April 25, 2014

Washington Capitals Game 23 Recap: Caps let opportunity on Island slip away in embarrassing performance

The Washington Capitals had a chance against the New York Islanders in a Saturday afternoon matchup to finally erase the terrible start to the 2013 season and pull their record to an even .500. Riding a three-game win streak and having won eight of their past 11 games, the Caps looked like they might have turned a proverbial corner in their season the past week.

Instead, they reinforced all the bad feelings that welled up in that terrible first 10-game stretch, playing shoddy defense, unable to generate any semblance of offense, taking too many penalties and ultimately, failing to compete with the young and speedy Islanders, dispiritedly falling 5-2 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which has been something of a house of horrors for the Capitals franchise.

Washington was outshot by the Islanders 45-24. That’s pretty much all need be said about this one.

Particularly disappointing was the play of two of their stars: captain Alex Ovechkin, who was minus-two and contributed directly to two Islanders’ goals with turnovers; and Mike Ribeiro, who compounded a third period high-sticking call with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in a tie game. The Islanders scored on that power play, and the next on a double minor high-stick against Jeff Schultz, and later short-handed when Ovechkin fumbled a routine puck at the blue line.

The teams skated a mostly sleepy first period, befitting of the 1:00 pm start. The Islanders struck midway through the frame. John Carlson tried to pinch in from the point to hold the offensive zone, but the puck was chipped past him, and with all three forwards below him, the only man back was Karl Alzner, who was turned on the play and had to skate forward to his defensive zone, never a place a defenseman wants to be.

Frans Nielsen was easily able to beat Alzner into a position to make a good pass, which he did to a streaking Josh Bailey. All Bailey had to do was tip the puck past Philipp Grubauer (40 saves), making his first NHL start, to give the Isles a 1-0 lead.

The Caps got that one back early in the second, as they came out of the gate with much more fire than the first stanza. A good possession by the Joel Ward and Mattieu Perreault resulted in a Perreault’s wrist shot bouncing off bodies — and Travis Harmonic’s skate — eluding Evgeny Nabokov (22 saves) to knot things up.

On his next shift, Perreault beat Nabokov again, flinging a wrist shot from the slot past his catching glove, but the puck rang off the left post and ricocheted harmlessly away from the crease. That would be the extent of the Caps offensive pressure in the period, though.

The Islanders regained the lead at 10:03 with another even-strength goal. Alex Ovechkin tried to stick-handle through the neutral zone but was bumped off the puck. The Islanders recovered the loose biscuit and headed back with speed, catching the Caps flat-footed. Matt Martin fed Casey Cizikas on the resulting two-on-one and Cizikas beat Grubauer blocker-side on a shot Grubauer would probably say he’d like to have back.

Washington simply collapsed in the third period.

Play was sloppy and disappointing, but the Caps found a little magic to tie the game at 7:09 with a pretty tic-tac-toe from Alzner to Eric Fehr to Nick Backstrom, who rifled a shot from the high slot to beat Nabakov glove-side for his third goal of the season. From there, things went downhill fast for the Caps.

A minute and a half later, Ribeiro was nicked for a high-sticking infraction and complained too loudly to the officials, garnering the feisty center with an additional two minutes — his third such penalty of the season. John Tavares scored with 30 seconds remaining in the second penalty, but the referees didn’t see the puck go in originally, so play was allowed to continue for several minutes until a stoppage. After review, Tavares was awarded the goal and time was put back on the clock.

Just 22 second later, Jeff Schultz got tied up on a face off and brought his stick high for a double minor. Tavares needed just eight seconds to beat Grubauer for his second of the game (15,16).

Insult to injury came with 3:01 left in the game. Colin MacDonald was called for a hook, giving the Caps a chance to make it a one-goal game, but Ovechkin was sloppy with the puck at the point, which sent Frans Nielsen in alone on Grubauer and the Danish winger beat him cleanly for the three-goal lead — and margin of victory.

The Capitals have no time to dwell on the poor performance, however, as they host the New York Rangers Sunday at 12:30 pm at Verizon Center — on national television. It’s a quick turn-around and test of resolve for these Washington Capitals, whose time to get back into the playoff picture is very quickly running out — if it hasn’t already.

GAME NOTES: John Erskine left the game after logging just 1:18 of ice time. The team announced he sustained an “upper body injury”. After the game, head coach Adam Oates described Erskine as “day-to-day”, but aren’t we all.

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