Photo credit: Norm Hall
We’re reaching a key point in the season, as Capitals veteran winger Mike Knuble said after the loss to the Kings, “This road-trip could be great or it could be an absolute embarrassment.”
It seems like all year we’ve been waiting for Washington to just snap out of it and return to last season’s form. But at the start of their matchup with Phoenix, the Caps were fewer points away from being out of playoff position then they were of taking the number one spot in the east.
“If they’re waiting for some switch to magically appear, it’s not going to happen,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said after Saturday’s flop.
It’s time to wake up. And the Capitals certainly didn’t do that Monday night.
The first period was rather uneventful. Aside from an early power play, the Caps had limited scoring opportunities, registering just one even strength shot in the frame. But then in the second, the Caps decided to #CRASHTHENET, as Marcus Johansson used the patented bank it off Martin Hanzal’s foot move, putting Washington on top. However, Hanzal quickly redeemed himself, scoring just 49 seconds later, going five-hole on Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth. With less than two and a half minutes left in the period, Ray Whitney gave the ‘Yotes a 2-1 lead when his wrist-shot hit the back of the net. In the third period, Vernon Fiddler would push the Coyotes advantage to two when converted on a 2-on-1. Matt Bradley, however, would answer right back, cutting the lead to one under a minute later, getting a shot past Phoenix ‘keeper Ilya Bryzgalov. But that would be it for Washington. Coyotes beat Caps, 3-2.
- Though the Capitals showed a somewhat renewed sense of urgency, Phoenix kept Washington to the perimeter, blocking 20 of their shots while completely shutting them down in the final minutes of the game. Despite the fact that the Caps out-chanced the ‘Yotes 20-10, they had zero chances in final seven minutes of play. Not something you want when you’re down by just one goal. Would the Capitals of 2009-10 have come back tonight? I don’t know. But this team – at this moment – seems incapable of that.
- If Alex Semin‘s turnovers were paintings, Jobing.com Arena would have been full of Rembrandts tonight. The newly de-mulleted Brian Engblom said of Sasha Minor during the third period, “I don’t think he’s going to need a lot of ice bags tonight.” When you’re one of two guys who skipped the morning skate after a horrible effort at home against the Kings, that’s not exactly what Caps fans want to hear.
- Dmitry Chesnokov of Puck Daddy suggested tonight that Alex Ovechkin should stop shaving. While aesthetically we couldn’t agree more with him, do the statistics concur? Before Ovechkin signed his endorsement deal with Gillette on December 8, the Russian Machine averaged over a point per game, tallying 12 goals and 23 assists in 29 games. Since then, he has nine goals, 12 assists in 28 games. The Capitals were 18-8-3 with a bearded Ovechkin but are significantly worse with the clean-shaven one at 11-10-7. Someone hide his razors!
- After scoring on the power play late in the second period, Ray Whitney was selected for Versus’ intermission interview. He had some interesting things to say about the Capitals new style of play: “After playing against them the last five years in Carolina, eight, six times a year. It’s a totally different team. They still have the same skill level but you can tell they’ve made a conscious effort to play smarter defensively. Not really what I was expecting out of them but they’re certainly doing a good job of it. This is kind of our style of play. We’re kind of comfortable with it. To see them doing that is surprising, but I think they’re on to something. I think that’s what’s going to, as a group, maybe take them up to that next level.”
- Is it time to give up on the Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Knuble line? The trio didn’t register their first even strength scoring chance until the third period. Eric Fehr, who practiced today without a non-contact jersey for the first time since injuring his shoulder, cannot return soon enough for Washington.
- Even though Mathieu Perreault did not register a point, the feisty Drummondville, Quebec native was on the ice for six chances-for, and only one against. He brought energy all night and was rewarded with three minutes of power play time.
This can’t be stressed enough, this 5-game road-trip is huge for the Capitals. After their loss to the Coyotes, the Caps find themselves in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, making them look at lot more like pretenders than a team with serious Stanley Cup aspirations. We all know the Caps have the skill. It’s time for them for them to look in the mirror decide if they are going to do something with it. The coaching staff isn’t immune either. The general can’t just blame the troops for their poor effort. He must take some responsibility for their actions. If the Capitals keep up the status-quo, they’ll be on the outside looking in.
Additional reporting by Ian Oland and Neil Greenberg.