Punxsutawney Phil – Groundhog Day isn’t until Wednesday, but the Caps must be starting to feel somewhat like Phil, the weatherman portrayed by Bill Murray in the 1993 film, “Groundhog Day.” Murray can’t seem to change the script of his life, he wakes up to the same song and endures the same events day after frustrating day.
Washington varied its recent script somewhat in Tuesday’s home game with the Montreal Canadiens, jumping out to a rare 2-0 first-period lead. But the Caps have averaged exactly two goals per game over the last 25 games, and they got stuck on two again tonight. Their inability to add to that lead, or to score at a rate similar to what they did in 2009-10 when they led the league in goals has bitten them recently. The Caps fell 3-2 in a shootout.
Could the Caps have altered the outcome by getting that elusive third goal early in the game when they had the Habs and goaltender Carey Price on the rocks?
“Yeah, of course,” sighs Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “At 2-0 they were kind of sleepy. Perreault scored on his first shot of the game and we used the power play [to expand the lead]. After that, we just stopped playing our way. We took some bad penalties and we stopped playing after [going ahead] 2-0.”
Even the opposition senses Washington’s fragility and vulnerability.
“I felt like they didn’t really pressure us as much,” says Montreal forward Tomas Plekanec. “I didn’t feel that offensive kind of pressure [the Caps had] last year or in other games against them.”
The loss was Washington’s eighth consecutive setback in overtime or a shootout. They’ve been equal opportunity losers past the 60-minute mark, dropping four of those games in the shootout and four in overtime. The Caps have had 16 one-goal games in their last 26 contests, and they’ve managed to win just four of those games (4-4-8).
For the seventh straight game, the Caps’ stingy defense limited the opposition to two or fewer goals. But because their attack has become enfeebled, the Capitals have managed to win only three of those games (3-1-3).
Despite allowing only six goals in their last five games, the Caps have won only twice (2-1-2) in that span.
While Washington continues to squander stellar defensive efforts and leave points on the table, the Southeast Division leading Tampa Bay Lightning continue to widen the gap between themselves and the Caps.
In the midst of a 12-game homestand, the Lightning ran their record on home ice to 17-4-2 with a 4-0 win Tuesday over Philadelphia, the top team in the Eastern Conference.
Tampa Bay now leads the Caps by five points with 30 games left. The Caps and Lightning meet twice more, including this Friday in Tampa.
“Right now we have to win the games 3-2 and 2-1 and 2-0,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “Vancouver’s been the only team [in the last 20 games] to get more than three goals [in regulation].
“We’re shutting them down. Hopefully when we get [Alexander] Semin back and Fehr back and we get more offensive guys back in the lineup, those 2-2 games turn into 3-2 and 4-2, us giving those guys the chances in front of the net. Our guys are trying their rear end off, but they’re hard-pressed to score some goals sometimes.”
Half And Half – The Caps are now 52 games into the 2010-11 season. In their first 26 games, they scored 88 goals on 822 shots on goal for a 10.7% shooting pct.
In their last 26 games, the Capitals have scored 52 goals on 828 shots on goal for an anemic 6.3% shooting pct.
Home Cooking Gets Stale – Starting with a 4-2 win over Montreal on Jan. 5, 2010 – the night Ovechkin was named captain – the Caps were a dominant team on the Verizon Center sheet for the better part of a year. They went 30-3-4 at home during the first 11 months of calendar 2010.
Since then, the Caps have been less than ordinary at home. They’ve won only four of their last 14 games (4-4-6) in the District.
The Kill – One of the constant and consistent bright spots for the Capitals this season has been their shorthanded play. Washington stymied the Montreal power play on Tuesday, killing off half a dozen extra-man chances for the visiting team.
Montreal managed 11 shots on goal in its 10:06 with the man-advantage, but the Caps’ penalty killing corps kept them off the scoreboard.
The Caps have now successfully snuffed 24 straight opposition power plays and 30 of the last 31 (96.8%) they’ve faced. Washington climbed to 86.4% on the kill for the season.
Only twice in the team’s 36-season history has it completed a campaign with a higher success rate on the penalty kill.
Hard Luck Loss – Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov might have been Washington’s best player in Tuesday’s game, but he was saddled with his fourth straight loss in games that have gone past the 60-minute mark.
Dating back to last season, Varlamov has won only one of his last nine games that have gone to overtime, and he is 4-12 lifetime in such contests.
Power Outage – Washington scored on its first power play of the night and it got another chance with the extra man immediately thereafter. But the Caps had only three power play chances on the night, and they short-circuited two of those by taking penalties of their own to put a halt to the man advantage.
As a result, they’ve endured their 28th consecutive game without scoring multiple power play goals, matching a drought the team endured nine years ago when it went 28 games without multiple power play strikes in a game from Jan. 12 through March 24, 2002. That’s the team’s longest dry spell of that nature since the start of the 1999-00 season.
The Caps are now 10-for-91 (11%) with the extra man in their last 28 games. They were 11-for-88 (12.5%) during their 28-game run in the winter of 2002.
Deuces – Washington’s two-goal first-period “outburst” was its first since the last time the Habs hit town on Dec. 28. That was – obviously – also the last time the Caps had a two-goal lead in the first period.
Tonight’s game is just the sixth of 52 this season in which Washington has scored more than one goal in the game’s first period. The Caps did so 22 times in their first 52 games last season, and 27 games during the course of the 82-game slate in 2009-10.
Mathieu Perreault scored the Caps’ first goal of the night at even strength, and Mike Knuble made it 2-0 with a power play goal a few minutes later. That marked the first time in nearly two months that Washington had scored an even-strength goal and a power play goal in the first period of a game.
Back on Dec. 6 against the Leafs at Verizon Center, the Caps got an even-strength strike from Perreault and a power play goal from Knuble in the first period. Washington held a 4-1 lead in that game but lost 5-4. In the shootout.
The 600 Club – Just over a decade past his NHL debut with San Jose on Oct. 6, 2000, Caps right wing Matt Bradley skated in the 600th game of his NHL career on Tuesday night against the Habs.
When an NHL player accrues 600 or more games played in the league, he earns the right to have his own room on the road. After Tuesday’s morning skate, Bradley mentioned that he’s happy with current roommate David Steckel and might not exercise his solo option.
The Other 600 Club – The Caps honored Hockey Hall of Fame winger Dino Ciccarelli prior to Tuesday night’s game, and continued to do so throughout the night with congratulatory vignettes on the big screen and highlights of the four years he spent parked at the top of the paint here in the District.
Last November, Ciccarelli became the fifth Capital to be honored with enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Ciccarelli scored 608 career goals and totaled 112 goals and 209 points in his 223 games in a Capitals sweater over four seasons in the District.
Blocking – The Caps blocked 13 Montreal shots on the night and had 20 of their own shot attempts meet the same fate. Washington is 16-1-3 in games in which it blocks 16 or more opposition shots this season.
By The Numbers –Mike Green led all skaters on both sides with 26:35 of ice time … Hal Gill and Tom Pyatt were the only two Montreal skaters not to record a shot on goal … Ovechkin and Montreal’s James Wisniewski each had four hits to lead all skaters on both sides … Brian Gionta, who scored both Montreal goals, led all skaters on both sides with seven shots on goal … Knuble paced the Caps with six shots on net … Ex-Caps captain Jeff Halpern had a field day in the circle for the Habs, winning 10 of 12 draws (83%) … Gill and Jaroslav Spacek led the way with four blocked shots each.
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