Capitals Searching for Answers After Fifth Straight Loss

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Photo: Scott Levy

For the second game in a row, the Capitals got blown out. The same things were to blame for Friday’s 5-1 defeat to Columbus and Sunday’s 4-1 loss to New York: dumb penalties and turnovers. What’s troubling, though, it’s that the players and the coaching staff recognized this after Friday’s loss. However, the mistakes only got worse against the Rangers. Washington has now lost five straight games.

“We shot ourselves in the foot,” head coach Adam Oates told reporters after the game before ticking off the team’s shortfalls. “They didn’t really have to earn it.”

“We’re fighting an uphill battle,” he continued.

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Not Again: Rangers Slam Caps 4-1

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Photo: Scott Levy

Coming into Friday night, the Caps had been playing well. On Tuesday and Wednesday, they nearly beat two of the league’s best teams. But then they played Columbus. It was a disaster, and a moment of reckoning.

After the game, the fan base — and the team — seemed to hit the panic button. People on Twitter smashed their keyboards, pointing out Washington’s glaring defensive holes and overreliance on the power play. None of that, however, is anything new. It’s not likely to change before playoff time either.

On Saturday, Adam Oates came up with wacky line combinations in hopes of righting Washington’s four game skid. It didn’t work.

The game got off to an awful start when Rick Nash picked off a silly defensive zone pass from Dmitry Orlov to put New York up just 70 seconds in. Fifteen minutes later, Nash was at it again. A lack of spatial awareness led to two hooking penalties on the Caps. On the ensuing 5-on-3, the former Blue Jacket floated a weak wrister through Phillip Grubauer’s legs. About a minute and a half later, Derek Stepan put the nail in Washington’s coffin with a shot though traffic. Braden Holtby came in, but the game was already over.

Ovechkin tried to give the Caps life with a 5-on-3 bullet early in the second, but Ryan Callahan put Washington back in their place just 86 seconds later. This was never a game anyway. Rangers slam Caps 4-1.

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Photo credit: Brace Hemmelgarn

The Caps need points. They didn’t get them tonight. After a moral victory against the Penguins, Washington dropped Friday’s game against Columbus in pathetic fashion. Despite picking up two points in the process, the Caps have lost four straight games. With six of the next seven games on the road, the upcoming stretch won’t get easier.

“It’s very frustrating,” head coach Adam Oates told reporters after the loss. “You just can’t let a game get away and be that easy. You just can’t. It’s not right.”

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Neuvirth salutes the crowd after being named the first star of the night. (Photo: Rob Carr)

Michal Neuvirth had been left behind in the Capitals goalie controversy. While Braden Holtby has struggled to find playing time, Neuvy hadn’t suited up for a game since November 29, when he got hurt stepping on the ice for warmups. Eventually, Neuvirth’s agent requested a trade. The status quo, though, continued. Philipp Grubauer got the starts, Holtby sat on the bench, and Neuvy watched from the press box. With little notice, Capitals head coach Adam Oates finally gave the Czech netminder a chance Friday.

“I was nervous as hell,” Neuvirth said of his thoughts before the game. “I was probably as nervous as my first NHL game. My girlfriend told me ‘Just do what you do and try to be good.’”

“First time I step on the ice for warmup, I was feeling pretty good and confident,” he added.

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Photo credit: Kim Klement

The Washington Capitals are kind of wretched when it comes to preventing odd-man rushes. A third period shorthanded chance for the Tampa Bay Lightning should’ve knotted the game at three, but Philipp Grubauer‘s cyborg groin was all over it.

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Phillip Grubauer to Make 6th Start in 9 Games

Grubauer

Photo credit: Bruce Bennett

For the seventh time in nine games, Philipp Grubauer will be in net for the Washington Capitals, his sixth start during that span. That means Braden Holtby, the Caps’ savior for the first two months of the season, will be watching from the bench once again. Michal Neuvirth continues to remain in limbo.

“He’s only played a couple games but I feel comfortable with him right now,” head coach Adam Oates said of Grubauer after the morning skate.

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Braden Holtby Plays Defense During Practice (Photo)

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Photo credit: @Sydneyhasnever

The Washington Capitals are carrying three goaltenders right now. Why? Not sure. But with Philipp Grubauer earning another start tonight, Braden Holtby decided to take a shift or two on defense during this morning’s practice.

I’m in love with this photo right now. I’d take Holtby over Urbom any day of the week.

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Photo credit: Elsa

Philipp Grubauer has played a little over five games of NHL hockey this season, and he’s been spectacular. Sporting a .940 save percentage, Grubi has been relied on to field a lot of pucks– 184 to be precise. Meanwhile, as Braden Holtby has struggled all December, there’s an understandable tendency to rank Grubauer above Holtby and dub him the team’s number-one goalie.

This would be unwise. In just six games of hockey, a .940 tell us very little. And in just six games of hockey, even the best goaltender in the world can look like a bum.

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Grubauer

Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

For the first two months of the season, Braden Holtby was the Capitals’ rock. While the team struggled 5-on-5, Holtby’s excellent goaltending — despite facing some of the highest shot totals in the league — kept the team in games. The 24-year-old started every night from late October to early December, a span of 13 games. The workload, though, eventually caught up with him. After allowing three goals early against the Carolina Hurricanes in December, Holtby was pulled. Enter a new rock: Philipp Grubauer. After being called up in place of the injured Michal Neuvirth, Grubauer has played in five of seven games, starting three. He’s picked up three wins, posting a .937 save percentage and a goals against average of 2.06. He narrowly missed his first career shutout earlier this month.

“I soak it all in just being up here,” Grubauer told me. “I’ve been through almost every league: East Coast, AHL. It’s tough to get up here, but once you get up here you gotta make sure you stay. I’m just happy to be up here, and I work my butt off.”

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Tom Wilson and Madison Bowey during Caps Development Camp in July. (Photo credit: Chris Gordon)

[Editor's Note: Fedor has reported on Washington Capitals prospects for RMNB for the last three years. This year we're proud to introduce his prospect rankings. The rankings will be updated three times during the season-- with the goal of updating you on how prospects are or not progressing. The first edition of the rankings come on the second day of Rookie Camp, as Caps prospects jockey for position within the organization.]

The Washington Capitals have re-stocked their prospect pipeline over the past two NHL drafts, giving fans a wealth of new players to get excited about in addition to a few solid free-agent prospects signings.

The 2012 Draft is turning out be a sterling spot on George McPhee’s resume. After picking Filip Forsberg and Tom Wilson in the first round, GMGM made a few strong picks in the latter rounds with Thomas DiPauli, Connor Carrick, Riley Barber, and Christian Djoos– all of whom have been invited to their junior national team camps and left good impressions.

Depth on defense is an area of strength for this crop of talent, with more than a few prospects ready to compete for roster spots as soon as they open.

Below, check out inaugural edition of the RMNB prospect rankings.

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