With a chance to sweep a four-game homestand and head out on the road riding a wave of success, the Washington Capitals instead were knocked backwards by the second-worst team in the Eastern Conference.
Washington looked flat as players failed to win battles for the puck and coughed it uprepeatedly against the New York Islanders, who zipped around the ice despite playing in the second of back-to-back nights. The Capitals’ decidedly uninspired play would elicit boos from the crowd at Verizon Center on Tuesday night and later send fans streaming toward the exits early as their team fell, 3-0, to the lowly Islanders.
The defeat marked the first time in the 2011-12 season that Washington has been shut out and the first time since Feb. 25, 2011, against the New York Rangers that they have been held scoreless on home ice.
“It’s frustrating. We didn’t play very good game, very smart game,” Karl Alzner said. “That was a tough loss for us. It kind of felt like it was a road game, getting booed and stuff. It’s not very fun for us. It’s never good. . . . 100 percent [the boos] were deserved.”
While this is only Washington’s third loss in the last 10 games, the Capitals’ inability to create offense is a growing concern. Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov needed to stop only 17 shots for his 51st career shutout as the Capitals couldn’t generate quality scoring opportunities and when they would find themselves with open space, they tried to make one too many passes or sought a perfect play rather than the available one.
Washington has been outshot in all but three of the past 15 games and in the past four games during this homestand, the team has a combined shot differential of minus-51.
“We were a little bit too cute around the net, a few of the guys were trying to make the third pass and they were just sliding all over the place and blocking them so we definitely have to get more pucks to the net,” said Coach Dale Hunter, whose team plays in Montreal on Wednesday night. “The play’s there [or] the play’s not. You’ve got to read the circumstance, [if] the guy’s laying down there’s not a pass there you’ve got to throw it on net and hope for a rebound.”
It was apparent early in the first period that the Capitals were not equipped to withstand a fast-skating, rambunctious New York squad. Washington found itself chasing the Islanders for much of the opening frame and took only five shots — all perimeter looks — in the first. Meanwhile, the Islanders created odd-man rushes off turnovers and upped the traffic in front of Tomas Vokoun (25 saves), who was making his 10th consecutive start.
Just over 12 minutes into the contest, with Alzner in the box for holding, John Tavares redirected a slap-pass into the net to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead. While that’s all the advantage New York carried into the first intermission, it felt like more given the Capitals’ lack of response.
“I don’t know why, but I think all four lines don’t have energy. We don’t make hits in the first period, just play casual,” Alex Ovechkin said. “We have only [five] shots in first period, it’s not our game we have to make more shots on net and make more opportunity from that.”
The start of the second period brought more of the same. Not even Washington’s first opportunity on the man advantage seemed to shake the team from its doldrums.
A miscommunication led to a bad pass by rookie defenseman Dmitry Orlov led to P.A. Parenteau putting the Islanders ahead, 2-0, 6 minutes 5 seconds into the second. Washington managed a brief surge late in the second but the momentum dried up in the third, despite the team having 1:43 on the man advantage to start the final period. Parenteau’s second goal of the night at 12:38 in the third sealed the Capitals’ fate, but given their performance none of the players said the defeat wasn’t a deserved outcome.
“The thing that hurt us tonight is we were just flat,” Matt Hendricks said. “We didn’t come out with the energy we needed. We didn’t come out with the tenacity. We know where the standings are, and where we sit right now, it wasn’t a very good effort, that’s for sure.”
Capitals note: Nicklas Backstrom has not skated for 11 straight days since suffering a concussion earlier this month, but General Manager George McPhee said Washington’s top center is making progress in his recovery. While it seems unlikely that Backstrom would be ready to return prior to the all-star break, which is eight days away, McPhee wouldn’t rule it out. “Whenever he’s ready to get going we’ll get him going,” McPhee said. “Obviously we’re going to be real careful because we want this to be a one-time thing and something we never have to worry about again.”