Can’t Get Over the Hump – Sunday’s game between the Caps and the Rangers was the third meeting this season between the two clubs. All three have been tied in the second period, and all three have been won by the team that broke that tie in the second frame.
New York led 1-0 after the first 20 minutes of Sunday’s game, but the Caps drew even at 6:31 on a pretty rush goal from Alexander Semin, with help from Jason Chimera and John Carlson. Knowing that the defensively stingy Rangers allow an average of about two goals per game, you had the sense at that point that the game’s next goal would be a big one.
It was, but so was the one after it.
Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh scored late in the second to give the Rangers a two-goal lead, but it was Brandon Prust’s shorthanded goal on a 2-on-1 break in the third period that proved to be the game-winner as the Rangers won it, 3-2.
“The shorthanded one was the critical goal,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter. “That was the big one where we gave up a shorty and it ended up being a game-winner.
“Defensively we have a responsibility to play our system and we broke down in that instance and we broke down earlier in the game. And they scored on them.”
Washington got a goal from defenseman John Carlson late in the third, a tally that magnified the importance of Prust’s goal.
The loss leaves the Capitals in ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings, and Washington fell four points behind front-running Florida for the top spot in the Southeast Division standings.
Road Woes Continue – Washington’s record in road games dropped to 9-15-3 on the season.
“Everybody plays better at home,” says Hunter. “Everybody’s home record is better because you’re in your building and you’ve got the fans behind you.
“Our special teams aren’t good enough on the road. If you look at our stats, they’re way down on the road. And then at home we’re one of the best power plays and one of the best penalty killing teams. We’ve got to work on the road on our special teams.”
Washington has also struggled early in road games and has had trouble taking and maintaining early leads away from home. The Caps have led after the first period in just four of their 27 road games this season.
“It seems like we get more leads at home than we do at home,” say Hunter. “We got jumped on again today early. Teams are hard to come back on after they get a lead on you.”
Overall, the Capitals have won just seven of their last 25 road games (7-15-3). Each of Washington’s last four road wins has come against teams currently outside the NHL’s playoff picture: two at Montreal, one at Columbus and one at Winnipeg.
Short Stuff – Prust’s game-winning shorthanded goal was the sixth shorthanded strike Washington has surrendered this season.
Only four NHL teams have allowed more shorthanded goals this season: Montreal, Edmonton, Tampa Bay and New Jersey.
Ice Disparity – Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman led Washington with 28 minutes in ice time. Carlson wasn’t far behind at 25:45 and Karl Alzner also worked a heavy load at 24:21.
Rookie Dmitry Orlov struggled in Sunday’s game, and his ice time reflected that. He skated 18:16, down a couple of minutes from his recent norm.
Veterans Roman Hamrlik and John Erskine had their ice limited even more. Hamrlik skated just 10:44 and Erskine 8:31 in the game. For Hamrlik, Sunday’s game represented his second-lowest ice time total this season. He logged 9:22 in a Nov. 12 game against the Devils at Verizon Center, but he left that game with an injury.
Lineup Stuff – Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun woke up feeling less than 100 percent on Sunday, and he texted back-up Michal Neuvirth to that effect soon after awakening.
Vokoun led his team out on the ice for warm-ups – usually an indication of status as the starting goaltender – but he did not take the crease for the opening puck drop.
Neuvirth got the net for the first time in 11 days. He was nicked for three goals on 28 shots as his record fell to 6-9-3 with the loss.
“He tried to do it in warm-up,” says Hunter, “but he wasn’t quite 100 percent. So that’s why we went with Neuvy then.”
Defenseman Jeff Schultz didn’t get a sweater on Sunday after suiting up for each of the previous five games. Right wing Mike Knuble was a healthy scratch for the second straight game.
Knuble has missed 18 games since coming to the Capitals at the start of the 2009-10 season. Washington is 9-7-2 in those games.
Shooting Gallery – Prior to Sunday’s game against the Rangers, the Caps had been outshot in 20 straight games in terms of sheer shot volume, shots directed at the opposing net, those that include shots that are blocked and shots that miss the net.
Washington teed up 63 shots (26 on goal, 25 that were blocked and another dozen that missed the net) to 54 for the Rangers (28 on net, 13 that were blocked and 13 that missed) on the afternoon.
The last time the Caps out-volumed a team in terms of shots taken was in a Dec. 26 game against the Sabres in Buffalo. Washington fired 54 shots to Buffalo’s 50 that night.
On A Heater – Semin has quietly amassed 10 goals and 23 assists for 24 points in his last 24 games. He has been held without a point in consecutive contests only once during that span.
Blocking – The Caps had 25 shot bids blocked on Sunday, matching the most shots they’ve had blocked in a game this season. Washington had 25 shots blocked in a 5-1 win over the Hurricanes in Carolina on Nov. 4.
Today’s game was the first time an opponent blocked 20 or more Washington shots since the Devils got in the way of 22 Capitals shot tries in a Nov. 12 game at Verizon Center.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears dropped a 3-2 shootout decision to the Worcester Sharks on Saturday night at Giant Center. The Bears were at home again on Sunday, facing the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Hershey prevailed, 5-1.
Ryan Potulny and Jacob Micfliker each scored twice and Garrett Mitchell added a single tally to support the 34-save efforts of Braden Holtby in the Hershey nets.
The 28-14-4-4 Bears pulled to within a point of the front-running Baby Pens for the top spot in the AHL’s East Division with Sunday’s victory.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays dropped a 5-3 decision to the Florida Everblades at North Charleston Coliseum on Saturday. The two teams meet again in Charleston on Monday night.
South Carolina is third in the ECHL’s South Division, six points behind front-running Gwinnett.
By The Numbers – Semin has three goals in as many games against the Rangers this season … Carlson has two goals and five points in three games against the Blueshirts in 2011-12 … Carlson led the Caps with three hits and he and Troy Brouwer led the way with three blocked shots each … Chimera led the Caps with six shots on net … Washington won just 19 of 50 face-offs (38%) on the afternoon … The Rangers outhit the Caps 37-20.