By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 23, 2010; D06
NEWARK - For the second consecutive road game the Washington Capitals left little evidence that they visited the town in which they played. Washington looked sluggish as it faced yet another team desperate for a win, hungry to put the league leaders on the receiving end of an offensive barrage.
The Capitals conceded at least four goals in regulation for the third straight game in a 5-0 thumping by the New Jersey Devils Monday night at Prudential Center.
The loss is Washington's third in as many contests and it marks the second straight road contest in which the Capitals have been shut out. They've allowed 14 goals in the past nine periods, not counting a deciding shootout tally on Saturday in a 5-4 loss to Philadelphia.
In addition to the gut-check loss, Washington was dealt another injury blow to one of its goaltenders. Michal Neuvirth, who was expected to start against the Devils, tweaked a lower-body part during the morning skate, according to Coach Bruce Boudreau. After the session, Neuvirth was seen walking with his leg taped but he took part in warmups and Braden Holtby said he did not find out he was definitely starting until the pregame skate.
The injury prompted the Capitals to recall Semyon Varlamov from his conditioning stint in the American Hockey League, where he played back-to-back games with the Hershey Bears this weekend, but his skates did not arrive until the second period. So for the first 20 minutes an injured Neuvirth served as backup just in case Holtby got hurt, then swapped with Varlamov. The Capitals cleared the goaltending moves with the officials and informed the Devils of the situation prior to the game.
But the team was not going to take the chance of playing Varlamov, who just recovered from a groin injury himself, regardless of how the scoreboard read.
"No," Boudreau said when asked if there was any chance Varlamov would have entered the game. "We would be kicking ourselves with no warm up and everything else. [Varlamov] was there in an emergency situation. If Holtby had of got hurt was the only way he was coming out."
Holtby made the fourth start of his NHL career looking for redemption from his previous outing three days prior in a 5-0 loss to Atlanta in which he allowed three goals on five shots in the first 10 minutes, but the atonement never came. He finished with 18 saves while his counterpart, New Jersey's Johan Hedberg, stopped 30 shots for his first shutout in 286 games.
With little help from the Capitals' defense, which allowed the Devils freedom of movement and the luxury of time and space on a far too consistent basis, Holtby and Washington found itself trailing 3-0 by the end of the first period. But neither Boudreau nor the Capitals players would put the loss solely on Holtby's shoulders.
"Today we just embarrassed ourselves out there," John Erskine said. "We had one good player and that was Holtby. If he's not in net it could have been a 10-0 game. . . . Our defense, just the all-around game was horrible."
The recent lapses and the lack of a spark against New Jersey was particularly eerie in its similarity to Washington's loss to Atlanta. It is something the Capitals believe they must correct as soon as possible.
"We're a good team with a lot of good players but we seem to be playing too relaxed, like it's going to come to us too easy," Karl Alzner said. "We've had so much success over the last couple years and have always been winning. We're having a tough time. . . . It's only three games but still there's been parts leaking into the game throughout the whole season. It's something we've got to stop right away."
Patrick Elias opened the scoring for New Jersey with a little under six minutes gone when he tipped a shot by Mattias Tedenby on the power play. In the final four minutes of the first, Jason Arnott scored on a wrap-around play during which Holtby overcommitted and had no way of getting back to stop the shot, and Tedenby added a third goal with a backhander on a penalty shot after being hauled down by Erskine.
In the second, Arnott notched his second goal of the game and Dainius Zubrus tacked on a fifth goal in 13 shots with just 7 minutes 48 seconds gone in the middle stanza. The Devils entered averaging an NHL-worst 1.80 goals.
"Everything's a trickle-down effect from the forwards to the defense to the goalie to the coaches. If we fail like this it's everybody's fault," Boudreau said. "It's not just [the defense's] fault. We all have to pick up our socks and find out what's gone wrong in these last three games. You go 8-0-1 and then you go for a crap. It happens, but it hasn't happened to us. I don't like it."