Torturous Trip – Washington set out on a season-long four-game road trip last Thursday, a stretch the Caps hoped would elevate them into the top spot in the Southeast Division.
The Caps concluded that joyless journey in Ottawa on Wednesday with a 5-2 setback at the hands of the Senators. Outscored by a combined total of 13-4 in the four games, Washington limps home with a 1-3 record for the trip. The Caps remain two points off the pace for the tp spot in the Southeast and two back of Toronto and Winnipeg for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
For the fourth time in as many games on the trip, the Caps found themselves facing a first-period deficit. Ottawa scored twice in the game’s first 20 minutes on Wednesday; the Caps were outscored by a combined total of 7-0 in the first period of their four games on this trip.
After surrendering two more tallies in the second and pulling starting netminder Tomas Vokoun in favor of Michal Neuvirth for the second time in as many games, Washington scored a pair of goals in the third to make the score somewhat respectable. Ottawa added a late empty-net tally.
Those third-period goals enabled the Caps to avoid the ignominy of what would have been their first consecutive whitewash setbacks since March 6-9, 2007 and their first consecutive whitewash setbacks each by four or more goals since Feb. 4-7, 2006.
Moral victories for the Capitals at this stage are hollow. Washington has dropped three straight games in regulation at the worst possible time, and is without a point in three straight games for the first time since losing four straight in regulation from Nov. 25-Dec. 1.
“We were playing well,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter of Wednesday's game. “It’s one of those things where you get deflated. But it’s part of the game. You’ve got to battle back. In the third period, we battled hard. We outchanced them. But we needed our goaltender to be better, and Tomas wasn’t sharp tonight.
“We had our chances to score. [Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson] came up big and we didn’t. That’s the difference in the game.”
Washington has had its difficulty in many areas of the game for weeks now, but one of its biggest problems all season has been its inability to take and play with a lead on the road.
“We just can’t get out to a bad start like that,” says Hunter. ”If somebody is not as playing as well as they should, you have to block more shots and cover up for him more.”
Although the Caps have continuously and consistently struggled in the first periods of their games this season, Hunter brushed aside a question that hinted that his team might not have been ready to play.
“We were ready to play,” says Hunter. “We had lots of shots and we were skating good. It was just one of those things. Whenever they’d get a chance, it was in our net.”
“I don’t think we were really that bad,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer. “We got behind real quick on a couple of miscues in the [defensive] zone and a little transition. I thought we were able to battle back a little bit. We shot ourselves in the foot with the penalties – mine especially – and we just dug too big of a hole to be able to come back from.”
Tough Night In Net – It has likely been a long time since Vokoun has been pulled from two straight games, but that’s the fate he suffered in the final two games of the trip. He got little in the way of defensive support in either of those outings and exactly nothing in the way of offensive support during his minutes in the net.
“The stats don’t lie,” says Hunter, when asked how it felt to fall into an early hole again in Wednesday’s game. “Whoever gets goals first … they jumped on us. Tomas would like a few of them back; he wasn’t as sharp as he should have been and it’s in the back of our net.”
In his last two starts, Vokoun allowed six goals on 17 shots. Prior to those two starts, he had posted a 1.69 GAA and a .941 save pct. in his previous seven starts, winning just three because of a lack of offensive and defensive support in front of him. He allowed a total of one goal in those three wins. Vokoun has been extremely solid in several games, only to be hung out to dry at one end of the ice or another. Or both.
“You need some big stops early,” says Hunter. “That’s part of the game. Tonight we played a good, solid road game and we lose. Goaltending is a big part of the game. And we need good goaltending.
Neuvirth was sharp in relief, shutting down the Sens’ final 14 shots of the night before Ottawa added a fifth goal with an empty net in the game’s waning minutes. Neuvirth made 44 saves on the 47 shots he faced in two relief efforts on the trip.
“He was good,” says Hunter. “He was solid. On the power play he stopped two breakaways. Had a lot of confidence and he shut the door coming in.”
Ten The Hard Way – Caps center Mathieu Perreault scored his 10th goal of the season – reaching that plateau for the first time in his NHL career – when a Jason Chimera centering feed glanced off his face and into the Ottawa net in the third perod.
“Right in my mouth,” says Perreault. “I think my tongue was out, so it bounced off my tongue and in the net. Good things happen when you go to the net. Not the way you want to get goals, but it hit me in the face and went in.”
Milestone Man – Alexander Semin’s helper on John Carlson’s third-period goal was the 200th assist of his NHL career. Semin also added another helper late.
Semin has had one of Washington’s hottest pair of offensive hands lately. He now has 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists) in his last 29 games.
The 300 Club – Caps right wing Joel Ward skated in the 300th game of his NHL career tonight in Ottawa. The 31-year-old native of Toronto made his NHL debut on Dec. 16, 2006 as a member of the Minnesota Wild in a game against the Canucks in Vancouver.
This Date In NHL History – Legendary Senators goaltender Alex Connell’s NHL-record shutout streak came to a halt on this day in 1928. Chicago’s Duke Keats scored at 15:50 of the second period to end Connell’s stretch of mastery at 461 minutes and 29 seconds. The streak included six straight shutouts. Ottawa won the game, 3-2. (Note: Forward passing was not permitted in the attacking zones in 1927-28.)
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears spent Wednesday night on the road in Rochester taking on the Americans. Hershey met the same fate as its parent club, falling 5-2 to the Americans.
Matt Pope and Graham Mink scored for the Bears while Braden Holtby made 26 saves in a losing effort.
The Bears conclude their road trip in Lake Erie on Thursday and will return home to host Norfolk on Saturday at Giant Center.
By The Numbers – Mike Green led the Caps with 23:16 in ice time and eight shots on net … Matt Hendricks led the way for Washington with six hits … Jeff Schultz led the Capitals with four blocked shots.