The Washington Capitals certainly didn’t envision another disappointing shutout against the New York Rangers as the way to build off a successful trip. But on Friday night the Capitals, playing their first home game in nearly two weeks, never looked in sync enough to earn a better fate.
Washington’s 6-0 loss to the Rangers at Verizon Center — their worst home loss since Nov. 24, 2006 — likely will heighten speculation on what moves General Manager George McPhee plans to make to improve the team before the NHL’s trade deadline. The Capitals missed an opportunity to keep pace with Southeast Division leader Tampa Bay, which holds a five-point advantage in the standings less than three days before Monday’s 3 p.m. deadline.
Perhaps the most significant blow the Rangers inflicted on the Capitals, however, occurred less than six minutes into the contest.
Mike Green was hit on the head by New York Rangers rookie Derek Stepan in the corner of the Washington zone on his second shift of the game. Replays showed Stepan’s shoulder, and possibly his elbow, coming into contact with Green’s head and jaw, causing the defenseman to fall to the ice. Green, who cross-checked Stepan only a few seconds earlier in the shift, immediately went to the Capitals’ dressing room and did not return to the game. There was no penalty called on the play.
Coach Bruce Boudreau said after the game that Green is day-to-day and will not travel with the team to Long Island for Washington’s game on Saturday against the New York Islanders.
“Right now it’s cautionary,” Boudreau said. “Depending on what angle, it looked like [Stepan] came up with the shoulder and it looked like the shoulder hit him in the jaw type of thing. From behind it would have looked like an elbow, but I don’t think it was.”
Stepan said he did not intend to injure Green on the hit.
“Obviously, I didn’t try to do it. But sometimes it happens. I think my shoulder got him,” Stepan said. “I was just trying to protect my body and I kind of caught him off guard. I know if I do [face discipline from the NHL], it’s not like I was trying to make a dirty hit. It was just a battle for position. It makes it tough. It wasn’t like I was viciously spinning around. It was just a puck battle. I caught him in a vulnerable spot.”
It was the second blow to the head Green has suffered this month, the first coming on Feb. 6 against Pittsburgh when a puck struck the defenseman near his right ear. The contest against the Rangers was just Green’s second appearance in the eight games since that injury, which required stitches and which Green said caused wooziness, balance problems and, according to Boudreau’s comments then, headaches.
Green missed one game and underwent neuropsychological testing, which he passed, before playing just more than 22 minutes on Feb. 12 vs. Los Angeles. When the team traveled west for its recent five-game trip, though, Green cited balance problems again and inner-ear trauma was diagnosed. He missed five consecutive games before taking to the ice Friday evening against New York.
The play on which Green was injured on Friday led directly to New York’s first goal of another rout of the Capitals. After the hit on Green, Stepan was able gain possession of the puck and send it along to Steve Eminger, whose shot from just inside the blue line was redirected past goaltender Michal Neuvirth to give New York an early edge. Neuvirth finished with 22 saves.
The Capitals left large chunks of real estate open in their own end for the Rangers to take advantage of. No one opposed Erik Christensen as he stood in front for an easy tap-in to make it 2-0 New York with 14 minutes 47 seconds gone in the first. Christensen added another, for his first multiple-goal game of the season. Stepan, Vinny Prospal and Brian Boyle posted the remaining markers.
Henrik Lundqvist recorded 35 saves in his second shutout of the Capitals this season — the previous was New York’s 7-0 win on Dec. 12 that has widely been considered the low point thus far in Washington’s 2010-11 campaign. The defeat on Friday marked the ninth time the Capitals have been shut out this season, the most games in which they’ve failed to score since 1998-99 when they were held without a goal 11 times.
It was also a loss that essentially erased the positives from Washington’s trip in which it went 3-2-0, where the Capitals started to show some of the signs of consistency that they’ve lacked this year.
“It’s been a little bit maddening for us,” forward Mike Knuble said. “We haven’t been able to mount a sustained streak. We’ve had a couple streaks in losses and we sustain those but not the winning ones. To gain ground this time of year you’ve got to throw two, three, four wins together. . . . We’re a better team than .500 hockey, that’s for sure.”