If it was not for the outstanding effort by Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, Sunday’s loss to the New York Rangers on the road would not have been close as the 2-1 score would indicate.
Holtby, Washington’s playoff hero last year, has struggled mightily this season but has played well enough to earn himself a string of starts. While he may not have tallied the win, he was challenged early and often by the Rangers facing 40 shots on goal and only let two in. He was clearly the best player on the ice for Washington, if only he could have helped them score too.
Many would look at the first period box score and think the Caps might have gotten off to a good start, but the truth is they got a little lucky.
Tallying only eight shots in the period, the Caps started out the game on fire when Eric Fehr clanged one off the goalpost a little over a minute into the game. The puck would squirt out and find its way to the top of the offensive zone where Mike Ribeiro dished it to John Carlson. Washington’s impressive young defenseman stepped up to the top of the right faceoff circled fired it at the net and past Henrik Lundqvist to make it 1-0.
Sunday’s playoff rematch would pretty much be all downhill from there.
With the exception of the Carlson goal, New York carried the play for much of the first period. Three Capitals penalties did not help matters either, as New York was able to keep the offensive pressure on with Washington seeming to constantly enter and exit the box. Even when the Caps got a power play in the first period, the Rangers still had three shots on goal and one another blocked on shorthanded attempts.
It was blocked shots that really defined the Rangers’ night and kept the Caps in check from start to finish. Even though they only had 12 blocks, Ryan Callahan had six of them with several coming in the final minutes. In fact, as Washington was attempting to tie the game in the waning moments of the third period, it was a Callahan block that sealed the game for the Rangers.
Continuing to stand strong for the first seven minutes of the second period, Holtby looked like the netminder who put the Caps on his back in last year’s playoffs. His shutout effort would crumble after 27 minutes of shutout hockey though when Carl Hagelin tipped home a door-step puck to tie the game up at one.
The Rangers would keep the pressure up for the period after the goal too, again outshooting the Caps 14-9 in the period. Despite Washington getting a pair of power plays in the frame, the Caps only managed four total shots with the man-advantage and were thwarted by some timely Callahan blocks.
Finally in the third the Caps would start to turn the offensive pressure in their favor, but it was too late. Derek Stepan scored on a beautiful passing play on the power play to make it 2-1 under five minutes into the period. The goal is particularly bad because it was the result of bad position by Carlson, who has now been on the ice for 13 of the 16 power play goals the Caps have surrendered.
The loss is yet another one to add to the pile and a bad one considering the Rangers currently own the seventh playoff spot in the East, one the Caps could be battling for. Washington did have a three game winning streak heading into Sunday, but need to win games against current playoff teams to leap up in the standings.
The Caps welcome New Jersey on Thursday and look to get back on the winning track by taking down the defending Eastern Conference Champions.