October 1, 2014

Washington Capitals Game 76 Recap: Caps lack urgency; shutout by Stars

“If somehow we make the playoffs and we play like this who are we kidding?”
Capitals head coach Adam Oates

Game Recap Co-Authored by Dave and Cheryl Nichols

With seven games left on the schedule, every game is “must win” for the Washington Capitals. On Tuesday, at the Verizon Center no less, the Caps faced a Western Conference team that is in very much the same position. The result: the Dallas Stars spanked the Caps 5-0, all but eliminating the Caps from any further playoff discussion.

“It’s frustrating to see it, for all of us, ” said defenseman Karl Alzner. “We are all asking ourselves the exact same question and everybody wants to do it and be the guy, sometimes it’s being 20 guys and not just the guy, and maybe that has something to do with it. I am not too sure. It’s frustrating. Obviously, we are not happy with the way that we have been playing. Terrible time to go on a skid.”

Dallas broke the ice in middle of a sleepy first period. Tyler Seguin won a puck battle behind the Caps net with John Carlson and fed Jamie Benn at the top of the left wing circle. Benn’s shot headed for Jaroslav Halak’s crest, but Seguin did nice work to drive the net and tipped the puck past Halak on the glove side to put Dallas up 1-0.

The Stars added to that lead in the second. A terrible line change led to a 2-on-0 and Ray Whitney faked Halak out of his skates for his ninth goal of the season. Another defensive breakdown 34 seconds later allowed Dustin Jeffrey to register his first goal of the season, sending Halak to the bench replaced by Braden Holtby, more a wake-up call to his teammates, who left him out to dry all night long.

“We’re all a group,” said Caps Head Coach Adam Oates to the guys in the second intermission, ‘You know what, we’re down and if we come back – we have before, we could – we can’t come back playing wrong. If somehow we make the playoffs and we play like this who are we kidding? We have to figure out a way to get better together. It is just us collectively in here.’ Obviously it’s very disappointing.”

Dallas added insult to injury in the third, with Jeffrey scoring his second of the game, on a feed by the veteran Whitney. As if that wasn’t enough (and it was more than enough) Ryan Garbutt tacked on a short-handed goal with 5:10 left in the contest.

Caps Captain Alex Ovechkin was asked if he had an answer for the reoccurring mistakes.

“It’s hard to say sometimes now. We understand the position and we need the points, but we didn’t get the points. We made some mistakes. We turned over one in our zone, [one] in the neutral zone and it cost us the game.”

“It goes back to wanting to be ‘the guy.’” explained defenseman Karl Alzner. “You want to make the nice play to spark the team, to get a goal or make the nice pass to break us out. Very few teams can do that; it’s about playing simple, and it’s not always fun to play that way, and we sure haven’t helped ourselves by us all being irresponsible on the ice with the puck in all three zones. We’ve got to be smarter and we’ve got to make simple plays.”

The “lack of urgency” was a hot topic throughout the arena and locker room. Goalie Braden Holtby had a strong opinion. “There wasn’t any today, that’s for sure. That was zero urgency.” Defenseman John Carlson agreed, however, explained, “In certain situations. Then I think we over exerted ourselves on other situations that we didn’t need to.”

“The last three games we’ve played,” Holtby paused before completing his thought, “have just not even been close to good enough to play in the playoffs. Or do anything in the playoffs for that matter.”

The Capitals have six games left, likely needing six wins, with their final two games hosting Western Conference powerhouses Chicago and St. Louis. You’re never eliminated until you’re mathematically eliminated, but even the most optimistic supporters have to be prepared at this point for this team not qualifying for the playoffs.

“As a team we thought we’d probably need all seven to get in [to the playoffs], but now we have no choice,” said Caps defenseman John Carlson, “It’s probably going to be a win-out situation.”

The team will need to bounce back from this loss to have any hopes of the playoffs. “You just have to brush it off,” said Eric Fehr. “It’s not going to be an easy one to brush off, but we still have a chance. We still have an opportunity. We’ve got to win some games, we’ve got to go on a roll, but you can’t sulk with games like this. You’ve got to put them behind you.”

Holtby added, “No one played good tonight. Everyone has to expect more of themselves. It’s a collective unit, you can’t point fingers. It’s the Washington Capitals. We have to do better. A lot better.”

Tonight was the 220th consecutive sellout at the Verizon Center and the fans let the Washington Capitals how they felt about the loss.

Holtby sided with the fans. “If I was a fan, I’d be booing us right now. In a tight race, like we’re in, and you lose five nothing, it’s awful.”

Inexcusable

I’m going to leave this right here. Please make sure you watch it through the long ice replay.

Really?

Caps Quick Take: Game 3 vs. Stars

Losing 2-1 on the road against a Western Conference foe in a building you haven’t traveled to in three years isn’t the worst thing in the world. Until you consider that a little more solid effort, especially in your own end, would have stolen a point or two. Things are going to be rough enough in the Caps own division to let little ones like this slip away. Five practice days until Carolina.

1)  The Caps were, once again, completely outplayed at even strength. A lot of that has to do with the fairly lousy play in their own end, sloppy breakout passes and lack of sustained attack in the offensive end until panic set in with about eight minutes to go in the game. If the Caps are still only going to be motivated by urgency and not by competing from the opening drop, they’re going to find themselves in the same situation as last season.

2)  The defense has to find a way to play better. John Erskine was toasted for the first goal, took a bad penalty, and then botched a 2-on-1 coming out of the box. But here’s what you need to know about this game: Erskine tied with Ovi for the team lead in shots on goal, and had one clang off a post.

3)  Martin Erat: 11 shifts, 8:27 TOI. Putting the money aside –which is admittedly a tough thing to do in this situation — Erat has to play more. Has to. Either they need to see some production out of him for justifying trading away Filip Forsberg, or they need to play him to showcase him for a trade. All 8:27 TOI with Jay Beagle as his center is going to do is absolutely suck all of his value. I hardly think Erat will skate on the fourth line in perpetuity, but Adam Oates really should start mixing things up a bit to generate a little more out of 5-on-5 play.

4)  It was a good bounce-back from Braden Holtby, turning away 19 of 21 shots. He’ll win a lot more games than lose with his performance Saturday night.

5)  In the last two games the Caps have played in Dallas, they’ve had a controversial goal waived off and lost by one. This time, Nick Backstrom cross-checked Kari Lehtonen right before the goal. Backstrom clearly didn’t get hit on the play until after he made contact with Lehtonen’s facemask, so it was the right call to waive off the goal, but it’s strange that Backstrom didn’t get two minutes for it in addition to losing the goal. NHL refs, amirite???

Washington Capitals Game 3 Recap: Capitals fall to Stars 2-1, doomed by turnovers galore

The Western Conference has never been particularly nice to the Washington Capitals, who hit the road to take on the Dallas Stars for the first time since December 2010. It all came down to who made fewer mistakes, and that team was the Stars, who won 2-1.

Alex Ovechkin put the Caps on the board first with a power play goal early in the first period, keeping the streak alive for the moment. Eric Cole, assisted by former Bruin Tyler Seguin, tied the game for Dallas four minutes later. Nicklas Backstrom interfered with goalie Kari Lehtonen on a scoring play, negating  a potential go-ahead goal. Alex Chiasson’s goal midway through the second period was all the lead the Stars needed to win. Despite a late power play in the waning seconds of the third, the Capitals were unable to convert, moving to 1-2-0 on the season. [Read more...]

Caps Pick Up Ribeiro, Say Goodbye to Eakin in Draft Day Deal

For the second year in a row, the Washington Capitals addressed a major roster need at forward in a draft night deal, picking up center Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars in exchange for forward Cody Eakin and the 54th overall pick in this year’s Entry Draft.

In Ribeiro, General Manager George McPhee hopes to have finally found an answer to Washington’s absence of a second-line center. The 32-year-old Montreal native, with 10 NHL seasons under his belt, has recorded at least 51 points in his past eight campaigns, including a career high 27 goals and 56 assists for the Dallas Stars in 2007-08. Last season, Ribeiro recorded 18 goals and 45 assists in 74 games, ranking 17th overall in the NHL in points and 11th in assists among centers. His 63 points would have put him second in the Capitals last year, behind only Alex Ovechkin. [Read more...]

GAME 13 RE-CAP: Caps collapse again in third period, lose 5-2 to Dallas

Dallas Stars scored three times early in third period to beat Caps. (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

The Capitals allowed a team to outplay them in the third period for the second game in a row, but this time the Capse were well rested. Dallas scored three times in the third period, including twice just 32 seconds apart, and beat the Capitals 5-2. This was the Caps first loss at home this year and they fall to 9-4-0 for the season.

In the past five periods, the Capitals have been outscored 10-3, and they’ve lost 4-of-6 games since Mike Green was injured during the team’s seventh straight win.

“They’re not scoring ugly goals either,” forward Mike Knuble said. “They’re snapping it around, goalie not even in the net. They make you look bad, and it’s embarrassing when you’re on the ice and guys are beating you. The other night you get beat one-on-four and just playing like a bunch of losers. You’re going to lose if you play like that, you’ll lose every night in the league, let alone talking about playoffs and all that.”

The collapse began in the second period, but two goals scored within 32 seconds crippled any thought of a comeback.

After Alexander Semin was called for his second penalty of the game 6:02 into the third period, Jamie Benn buried a rebound chance on the power play to up the score to 4-2. But before public address announcer Wes Johnson could even finish announcing the goal, Eric Nystrom put a diving shot past Neuvirth at point blank range off of a face-off for a commanding 5-2 lead.

“We just got outworked. When you get outworked they’re going to make you look bad,” John Erskine, who played in his 400th career NHL game, said. “And that’s what happened.”

Semin has nine minor penalties in 13 games this season. Coach Bruce Boudreau sent a message to the squad by benching Semin for the remaining 13:58 of the game, save for power play shifts, after his second penalty.

The Caps never lead in the game, and were playing catch-up for just about all of it. Halfway through the first period, Jeff Schultz turned the puck ove, and it landed on the stick of Trevor Daley, whose blast was redirected by Michael Ryder past goaltender Michal Neuvirth.

Semin tied the game at one in the first period with a power play strike. Nicklas Backstrom found Semin all alone in the slot from the right corner and Semin did not miss the lay-up.

The Stars were buzzing in front of the net towards the end of the first period, and Ryder was able to get the puck unmolested in the crease and deke Neuvirth into submission to wrestle the lead back for Dallas with 2:54 to go in the first.

The Caps went much of the second period without generating offensive chances, but their play picked up halfway through the period. John Carlson capped off the rally with a blast from the point off a face-off win from Marcus Johansson. Cody Eakin tipped the puck to Carlson for the primary assist to tie the game at two.

But Dennis Wideman’s delay of game penalty with 1:36 left in the second period began the Caps demise. The second it expired in the third period, Adam Burish found himself all alone with the puck in front of Michael Neuvirth, who again fell prey to stick handling moves and Burish chipped it in to give the Stars the lead for good at 3-2.

The Caps showed up in the shot department, only being out shot 36-32. Dallas net-minder Kari Lehtonen made 34 stops but left rebounds that the Caps were unable to turn into second chance opportunities. The result was a lot of one-and-done offensive zone trips, and Dallas would respond by forcing the play back to the Caps side of the ice.

Boudreau blamed the team’s recent skid on losing one-on-one battles. He agreed with Knuble that the team’s effort has tailed off since the end of the seven game winning streak.

“If it’s a comfort thing,” he said, “the comfort will change tomorrow.”

Caps in Advance: Week 5

Washington won two of three games in Week 4, but since the one loss was in the most recent game, that’s what folks will be keyed on heading in to this week’s slate.  For the most part the Caps played well, with the exception of one very important individual: Tomas Vokoun.  The netminder posted a 3.96 GAA and a .837 in two games, a 5-4 OT win over the Anaheim Ducks and 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders, numbers far worse than his season and career averages.

Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and company are still one of the NHL’s most potent offense, meaning that a goaltending lapse won’t hurt them in the short term, but for the squad’s long-term health they need to see some more consistent performance from their starting goalie.  Vokoun will have the chance to get back on track immediately, facing the Pacific Division-leading Dallas Stars, the first team in the NHL to post 10 wins this season.

From the Stars, Washington will then turn to the other end of the spectrum to play a pair against the stagnant New Jersey Devils. The Devils are not to be regarded lightly, but the Caps’ task in the Friday and Saturday games will be “win games you’re supposed to win,” whereas at home against Dallas the challenge will be taking down one of the league’s best offense and stingiest defenses.  Once again, the Caps will be going up against a team they only see once a year, but a look at the league standings with “Dallas Stars” at the top should unquestionably be enough motivation.

Games this week:

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 8th v. DALLAS STARS

7:00pm, Verizon Center
TV: CSN-MA

Records:
Washington Capitals: 9-3-0
Dallas Stars: 10-3-0
Only meeting this season

Last year:
Capitals: 48-23-11, 107 pts, 1st in Southeast, 1st in Eastern Conference
Stars: 42-29-11, 95 points, 5th in Pacific Division, 9th in Western Conference

Last season, only six wins were the difference between the Caps and the Stars, but the former was first place in the Eastern Conference and the latter was last in the loaded Pacific Division and the first team out of the Western Conference playoff picture.

That is to say, the only standings that matter are the ones from this season, which say the Caps and Stars are even.  Last year’s Stars were very good, and this year’s team it outstanding.  Linemates Loui Erikkson and Jamie Benn are lighting the lamp at a solid pace, reclamation Sheldon Souray (formerly of the Hershey Bears) has re-emerged as a top-four NHL defenseman (4 goals, 6 assists, +8, 27 PIM), and Kari Lehtonen has 10 wins in 11 games .

Dallas’s roster is balanced, if unheralded, and so is new head coach Brad Gulutzan.  Both the Caps and Stars have three lines capable of hurting the opponent on the scoreboard, though Gulutzan prefers to keep his fourth line on the bench far more than Bruce Boudreau, who’s usually a proponent of rolling through all four lines.  Washington will catch the Stars in the middle of a four-game road swing, and on one more day of rest than the visitors.  That point may be moot, however, because the Carolina Hurricanes didn’t give Dallas much of a challenge in the Stars’ 5-2 win on Sunday afternoon.

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 11th @ NEW JERSEY DEVILS
7:00pm, Prudential Center
TV: NHLN, CSN-MA
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 12th v. NEW JERSEY DEVILS
7:00pm, Verizon Center
TV: NHLN, CSN-MA

Records:
Washington Capitals: 9-3-0
New Jersey Devils: 6-5-1
First two meetings this season

Last year:
Devils: 38-38-5, 81 points, 4th in Atlantic Division, 11th in Western Conference

While back-to-back games can be a pain, the home-and-home series is an elegant little workaround for teams on the east coast. The Caps and Devils will face off Friday night, take a 10-mile bus trip to Newark Liberty Airport, and then hop an 80-minute flight to Dulles. If things go to plan, both teams will be on the ground in the DMV before midnight, enough time for a good night’s sleep before meeting again on Saturday.

One nice thing about the Friday-Saturday games is the chance to build some animosity between the teams.  Of all of Washington’s old Patrick Division rivalries, the one with New Jersey has perhaps fallen apart the most.  Sure, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond assaulted Marcus Johansson last season, but that was in his second and last game of the season for the Devils, and he’s a part of the Flames franchise now, so it’s as if it never even happened.

New Jersey has been underperforming this season, which is an odd thing to say about a team that only won 9 of its first 33 games last season.  That’s because the same team went through a two-month stretch in early 2011 in which they were 22-3-2 and vaulted themselves from the league cellar to playoff contention, before running out of gas the last month of the season.

That squad is essentially the same as this year’s team, except with one big addition: left-winger Zach Parise, who missed most of last season with a knee injury.  The former 45-goal-scorer has begun to regain his scoring touch, with 5 goals and 3 assists in 12 games, albeit with a -1 rating.  Highly-paid teammate Ilya Kovalchuk (2 goals, 7 assists) is not meeting expectations when it comes to putting the puck in the net (and missed New Jersey’s most recent game), which is a measure of concern for the $100-million dollar man.  New Jersey is 26th in the league in goals scored per game at 2.18, almost two goals per game fewer than the Caps.

In net, the two games will be split between Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg.  Marty, the nominal #1, hasn’t played like it this season.  He’s 1-2-0 with a .872 save percentage and 3.30 GAA, and missed almost a month with an injured right shoulder.  During Brodeur’s absence Hedberg played outstanding, and on the season he has a 5-3-1 record, .920 save percentage and 2.34 GAA.  Because of the schedule, Washington will face both goaltenders, but make no mistake about which is most capable of stealing a game – it’s not the one who’s been the face of the franchise for almost two decades.

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