play like individuals, you're going to get individual results and nothing is going to happen."
In four games, the Capitals have scored 18 goals. But they've yielded 15. While it would be easy to pin the flood of goals against on the shoddy play by the defense and goalies, Boudreau said the forwards are equally culpable
"It's a combination of the two," Boudreau said, referring to shoddy play on defense and in goal. "It's a combination of three, really. It's the forwards not coming back. It's a team game. There's five guys on the ice. On the first goal, five guys made a mistake. The forwards were out of position."
Boudreau also singled out the third and fourth lines. Each was on for one goal against.
"If you're not going to score, you had better not be on for any goals against," he said.
The game got off to a promising start. Alexander Semin moved into a tie with Alex Ovechkin for the team lead in goals with five when he finished off an outstanding individual effort. First, Semin stripped Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival in the neutral zone. He then fed the puck cross ice to defenseman Brian Pothier, who was back in the lineup after being scratched on Tuesday. Pothier promptly returned a pass to Semin.
But two Rangers goals in the second period and Gaborik's pair in the third spoiled the night for an announced sellout crowd.
"If you're going to be a legitimate team," forward Mike Knuble said, "you can't just try to outscore teams. We had the lead and just flaked out."
Capitals Note: Winger Eric Fehr, who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgeries, skated in the pregame warmup and was listed in the official lineup as a healthy scratch, which means he has been activated from injured reserve. The team will likely send Fehr to Hershey of the American Hockey League for a conditioning stint this weekend.