Welcome back to the Morning After, your home for Washington Capitals game analysis during this shortened NHL season.
GAME 15: RANGERS 2, CAPITALS 1 (5-9-1, 11 points, 5th in Southeast, 15th in East)
NEW YORK | Don’t blame Braden Holtby. It wasn’t his fault on either goal the Caps allowed Sunday night at the New York Rangers.
One goal was a tap-in at the side of the crease by Carl Hagelin and the other a one-timer by Derek Stepan after perfect tic-tac-toe passing on the power play. There was nothing the young goalie could do.
“To be honest, those are the goals that are easier to give up,” said Holtby, who stopped 38 of 40 shots. “They’re easier to bounce back from because you know they made good plays on them. The credit’s to them. That’s the way the game goes sometimes.”
Credit to the Rangers, but the Caps also had blunders that led to the goals.
Defenseman Tom Poti appeared to turn his back and lose Hagelin on the first goal.
“We had a couple of chances to get it out [of the defensive zone],” Poti said. “We didn’t. I was just trying to step up and [Rick] Nash made a great play and Hagelin kind of snuck behind me there.”
Stepan’s game-winner came just seven seconds after defenseman Karl Alzner went to the penalty box for tripping. But it could have been prevented if John Carlson stayed with Stepan instead of drifting out of position to mark Brad Richards.
“I don’t think we played that correct,” coach Adam Oates said, while not naming any names. “We’ll talk to the guys about it.”
Even if Carlson, John Erskine, Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks played it correctly, it’s possible that the Rangers still would have scored because of the rapid puck movement.
“Obviously they picked us apart on the one goal,” Carlson said.
The Caps shouldn’t have been worried about allowing two goals because they should have had more than just Carlson’s to show for their offensive efforts. They went 0-for-4 on the power play, putting up nine shots in those eight minutes.
And aside from the power play, there were chances, like when center Nicklas Backstrom set up left wing Wojtek Wolski on a two-on-one in the second.
“Just kind of a little behind me, and I thought I could go across the net because I assumed that he would probably push pretty hard to come towards my side,” Wolski said. “I just missed the net twice and there was two great opportunities that should be goals.”
Wolski had a good shot that Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist turned away with his blocker and another that missed the net. That was a second period Wolski would like to forget.
But as a team the Caps put together an inconsistent offensive performance.
“I think we started off pretty good, but then they took over when they got those power plays in the first,” Backstrom said. “And then they played better than us, I think. And then we were trying to force a goal there.”
Giving up a power-play goal and being unable to score one wound up dooming the Caps, even if there were larger problems to be concerned about. The power play looked downright terrifying early on, but it couldn’t finish.
“We had a couple of one-timers that we should’ve hit the net,” Backstrom said. “It’s tough.”
Captain Alex Ovechkin had a couple of notable misses on the power play in the final two periods. But he did get the only two shots on goal on the Caps’ final power play of the night.
Right wing Joel Ward had a chance on that power play from in-close but couldn’t get it on net. He said he took his eye off the puck for a split second.
“It was just a tad in front of me. I just totally whiffed it, I guess,” Ward said. “That was one I should’ve had a good crack at and I just missed it.”
Wolski said the Caps had a “ton of opportunities. They scored one on the power play, we didn’t and that’s the difference.”
It didn’t take long to see evidence that the Caps miss defenseman Mike Green whenever he’s out of the lineup. The trickle-down effect is major, as a heavier workload is dumped on Carlson and rookie Tomas Kundratek.
The power play looked scary, but it doesn’t have the same potency without the threat of Green’s shot from the point. And then there’s the transition game, something the 27-year-old is counted on to spark.
“We’ve talked about it in practice before is the offense can start from the D-zone and we didn’t really nail it down too hard on them,” Carlson said. “Once we were in their zone I thought we did a great job. But it just didn’t seem like we had much transition and much zone time”
Carlson played a game-high 26:15, and Kundratek by far a career-high 23:25. The young, puck-moving defensemen can be good pieces on a contending team, but it’s hard to win they’re playing such major roles.
Sunday night felt oddly like deja vu all over again, to quite Yogi Berra. Mix the atmosphere of Madison Square Garden with low-scoring hockey and it was reminiscent of last spring.
“Obviously you saw how it was last year in the playoffs,” Backstrom said. “That’s how it’s going to be: two really good goalies out there, too.”
This was far from Dale Hunter hockey, but the Caps blocked 18 shots to the Rangers’ 12. That was just about a necessity given that New York attempted 69 shots and got 40 on net.
Holtby was brilliant because he had to be.
“He’s a good goalie,” Rangers forward Rick Nash said. “He comes out and challenges you pretty good. Really, during the whole game, he was pretty effective.”