September 19, 2014

Washington Capitals in disarray as losing streak hits six games

Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals were shut out by Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators, in front of a sparse crowd — partly due to the snowstorm, but certainly attributable to their performance as well. Folks came out during Snowmaggedon.

It was the team’s sixth straight loss, the last four of which have come in regulation. Things get even worse, as the Caps now head out on a five game road trip.

The Caps have won twice since Dec. 29.

The Capitals were in a similar situation last season. They started the lockout-truncated campaign miserably, until Alex Ovechkin got hot and carried his team to the playoffs. Last year, even though the beginning of the season looked so bleak, you figured if the Caps could grasp what Adam Oates was trying to implement and get on a run they’d have a shot at turning their season around. That’s exactly what happened.

This year? The feeling isn’t the same.

Tuesday’s performance was completely lackluster for a team on a 5-game losing streak playing its only home game out of nine. They were shut out, shut down, and shut off. The lack of interest from too many of the Capitals was galling.

This organization is due a major shake-up.

Does that mean trading a veteran player and taking salary back to offset the cost? Does that mean firing the coach, who’s only been here a little over a full season’s worth of games? Does that mean going higher up the chain and firing 15-year general manager George McPhee?

One of the problems is that there’s no external pressure from the professional media. There’s no critical analysis of the team in either of the daily papers or on any of the broadcast news stations. And there certainly isn’t any coming from the rightsholder on cable.

If this were Toronto or Boston or Detroit — shoot, even Philly — the Caps would be getting roasted on a nightly basis in the papers, putting pressure on the franchise to activate change where it so obviously is needed.

But in D.C., the media outlets are too agog about the Redskins hiring Jay Gruden, or what RGIII had for lunch or posted on Twitter, to even realize that the only team in town that has been a consistent playoff team the past eight years is dangerously close to not qualifying this year.

Nope. It’s just us “bloggers” left shouting in the wind. And there’s only a handful of us around anymore either.

Maybe that’s what it will take for change, the Caps actually missing the playoffs. Can you imagine? A team with Olympians Alex Ovechkin (leading the planet in goal scoring), Nick Backstrom and John Carlson, plus two-time Norris Trophy candidate Mike Green failing to qualify for the playoffs?

It’s staring us right in the face. Those that follow the team on a daily basis know it. The fans that watch this team night-in and night-out know it. It’s the same talk and not enough action.

Ovechkin said it best after losing to the Rangers Sunday night.

“What am I going to say? ‘Wake up everybody’ Or something like that? We say too much, go out there and do it,” Ovechkin said. “We can be good speaker but you have to show it on the ice.”

Except, they haven’t shown it on the ice, especially over the past month.

They are currently in sixth place in the division, 2-5-3 in their last 10 games. There have been confusing player personnel moves all season long. Three players have requested trades from the organization, yet are still in the lineup. There are a couple of 19-year-olds that should be playing at lower levels, jeopardizing their futures. They carried three goalies for a month. They are one of the worst teams at 5v5 in the league. They have two players on pace for 20+ goal seasons, and one of them has scored one goal in the last 10 games.

Maybe missing the playoffs is what this organization needs.

Washington Capitals Game 47 Recap: Caps play better but still lose in Pittsburgh 4-3

Early in the season, the Washington Capitals had a habit of not playing particularly well possession-wise and pulling out a win regardless, a lot of the time in a shootout. Recently, that trend has reversed as the Caps have played much better in the past couple of weeks, only to find themselves losing ground in the standings.

That pattern played out again Wednesday night, as the Caps played even with the Pittsburgh Penguins most of the night, but gave up two late goals in the third period and fell to the Pens 4-3 at CONSOL Energy Center.

For Pittsburgh, the win marks their franchise-record 13th straight win at home.

The Capitals (22-17-8) find themselves tied with Philadelphia at 52 points for second in the mediocre Metropolitan Division, just five points ahead of seventh place Carolina.

The Caps got goals from Brooks Laich (5), Jason Chimera (9) and Alex Ovechkin, his league-leading 34th of the season. But Jussi Jokinen tied the game at 3 at 11:35 of the third period, then Olli Maatta won it with his fourth goal of the season, shot through a maze of bodies just off the left post past Michal Neuvirth, playing in his second game since early December.

Though neither Penguins goal was a power play marker, late in the game the Caps had to be feeling the affects of three third period penalties — and playing their fifth game in seven days.

“You have to know how much juice you have left in the tank,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. “We blew two leads. On both goals, I thought we should change, but we didn’t. We got caught a little tired and we made mistakes and they have great players.”

The Caps scored first — short-handed– as Karl Alzner took advantage of a rare Penguins miscue along the left wing wall and pushed the puck up to Laich, who walked into the offensive zone with Troy Brouwer on a 2-on-1. Laich tried to play the puck across to Brouwer but ended up toe-dragging around a fallen Pens defenseman and beat Marc-Andre Fleury with a wrist shot from close range.

The Penguins tied the game at 9:53 in the second, as a deft Penguins breakout against the Caps top line resulted in a 4-on-2, with Kris Letang victimizing Neuvirth (33 saves) for his ninth of the campaign.

Chimera’s tap-in, on a beautiful slap pass from Marcus Johansson, gave the Caps the lead back at 14:31. But that lead was short-lived, as Tyler Pyatt got inside position on John Erskine at the top of the crease and banged home a pass from Maatta to make it 2-2.

Washington grabbed a 3-2 lead at 8:35 in the third, playing 4-on-4. Mike Green fed Johansson along the goal line and he waited for Ovechkin to shake loose in the left wing faceoff circle. Ovechkin’s lethal one-timer escaped Fleury and gave Caps fans reason to hope that the cycle of well-played games would result in points in the standings on this occasion.

That was not to be the case, however.

Once again at 4-on-4, Dmitry Orlov lost track of Jokinen, who took a pass from Brandon Sutter on the right post for a slam dunk at 11;35, then Maatta took a handoff from Evgeni Malkin — who was allowed to skate unencumbered through and around the Caps defense — stepped up to create a double-screen, when whipped a wrist shot past the unaware Neuvirth for the final dagger.

The Caps continue their road trip Friday at 7:00 pm ET against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Caps Quick Take: Game 5 vs. Avalanche

Much like last season, the Washington Capitals aren’t getting out of the gate very quickly. “Like Groundhog Day,” as Troy Brouwer put it in his post-game comments. Following a dispiriting 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche and former netminder Semyon Varlamov, the Capitals find themselves at 1-4-0 and looking up at the rest of the Metropolitan Division. Well, along with Philadelphia, the Rangers and the Devils, all of whom have one or zero wins to their credit. Yes, it’s early. No, it’s not time to “panic.” But if the Caps don’t get things sorted out quickly it could be a long, cold winter.

1) What in the world was John Carlson doing on Colorado’s first goal of the game? If you answered: cruising in no-man’s land, crossing up his goalie and redirecting what should have been an easy save, you get a gold star. Carlson stopped skating the moment he backed over the blue line and took a single cross-over step to go in the general direction of Alex Tanguay, whose little wrister was completely innocent until Carlson made a half-hearted effort to reach for it instead of, you know, play defense.

2) After a nearly one-minute offensive-zone domination by Colorado on the power play, the Caps finally stopped skating and allowed 2013 No. 1 overall draft pick Nathan McKinnon to drift into the slot and shoot uncontested off a feed from Peter Stastny. This is the third rookie the Capitals have allowed to score their first NHL goals in just five games this season. McKinnon did a loop around Steve Oleksy, who was just hanging around the top of the paint, and the rookie found the soft spot in the box and finished. It was a heady play by a naturally gifted scorer.

3) Tanguay’s second goal — Colorado’s fourth of the night — was all on Michal Neuvirth. Granted, Tanguay was unchecked along the goal line, but Neuvirth can’t allow the puck to slip in short-side there. It was just a lack of focus and attention. This time, it was Nick Backstrom that couldn’t get over to help out after Brouwer failed to tie up Stastny behind the goal. Oh, and Colorado was short-handed on the play.

4) Speaking of Brouwer, he was the most vocal of the Capitals following the loss, criticizing his teammates for their lack of passion, work ethic and will to win. After their fifth game of the season. “Didn’t look like we had any passion in our game tonight,” Brouwer said. “We didn’t get the crowd into it. We made it a boring atmosphere for the fans that were here and as a result, we were flat. It’s looking at yourself and wanting to win. It’s about wanting to work hard, wanting to help your teammates out, wanting to win. That’s all it comes down to. Our talent level is there. Our effort’s not.”

5) Something positive? You say would want the silver lining in this one? Eric Fehr’s line played pretty well and their hard work paid off in the third period with the Caps lone goal of the night. Fehr, Jason Chimera and Joel Ward were the only Caps with a “plus” next to their names after this one. Left-handed D-man Nate Schmidt made his NHL debut and did not look out of place. Alex Urbom tied Tom Wilson for team lead in hits with four.

NEXT GAME: Monday at 7:00 pm against Edmonton Oilers.

Washington Nationals Game 46 Review: Strasburg strong but bullpen collapses in 9th and 10th

The Washington Nationals received a strong start from their ace, but couldn’t tack on any insurance runs, blew a one-run save in the ninth, then blew the game in the tenth, as the resilient San Francisco Giants beat the Nats 4-2 in the tenth inning on the strength of a two-run homer by Pablo Sandoval, off just-recalled Yunesky Maya, that still might not have landed.

The Nats (23-23) got all their offense in the very first inning. Denard Span singled leading off the inning and Bryce Harper, hitting second for the first time this season, sacrificed Span to second. Ryan Zimmerman delivered with the runner in scoring position, ripping a double to center to score Span. After Adam LaRoche flew out to right, Ian Desmond came through, doubling to right field to plate Zimmerman.

Strasburg needed 31 pitches to get through the first inning, but he escaped unscathed, leaving the bases loaded. Strasburg was not as fortunate in the second inning. Gregor Blanco led off with a single to right field. After a fly out and sacrifice by Matt Cain, Angel Pagan singled to center, which scored Blanco from second base.

Strasburg gave up four hits and two walks in the first two innings, and the Nats looked to be in trouble, especially considering manager Davey Johnson was forced to use all three of his “long-men” in Monday night’s 8-0 loss to the Giants. But Strasburg settled down impressively after the second inning, and he cruised through the five next innings, facing just one batter over the minimum.

All told, Strasburg (2-5, 2.66) went seven innings and allowed one earned run on five hits and three walks, striking out seven. He threw 108 pitches, 62 of which were strikes.

The Nats missed several opportunities to extend their lead, but couldn’t come through in the clutch. They loaded the bases with one out in the fourth, but Kurt Suzuki grounded into a force and Strasburg struck out swinging on three pitches. In the eighth, they had first-and-third with one out, but LaRoche struck out and Desmond grounded to the pitcher to end the threat.

Tyler Clippard pitched a scoreless eighth and handed things over to closer Rafael Soriano. Buster Poset led off with a comebacker, but Soriano couldn’t field it and was safe at first. Andres Torres pinch-ran for the catcher, and Soriano got the next two batters on fly balls. With two down, slap-hitting outfielder Gregor Blanco drove a ball to the right field wall. It looked like Harper might have had a play on the ball, but he tread gingerly as he approached the wall, no doubt still thinking about the collision he had in Los Angeles.

The ball carried over Harper’s head and off the wall in right. The run scored easily and Blanco ended up at third base with a game-tying triple. It was the third blown save of the season for Soriano, all coming on the road.

After the Nats went 1-2-3 in the top of the tenth, Davey Johnson called upon Yunesky Maya, just called up from Triple-A Syracuse (where he had a 5.07 ERA in eight starts) to pitch the tenth, instead of Drew Storen, presumably so Storen could be available for a save opportunity later. There would be no later, as Maya allowed a one-out single to Marco Scutaro, then grooved a batting practice fastball to Pablo Sandoval, who crushed it half-way up the large grandstand in center field to give the Giants their league-leading sixth walk-off win of the season.

THE GOOD: Once he got past the second inning, Strasburg was dominant. If they can ever figure out why he’s been struggling in the early innings…

THE BAD: Blame Soriano or Maya all you want — and they certainly deserve their share of the blame – but the Nats lost this one in the fifth and eighth innings, when twice they had a runner at third with one out and failed to score the run.

Honorable mention: the Nats offense is so bad lately, Bryce Harper felt compelled to sacrifice bunt…twice. Disgraceful.

THE UGLY: There’s no way to sugar coat this: Yunesky Maya does not have Major League caliber talent and has no business on a big league roster.

THE STATS: 5 hits, 3 BBs, 9 Ks. 2-for-8 with RISP, 6 LOB. No errors, 2 DPs.

NEXT GAME: Wednesday at 3:45 pm ET against the Giants to avoid the sweep. Gio Gonzalez (3-2, 4.01) faces Madison Bumgarner (4-2, 3.09).

Washington Nationals Game 45 Review: Nats manage just three hits in loss to Giants

The Washington Nationals are struggling offensively. They rank statistically near the bottom of the pack in the National League in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage and runs scored. It doesn’t matter how well they pitch right now, you still have to score to win the game. The San Francisco Giants seemed to be the perfect panacea to the Nats hitting woes, having given up 52 runs in their last six games.

Unfortunately, it was the Giants that got well, shutting the Nats (23-22) out 8-0, punishing each and every reliever the Nats threw out there last night, as the long-men in the bullpen were tasked with pitching in Ross Detwiler’s normal rotation spot.

The Giants started the scoring in the second inning off Zach Duke (0-1, 8.84). Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt hit back-to-back one-out singles. Andres Torres lashed a double to left and Pence scampered home from second base. Brandon Crawford grounded to second for the second out of the game, but Belt came in to score to make it 2-0.

In the fourth, the Giants added to their lead. Belt led off with a single and went to second on Torres’ single. Crawford hit a comebacker that deflected off Duke’s wrist. Duke was able to corral it and get the middle runner, Torres, at second. Craig Stammen relieved, and Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong executed a safety squeeze, with Belt scoring from third. Angel Pagan followed with a double to right field, bringing home Crawford. Marco Scutaro delivered a single to center and Pagan scored, increasing the Giants lead to 5-0.

Belt got his third hit of the night in the fifth inning, a solo home run off Stammen, his sixth of the season. Later in the inning, though, Vogelsong swung through a pitch for a strike that actually hit him on the right hand, forcing him from the game. Later, the Giants announced Vogelsong suffered a fractured hand and would have surgery and miss extensive time.

The Giants (25-20) went back to work in the seventh inning against Henry Rodriguez. Hot Rod walked Hunter Pence on four pitches to start the inning. Belt singled; Pence moved to third. Torres grounded to first and Adam LaRoche was able to throw home and eventually got Pence. No matter. Rodriguez walked Crawford to load the bases. After Gregor Blanco popped up, the Giants got their clutch hit, with Pagan singling to center, which scored Belt and Torres for the final 8-0 margin.

THE GOOD: Nothing. There was no good to come of this. No hitter had more than one hit. All three pitchers gave up two or more runs. Just lousy baseball all around.

THE BAD: 17 hits allowed with 3 BBs (all courtesy of Hot Rod). Every Giants starter had a hit and six had multi-hit games, including Brandon Belt’s 4-for-5 game.

THE UGLY: The Giants had surrendered 52 runs in their last six games. The Nats mustered all of three singles and two walks.

THE STATS: 3 hits, 2 BBs, 6 Ks. 0-for-2 with RISP, 4 LOB. No errors, 1 DP.

NEXT GAME: Tuesday at 10:15 pm ET against the Giants. Stephen Strasburg 92-5, 2.83) faces Matt Cain (3-2, 5.43).

NATS NOTES: After the game, the Nats revealed Ryan Mattheus broke his hand in Sunday’s game and would head to the DL. The team planned to recall RHP Yunesky Maya and LHP Fernando Abad from AAA Syracuse. OF Eury Perez will be sent down to make room on the roster.

Washington Capitals Game 3 Recap: Four-goal second period dooms Caps against Habs

“I would say some of our mistakes are pure effort.” Adam Oates, on Caps troublesome 0-3-0 start.

The Washington Capitals haven’t started out 0-3 since the ’93-’94 season. The 2013 version equaled that mark, though, suffering from the same malaise that plagued them in their first two games. A promising first period gave way to a four-goal second frame, and the Caps never could muster a counter-attack as they fell to the Montreal Canadiens, 4-1, before a frustrated Verizon Center, which emptied out after the horn signalling the end of the second period.

The Caps surrendered two power play goals, took six minor penalties in all, could not muster any sustained offense, and looked generally inept defensively, especially their top defensive pair, John Carlson and Karl Alzner, who were on the ice for all four Montreal goals and were eventually split up in the third period. What’s worse, the team admitted to being deflated after allowing two quick goals on the same power play and never recovered.

Washington has been outscored 14-6 this season and are the only team in the Eastern Conference without a point after three games. They have allowed seven goals in 18 power plays against, while going 2-for-12 on their own power plays. [Read more...]

Washington Wizards Wrap Game 12: Wiz steamrolled by Spurs for 12th straight loss to start season

For the first 15 minutes of Monday night’s game, the Washington Wizards hung with the San Antonio Spurs. They closed the first quarter trailing by just four to a team that has started the season 11-3. That’s where the moral victory in this contest ended though, as the Spurs dominated play the rest of the way out, sending the Wizards to their 12th straight loss to open the season, 118-92, before an announced 13,879 at Verizon Center.

Many of those actually in attendance streamed out of the arena well before the final horn sounded.

The Wizards lost their previous two games in overtime, with veteran Nene leading the charge in both. But the oft-injured big man sat this one out with a sore left foot. With Nene out of the lineup, the Wizards looked lost most of the affair.

The Spurs had seven players reach double-figures in points, including Tony Parker’s 15 and Tim Duncan’s 14. Backup forward Boris Diaw led the Spurs with 16 points off the bench. Tiago Splitter had 15 points and 12 rebounds in extensive playing time in the second half.

The Wizards were paced by Jordan Crawford’s 19 points off the bench (on 9-of-16 shooting). Kevin Seraphin chipped in with 18 points, but veterans Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza — both of whom started for head coach Randy Wittman — combined for nine points and seven rebounds in the contest. As a team, the Wizards shot 41.1 percent from the floor and 28.6 percent from behind the three-point line.

Rookie Bradley Beal had a rough night, scoring 11 points but shooting just 4-for-13 from the floor. he missed his only three-point attempt.

The Wizards are the 12th team in NBA history to start the season 0-12 and are six losses away from equaling the New Jersey Nets’ record of 0-18 at the start of the ’09-’10 season.

The Spurs toyed with the Wizards much of the game, moving the ball around the perimeter until the ball eventually found its way into the hands on an open man for an uncontested shot. Their precision passing offensive game was a stark contrast to the Wizards, who seemed without a semblance of premeditated attack.

In addition to Nene, Trevor Booker missed his third straight game with a strained right knee. Shaun Livingston did not play either, but was in uniform and on the bench.

The Wizards next opportunity to erase the zero at the beginning of their record comes Wednesday night at Verizon Center against the Portland Trailblazers, who entered play Monday night 6-7.

Washington Wizards Game Wrap 3: Wiz force OT but fall to Celts 100-94

The Washington Wizards had five players with 14 points or more, including backups Kevin Seraphin, Chris Singleton and Martell Webster and forced overtime against the homestanding Boston Celtics before running out of gas in the extra frame — outscored  12-6 — to fall to 0-3 for the season after a 100-94 loss to the Celtics before 18,624 at TD Garden in Boston.

The Celtics (2-2) were paced by 20 points from Kevin Garnett, while Rajon Rondo added 18 and Paul Pierce chipped in with 15 points.

The Wizards, who have been badly outrebounded thus far this season, matched Boston on the boards as each team pulled down 44 total rebounds. The Wizards were led by Serpahin, with nine boards.

A.J. Price found Seraphin alone in the lane to tie the game at 80 with 3:35 remaining in the fourth quarter to complete a 13-5 run late to make a game of it. Rondo hit a jumper from the top of the key with 26.4 saeconds left in the game to move the Celtics ahead by two points. But Singleton drove the lane and slammed it down with two hands with just 9.4 left on the clock to push the game into extra time.

But Brandon Bass scored five of his 11 points in the extra frame for Boston to secure the victory on their home court. The Wizards shot just 3-for-10 in overtime.

“It’s a learning process, taking care of the ball, execution, making plays down the stretch,” said Wizards head coach Randy Wittman after the game. “It’s disappointing because we lost, but we did a lot of good things.”

Wizards rookie Bradley Beal had his best game as a pro, scoring 16 points on 6-of-15 shooting overall (3-of-8 from 3PT) with three assists and four rebounds, all career highs thus far. He, along with Price, Serpahin, Webster and Singleton led the Wizards in playing time as well, as the veteran triumvirate of Emeka Ofafor, Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker all played less than 20 minutes and combined for 10 points and eight rebounds.

Ariza, in particular, is struggling adjusting to his new surroundings. One of Washington’s offseason trade acquisitions has stumbled out of the gate in his team’s opening two contests and performed no better Wednesday night. The former Hornet hit just 1-for-6 to finish with two points and is shooting just over 22 percent from the field over his first three games.

Next up for the Wizards is a date with the Milwaukee Bucks at Verizon Center Friday night at 7:00 pm.

***Quotes used in this report were taken from the Game Notes on NBA.com.

HEARTBREAK

A stunning four-run ninth inning by the defending Champion St. Louis Cardinals turned a raucous Nats Park into a mausoleum as the Cardinals came back from two runs down and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, beating the Washington Nationals 9-7 and winning the best-of-five series three games to two to advance to the National League Championship Series.

We’ll have a full game story with reaction from manager Davey Johnson and much more at District Sports Page throughout the evening.

Washington Capitals Game 75 Re-Cap: Collapse of monumental proportion

Inexcusable.

With every point available so crucial to their playoff hopes, the Washington Capitals blew a three-goal lead at home to a team lower than them in the standings that should have been left for dead, eventually losing in overtime to the Winnipeg Jets 4-3.

For the first 26 minutes or so of this game, it was all Capitals as they raced out to that 3-0 lead behind a breakaway goal by Jason Chimera (his 18th, setting a personal season-high) and two by the surging Alex Ovechkin, his 34th and 35th of the season, to pull the Great Eight into a five-way tie for fourth in the NHL in goals.

“They looked like they were ready to – they smelled blood,” Winnipeg coach Claude Noel said of the Caps’ start. “They really looked like they were coming on. They had a couple of back-to-back shifts that were [full of] momentum, really tilted [the ice].” [Read more...]

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