The Washington Times - December 12, 2009, 11:07PM

Well, that was a dud. To put it lightly. The Caps just played the two worst teams in the NHL on back-to-back nights and needed overtime to beat one at home and self-destructed to the tune of six goals in the final 40 minutes against the other.

The Caps were terrible after the first period tonight. Almost all of them were. Here are the two quotes you need from the aftermath:


“Obviously I thought the last half of the game we played pretty badly,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I think outside of Shaone Morrisonn and Tom Poti all of our defense struggled tonight and they didn’t get any help from the forwards outside of Nick [Backstrom’s] line. So I guess it was basically a complete team letdown.”

and …

“Travel concerns don’t come into play when you’re up 2-0 five minutes into the game — I don’t think anyone was complaining then,” Brooks Laich said. “The first couple goals [against] we had the puck on our sticks in the slot and didn’t clear it to the corner which is the first rule of defensive hockey.

“After that it was breakdown after breakdown and then the shifts got too long and the problems really were compounded.”

Ah, to overreact or not overreact — or is ripping the team on top of the Eastern Conference standings for this putrid performance (after two suspect ones before it) an overreaction at all? The Caps have played five games in five different cities — the first game was great, the second good and the last three substandard.

Here are the reasons why there could/should be cause for concern (sorry if some of these are repetitve from previous blog posts, but the Caps aren’t improving in some areas — which is in itself a cause for concern):

— The Caps have been outscored 75-74 after the first 20 minutes this season. Can the best team in the league really be outscored for two-thirds of the game? Sure, the Caps are incredible in the first period (41-17), but tonight counts as another blown lead — and this one might have even been worse than some of those third-period ones that were so ugly earlier in the year.

— The Caps have lost more games than they’ve won against teams that don’t reside in the Southeast Division. Like I said, I’ve been harping on this, but the Caps are 8-0-0 against the Southeast and now 12-13 (12-7-6 by official standards, but remind which of those six OT/shootout losses did the Caps feel good about and take momentum from?) against the rest of the league. How can a team be the best team in the league if it is 12-13 against the 5/6 of the league that aren’t in the division that has been notoriously suspect in recent years?

— The last three games have been a shutout loss, an overtime win — at home, no less — against the worst team in the NHL (by a wide margin), and this debacle tonight.

— Here’s a quote from Leafs coach Ron Wilson: “I don’t think they’re [i.e. the Caps] worried about, at any point in the game, about defending — they’re thinking about scoring the next goal.”

Now, after all that there are plenty of reasons to refute everything I just wrote.

* The Caps have 46 points, more than any other team save for San Jose.

* The Caps have scored the most goals in the league.

* The Caps still haven’t had their full lineup together (although Bruce Boudreau told a radio station here in Toronto yesterday that they had their full lineup tonight).

* The Caps are in the midst of their worst travel stretch of the season. Five games in five cities in eight nights … followed by three more games in three different cities in the next six nights. Compunded with that was the wacky curveball tossed in when the team couldn’t get here until late this morning.

And that’s the deal with this team at this point. It is just as easy to argue that this is the best team in the league (as HNIC’s Glenn Healy did after the first period tonight) as it is to poke holes in their elite status.

And we’re probably not going to know which side of the argument is true for a while, either.