Opportunity Lost – Sporting their vintage sweaters, the Capitals took to the RBC Center ice sheet on Monday night with a chance to re-take the top spot in the Southeast Division with a victory over the host Hurricanes, the basement dwelling team in the Eastern Conference.
The Caps turned in a vintage performance, but unfortunately it was one that harkened back to the franchise’s first season. Washington dug an early hole for itself, then kept digging it deeper in an ugly 5-0 loss to the Hurricanes.
Carolina drew an early power play on a Roman Hamrlik elbowing call, and the Canes needed just a dozen seconds of that extra-man time to cash in for all the offense they would require on this night. Defenseman Justin Faulk pounced on a rebound and hammered it past Caps goaltender Tomas Vokoun to make it 1-0 at 3:41 of the first.
Just over a minute later, a Marcus Johansson turnover led to a second Carolina goal, this one off the stick of Hurricanes forward Anthony Stewart.
At that point, Michal Neuvirth came on in relief of Tomas Vokoun in the Washington nets. Vokoun surrendered two goals on seven shots in just 5:09 of work on the night.
The dagger goal was the third one, the first of three against Neuvirth. It came in the final minute of play in the first frame and was the result of an odd-man break for the Canes. Andreas Nodl netted this one, ending a 23-game drought without a goal in the process. His last goal prior to tonight’s was on Dec. 23 against Ottawa, and that tally was his second in as many games.
Nodl now has three goals and seven points in 10 career games against Washington.
“I think we created our own mess in the beginning,” says Caps winger Mike Knuble. “We take a penalty right away and I think all three of those goals in the first period were what we created. Another turnover and then a 3-on-2 rush that they finished off nice.”
Eric Staal scored a shorthanded goal in the second period and an even-strength strike in the third to close out the scoring.
“Tomas takes the brunt of it tonight,” says Knuble of Vokoun, “and Michal comes in but there was no help in the beginning from us. We had a chance to seize an opportunity. They were down to their third goalie. If we could have come out and tested him early, that would have helped our cause. But we weren’t able to manufacture stuff and they capitalized on what we gave them and were off and running. We were on our heels.”
Vokoun gave up the first two goals, but couldn’t be held at fault for this loss. The Caps did nothing right and were never in this one. The defense repeatedly failed to clear the puck, and the offense repeatedly failed to get shots on net when it did get scoring chances or odd-man rushes. The Caps’ special teams also performed poorly, surrendering a power-play goal and a shorthanded goal.
“The mood seemed good and all those things seemed good,” says Caps center Jeff Halpern, when asked about the team’s pre-game state of mind. “We came out and they were all over us. Whether it was a power play goal or not, they were good and we were bad. It’s a bad combination.
“They did a great job of forechecking through the neutral zone. We couldn’t come out of our end clean pretty much all night, it seemed. And when we got out it wasn’t clean and we couldn’t get a forecheck going.
“They were good and we were awful. When you’re chasing the puck and when you’re just batting the puck around and not going to support it, even when you do, you’re not going to have the puck to get shots.”
The Capitals have now won just one-third of their 30 road games on the season (10-17-3).
Divisional Doldrums – Washington squandered a chance to move back into the top spot in the Southeast Division, and they also enabled the plucky Hurricanes to pull a bit closer in their rear view mirror.
“The division is right there,” says Knuble. “Nobody wants it. Florida losing last night, it’s a chance for us to climb into the eighth spot or maybe even the third spot. It’s extremely frustrating for us. But tonight you can see we did it to ourselves. They really picked up the momentum after that and we were really back on our heels.”
Only eight points separate the five teams in what is a decidedly mediocre Southeast Division. Florida leads with 65 points – the fewest of any NHL division-leading team – and Carolina is bringing up the rear with 57 points.
Missing Man – Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov missed his first game on Monday since being recalled from AHL Hershey in November. Orlov had played in 40 straight games before missing Monday’s game in Carolina because of illness.
First Whitewash – Carolina goaltender Justin Peters earned the first shutout of his NHL career, but he only had to stop 17 Washington shots to get it done. Peters’ last shutout came while he was with Albany of the AHL in 2009-10. He blanked the Caps’ Hershey farm team on Dec. 11, 2009 when he stopped all 36 shots sent in his direction to earn a 3-0 win.
Tonight, Carolina blocked more shots (19) than the Caps got on net, and the Caps also missed with nearly as many shot tries (16).
The last time the Hurricanes blanked the Capitals twice in the same season was in 2006-07 when Cam Ward did it twice.
Streaking – Carolina winger Jiri Tlusty ran his scoring streak to eight games with a pair of assists in Monday’s game. Tlusty has four goals, and six assists during the life of his streak.
Moving Up The Charts – Staal’s shorthanded goal was the 12th of his career, moving him one ahead of ex-Whalers (and also former Caps) forward Dave Tippett for the top spot on the Hartford/Carolina all-time franchise list.
By The Numbers – John Carlson led the Caps with 22:13 in ice time … Mike Green, playing his second game after returning from sports hernia surgery, skated 21:24 and was a minus-3 … Carlson, Matt Hendricks, Joel Ward and Karl Alzner were the only Washington players not to have a minus next to their names at night’s end … Carlson, Jason Chimera and Alexander Semin led the Caps with three shots on goal each. Only nine of Washington’s 18 skaters registered at least one shot on goal … Only one of Carolina’s 18 skaters (defenseman Tim Gleason) failed to record a shot on net … Carolina had 20 takeaways to Washington’s four.