Trailing After Two – For the second time in as many games, the Capitals trailed by a goal after two periods. For the second time in as many games, the Caps rallied to take a third-period lead. For the second time in as many games, Washington yielded a late power play. And unlike Tuesday in Philadelphia when they managed to escape with a point by virtue of a 6-5 overtime loss to the Flyers, tonight the Caps came up empty. They dropped a 4-3 decision to the Rangers on home ice.
Two Nicklas Backstrom goals in the third period gave Washington a 3-2 lead with 12:09 remaining. But the Caps’ lead lasted all of 18 seconds, as Washington sleepwalked through the most important shift: the one immediately following a goal. Marian Gaborik put a shot through Caps goalie Jose Theodore.
Momentum was lost, and when Gaborik scored another leaky goal two and a half minutes later, the game was lost, too.
“Anytime you have the lead in the last 10 minutes of the game you have to [protect the lead],” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “We’ve blown two leads like that now and almost a third in four games. It’s a really upsetting trend. It better stop in a hurry.”
Boudreau believed both the tying and winning goals could have been prevented.
“Both of them were at the top of the circles,” reflects Boudreau. “The first [Gaborik goal], all three forwards thought it was dumped in. It hit the linesman. So, they had a four-on-two. Those are the ones in the third period you’ve gotta stop.”
Giving It Up – Tonight’s game ended the Caps’ streak of 10 straight games with 10 or more goals, dating back to last season.
Alarmingly, Washington has now surrendered 39 goals in its last 11 regular season games, dating back to last season. The team has had the same group of defensemen and goaltenders during that stretch. That’s an average of 3.55 goals per game during that span. The league’s most porous defense over the entire 82-game regular season slate of 2008-09 was the Toronto Maple Leafs, and they allowed just 3.49 goals per game.
“Three goals offensively to win a game is plenty in this league,” says Caps right wing Mike Knuble. “You gotta be able to win those games too. It can’t be about just outscoring everyone and being happy about all the goals that are going in. For as good as you are offensively, you have to be as good defensively – if not better. That’s the way you got to win in this league.”
Power Outage – Although the Caps took their short-lived third period lead on a Backstrom power play goal, the extra man unit was weak tonight. Washington went 1-for-9 with the man advantage, and squandered a pair of lengthy 5-on-3 chances totaling 1:33 in duration, taking a penalty (Mike Green for tripping) to abort the second of those two-man advantages. The Caps also enjoyed 1:31 worth of 4-on-3 time, but did not score.
Washington was credited with 10 shots on goal on the power play, but missed the net with eight other shot attempts with the extra man (four by Green, two each by Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin). Two more power play shot tries were blocked.
Back In The Lineup – Caps defenseman Brian Pothier followed a strong preseason showing with two good games to start the regular season, but still found himself sitting out as a healthy scratch against the Flyers on Tuesday. He was back in the lineup tonight and made his presence felt early.
After Semin stripped and swiped the puck from a Ranger in neutral ice midway through the first, he left the puck for Pothier at the New York line. Pothier showed his skating skill, deftly backpedaling around the left circle while casting about for an open man. While still moving, he fired a perfect cross-ice feed to set up Semin for an easy back door tap-in.
Defenseman Tyler Sloan got his first action of the season tonight, dressing and playing forward for the first time as an NHLer. He had a decent night in an unfamiliar position, picking up an assist on Backstrom’s first goal of the night. Sloan was also effective at using his speed and getting into the corners on the forecheck.
Midway through the third period, he hammered New York defenseman Wade Redden twice on the same shift, leaving the veteran blueliner weaving and wobbling.
Score That One “E-6” – The third period was a bit sloppy on the parts of both teams and both goaltenders, but Backstrom’s first goal of the night was particularly fluky. Backstrom gained the red line and flipped what looked to be a harmless dump-in. The puck fluttered toward the goal, and New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist tried to glove it on the hop like a shortstop. But the puck eluded him, sliding just inside the far post to even the game at 2-2.
Semin Smoking – Semin has notched at two points in five straight games, dating back to last season. He has seven goals and 12 points during that span.
Secondary Missing – Washington has scored 18 goals this season, but has gotten goals from only six different players – its top six forwards – in the four games. All of the team’s defensemen and all of its bottom six forwards are still seeking their first goals of the season.
"If you're not going to score, then you'd better not be on the ice for goals against,” cautions Boudreau. “That's the creed I've always lived by. This is no excuse for Alex's line, but they're going to get the odd goal scored on them because they take chances, but they're in the end going to score a lot more than they give up. It was lines three and four -- if you're not going to score, you'd better not be on for any goals against."
Multiple Men – With his first two goals of the season on Thursday, Backstrom became the fourth Capitals player with a multiple-goal game in the season’s first four contests. The Caps have had a total of six multiple-goal games in the first four tilts of the season.
Four Forwards in Reverse – Nursing a 1-0 lead and holding a 4-on-3 manpower advantage in the second period, Boudreau opted to put four forwards on the ice: Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom and Brendan Morrison.
A New York breakaway soon followed, and only a nifty backcheck from Morrison prevented a terrific scoring chance for the visitors. Seconds later, the Rangers took off on another breakaway. This time, the winded Caps forwards were unable to catch New York’s Ryan Callahan, and he scored to even the game at 1-1.
Hobey Hotbed – Each team had a pair of former Hobey Baker Award winners in the house. Washington general manager George McPhee (1982) and center Brendan Morrison (1997) are both Baker winners as are New York center Chris Drury (1998) and defenseman Matt Gilroy (2009).
First Strike – Gaborik’s goals were his first ever against Washington. He entered Thursday night’s contest with just a single assist in seven career contests against the Caps. Boston is now the only NHL team against which Gaborik has yet to score.
Blue Shirts Blueline – Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival is the team’s second highest paid blueliner. His current four-year contract carries an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.
After he took a holding penalty at 6:45 of the second period of Thursday’s game, Rozsival remained glued to the bench thereafter. He logged just 8:22 on the night, a far cry from the 22-plus minutes he has averaged per night in each of his four previous seasons with the Rangers.
The Kid’s All Right – Teenaged Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto scored a point for the third straight game. It was his pass that sprung Gaborik for the game-winner. Del Zotto has two goals and four points in his brief, four-game NHL career.
Doghouse? – Rangers bench boss John Tortorella can’t be too happy about his team taking nine minor penalties on the night. He has to be even less enamored of fourth-liners Aaron Voros and Donald Brashear taking third-period penalties. The Caps scored during Voros’ minor, and Tortorella unleashed a torrent of invective toward the winger after he made the skate of shame from the penalty box to the New York bench.
By The Numbers – Through two periods, Mike Green had one shot on goal, five shots blocked and four that missed the net altogether. He finished with two shots on goal, seven that were blocked out front and six that missed the mark altogether … The Caps had 28 shots on goal for the evening, but they had 22 more blocked and missed the net with 18 bids. New York, on the other hand, had 29 shots on goal with just eight shots blocked and 11 that missed the cage … Ovechkin was held pointless for the first time this season. He skated 24:57 (including a whopping 11:27 on the power play) and finished with nine shots on goal and three hits … Chris Drury paced the Rangers with four blocked shots.
Wrist shot -