Capitals' opponents are having success by using a familiar formula

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 12:08 AM

In each of the past six games it seemed as though a new element of the Washington Capitals' game would betray them, but in Sunday's 7-0 loss to the New York Rangers nearly everything that could go wrong did.

Not only did the drubbing mark Washington's worst loss since the 2005-06 season, it illustrated an alarming trend: Teams appear to have found a formula for stopping last season's Presidents' Trophy winners - and the Capitals haven't completely adapted.

"When you're playing a high-powered team like the Capitals with all that talent, which can win games by itself, everyone looks at how to negate it," said former NHL general manager Craig Button, who is an analyst for the NHL Network.

"Teams look at who had success doing it and how they did it [so] that when one team happens to find the formula - like the Montreal Canadiens did - other teams are going to use it. Now it becomes the responsibility of the Capitals to counteract what's happening to them and they haven't done it yet. I think it makes them predictable and when you're predictable you're easy to play against."

Like many teams that have found success against the Capitals in recent weeks, the Rangers on Sunday took several fundamental steps to shut down Washington's high-powered offense.

The Rangers pressured the Capitals' top players to isolate them, forced turnovers at both blue lines to create their own chances, blocked shots and held the Washington offense to the perimeter so when shots did get through, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist saw them clearly.

None of these tactics is particularly novel. But it is a combination that the Canadiens, who also had the help of a hot goaltender in Jaroslav Halak, assembled as something of an instruction manual to thwart the Capitals' strengths - particularly their offensive stars - when they ousted Washington from the playoffs in April.

To be sure, there is no single answer that can solve the Capitals' recent struggles and snap them out of their funk as they head into Wednesday's contest against the Anaheim Ducks at Verizon Center. There are simply too many things going wrong.

The Capitals' trademark goal-scoring ability has failed them, both at even strength (they've been outscored 23-8) and on the power play (3 for 26) during the current six-game losing streak. The team's young goaltending tandem hasn't been at its best. And injuries and illness have ravaged the team, particularly on defense.

Bruce Boudreau, who recently marked the third anniversary of his being named head coach, dismissed suggestions that opponents have discovered a magic formula for beating his team.

Opponents "can look at individuals and say, 'This is his tendency or that tendency and we can stop him,' " Boudreau said Tuesday. But he said the real problem facing his team is one of bad luck. "Right now we are snakebit," he said, citing the three goalposts hit by the Capitals on one shift during the Rangers game Sunday night.

Some analysts have noticed that when the Capitals fall behind, they tend to stop playing as a team - a criticism shared by players in the Washington locker room.

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