Rangers 2, Capitals 1
A spattering of applause rippled through MCI Center last night as the third period ended, with the Washington Capitals tied with the New York Rangers and assured of matching a franchise record for consecutive games with a point.
Even if the Capitals lost in overtime, as they did, 2-1, they would still get a standings point in their 14th straight game (8-0-3-3). But the feeling within the team was hollow as Washington reverted to early-season form, making poor decisions with the puck and becoming prone to turnovers.
"For me that was a November game for the Caps," Coach Bruce Cassidy said. "We took a step backwards. You could see it coming. When a team gets on a roll and they play well and you win for a reason, and then you start winning because you're on a roll or because of an individual effort or something. You could see it with [Wednesday's overtime win over the New York Islanders]. Special teams and [Jaromir] Jagr's line won us the game. We just have to make sure this doesn't become habitual again."
Jagr, who registered five goals and 11 points over the previous two games, notched an assist on Kip Miller's goal less than two minutes into the game, but was held in check for the duration. The Rangers, finally trying to adapt their overtly offensive tendencies to this age of defense-first hockey, eliminated his space and took away the middle of the ice.
Washington's attack, which had produced 20 goals over the last three games, was out-of-sync and fatigued, and the Rangers, on their first three-game winning streak of the season, got better as the game went on.
Journeyman defenseman Joel Bouchard won the game with about three minutes left in overtime. The Capitals (21-16-5-3) were caught in a bad line change, Dave Karpa's shot smacked off the crossbar and Bouchard popped in the rebound, ending a rare defensive struggle.
"They changed their style of game, that's not how the Rangers used to be," said Jagr, who had 74 points in 54 previous games against New York.
"They structured their defense very well. There is nothing there. It used to be open hockey with no system. It's different now. I used to love to play against them, and now it's a different hockey club."
Jagr's torrid first line was not completely shut down, however, scoring on its second shift. Jagr fed Michael Nylander, who cradled his rebound and headed behind the net. Three Rangers followed him to the far post, while Miller remained on the near post, shockingly undetected, to knock in Nylander's cross-crease feed. The line had accumulated eight goals and 23 points over a three-game stretch, but was denied after that.
Rangers goalie Mike Dunham was fooled by Sergei Gonchar's slap shot a few minutes later, but as Dunham looked back to see if the red light was swirling he detected the puck just before it inched over the goal line. New York began dictating the game from there, and tied it late in the period when Tom Poti slammed a shot around defenseman Brendan Witt, off the post and beyond the reach of goalie Olaf Kolzig, who was vying for his 200th career victory.
Cassidy searched for favorable matchups to mount an offense, rotating Jagr with a bevy of centers and wingers, and playing him every second shift on occasion. Nothing quite worked, while Rangers Coach Bryan Trottier, under fire for much of the season, gambled by rolling four lines and making no extra effort to get his effective checking line matched on Jagr.
"All six defensemen played a real strong game, and the forwards were really disciplined," Trottier said. "Put that one in the memory bank."
The Capitals, meantime, hope to rectify their problems in practice and forget the way they played last night.
"It wasn't one of our best performances and we've let some mistakes creep into our game a bit," center Jeff Halpern said. "There are definitely things we have to address, because they're obvious mistakes. But we still get a point out of the game, and that could be a lot worse."