Familiar Script – Three nights earlier in Atlanta, the Capitals came out and laid a collective egg in the first period, falling into an early 3-0 hole on their way to an ugly 5-0 road loss to the Thrashers. Washington issued a repeat performance on Monday in New Jersey, digging a 3-0 first-period hole on its way to a second successive 5-0 road setback.
New Jersey starting goaltender Johan Hedberg came into Monday’s game with a 4.53 GAA and an unimpressive .855 save pct. but the Caps never gave themselves a chance in the game. Twice during the first period – when the Devils were up 2-0 and later 3-0 – the Caps had as many shots on goal in the frame as New Jersey had goals.
“It didn’t start off very good, obviously,” says Braden Holtby, who had the misfortune of being the starting goaltender in each of the last two road losses. “Another first period that didn’t go so well.”
New Jersey came in with the league’s 29th ranked power play unit, a group that had scored four times over the previous 15 games. That beleaguered extra-man unit needed just one power play chance against the Capitals to put a goal on the board. Mattias Tedenby’s centering pass clicked off Patrik Elias and then the crossbar before falling behind Holtby to put New Jersey up by a goal at 5:49.
That would be all the offense the Devils would need, but they also got a Jason Arnott wrapround goal at 16:15 and a Tedenby penalty shot tally at 18:14.
Two more goals came in the second period, both off rebounds when Holtby made the initial save but his teammates could not clear the deck in front.
To his everlasting credit, Holtby patiently and thoughtfully answered reporters’ questions after the game, including his assessment of the first-period damage.
“Got a tough break on the first one,” he says. “I don’t know if we could do anything about that one, it went off his skate and went off the crossbar and down.
“Second one I overplayed terribly and if you make a mistake like that with a guy like Arnott, he’s going to expose you.
“The third one was just, on a breakaway sometimes they find there’s going to be something open. I thought I played [Tedenby] fairly well but he snuck it in.”
New Jersey came into tonight’s game with three goals in their previous three games. The Devils needed less than 20 minutes to match that total.
“I’m not used to it,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “We’ll have to deal with it. The first period I knew that this was a team that was going to be very dangerous. They played a very good game in St. Louis [on Saturday] and they’re close to turning the corner. It’s a team that hasn’t scored, so once they scored a couple of goals – it always happens – offenses that are dead that score, they feel good about themselves and they score [more].
“I thought they got two pretty easy goals in the first period. That being said, we just didn’t do enough energy-wise and everything else-wise to stop them.”
Boudreau did not absolve himself of blame, either.
“I think it’s the team,” corrected Boudreau after it was suggested that the Caps’ defense might have been lacking. “Everything is a trickle down effect from the forwards to the defense to the goalies to the coaches.
“If we fail like this it’s everybody’s fault. It’s not just [the players’] fault. We all have to pick up our socks and find out what’s gone wrong in these last three games. You go 8-0-1 and then you go for a crap. I know it happens, but it doesn’t happen to us. So I don’t like it.”
Because of a rather densely populated game schedule, Washington has not had as much practice time as it would like of late.
“We’ll make up for it [Tuesday in Carolina],” says Boudreau, sternly.
Monday’s game marks the first time the Capitals have been shutout at Prudential Center and the first time Washington has been whitewashed in New Jersey since Martin Brodeur authored a nine-save (yes, nine) blanking of the Capitals on Dec. 4, 2003. That game came on the final road trip (and the third to last game) of Bruce Cassidy’s tenure as Washington’s bench boss.
Netminding Shuffle – Boudreau told assembled media on Monday morning that Michal Neuvirth would be his starting goaltender against the Devils. But Neuvirth didn’t get through the morning skate with his health intact, causing the Caps to change course.
After spending the better part of the last two months on the sidelines with a recurring groin ailment, goaltender Semyon Varlamov had been playing off some rust with AHL Hershey. Varlamov started and went the distance for the Bears on both Saturday and Sunday, but he was recalled to Washington in light of Neuvirth’s Monday morning injury.
“Michal tweaked something lower body this morning,” recounts Boudreau. “And so we called up Varly. But when [he] came, his skates hadn’t arrived. So we had to wait for them to arrive.”
Without skates, Varlamov was unable to take the warm-up and unable to man the bench during the game, at least until his skates finally showed and he took over for Neuvirth on the bench early in the second period.
“We asked for permission to have Neuvirth as a back-up just in case anything happened until Varly’s skates arrived and he could get on the bench,” says Boudreau. “That’s why Michal was on the bench and that’s why Varly didn’t show up until the second period.
Would the Caps really have risked Varlamov’s health by putting him into a third game in as many nights?
“No,” declares Boudreau. “We would be kicking ourselves with no warm-up and everything else. He was there in an emergency situation only. If Holtby had gotten hurt was the only way he was [going in].
“From what I’ve gathered, Neuvy is day-to-day and could probably play on Wednesday. If that was the case, we might have sent Varly back to play another game [with Hershey].”
Defensemen Tyler Sloan and Mike Green were also injured during the course of the contest and both left the game early, leaving Washington with just four blueliners at game’s end.
“They both got hurt during the game,” says Boudreau of the ailing defensemen. “We’ll know more in the morning, and see how they are.”
Season Four – Monday marked the third anniversary of the date of Boudreau’s hiring as the Capitals’ head coach. He coached the exact equivalent of three full seasons – 246 games – going into Monday’s contest.
With the loss at New Jersey marking the first game of “season four,” Boudreau is now 155-62-30 as the Capitals’ bench boss.
Back-to-Back Blankings – Washington has now been shutout in consecutive road games for just the sixth time in the franchise’s 36-year history.
Just weeks before Boudreau took over behind the Caps’ bench, Washington suffered consecutive road whitewashes against the Rangers in New York and in Carolina on Nov. 2 and 5, 2007.
The Caps were shutout on the road in each of the final two games – both road contests – of the utterly forgettable 1998-99 season. Those two defeats came on April 14 and 18, 1999. It must have been brutal on the ’98-99 bunch to have to wait four days to finish that campaign.
Back in 1989-90, the Caps absorbed consecutive 1-0 shutouts on consecutive nights on the road in St. Louis and Chicago, respectively, on Oct. 28-29, 1989.
On Dec. 31 1975, the Caps were on the wrong end of a 4-0 game in Detroit. On Jan. 3, 1976, they were handed a 7-0 shellacking in Montreal. Those were the first two road games with Tom McVie behind the bench; he took after Milt Schmidt was fired on Dec. 28. McVie’s debut as Caps coach was the Detroit game.
The first of the half dozen consecutive road shutouts came on Jan. 4-5, 1975, in the middle of the team’s first season. After a 10-0 drubbing at the hands of the Canadiens in Montreal, the Caps traveled to Atlanta for a 3-0 loss one night later.
Shooting Blanks – Washington is now in the midst of a road scoreless streak that stretches 136 minutes and 51 seconds in length. The Caps last road goal was a Nicklas Backstrom tally in the third period of a Nov. 13 3-2 overtime loss at Buffalo.
Road Killed – The Capitals slipped to 4-5-1 on the road this season.
Moosed – Veteran New Jersey netminder Johan Hedberg stopped all 30 shots he faced in Monday’s game, earning his 11th career win over Washington and his second lifetime shutout over the Capitals.
During the course of his NHL career, Hedberg has earned nearly a tenth of his total of 125 lifetime victories against Washington. He has beaten only one foe (Buffalo, 12 times) more frequently than he has the Caps.
Monday’s shutout was the 15th of Hedberg’s NHL career and his first against the Capitals.
Kid Stuff – New Jersey defenseman Mark Fayne became the ninth member of the Devils to make his NHL debut in just 21 games this season. Recalled from AHL Albany, Fayne skated 13:57, laid three hits and was plus-1 on the night.
By The Numbers – Playing his first game in New Jersey where he grew up, Caps defenseman John Carlson logged a single-game career best of 27:11 in ice time … In Friday’s 5-0 loss at Atlanta, there were four Caps skaters who finished the night without a minus next to their name. In tonight’s 5-0 loss to New Jersey, eight Caps managed an even rating.