NEW YORK Before yesterday’s game, the question was which Washington Capitals team would show up against the New York Rangers.
The answer was neither, for all practical purposes certainly not the decent team that can be a playoff contender when it has a mind to, or the bad one that is porous to a fault. There is almost no way to describe the collection of players that took the ice in Madison Square Garden.
In short, the Caps lost to the Rangers 6-3, falling five games below .500 (20-25-8) with fewer than 30 games to play in the regular season. New York won with relative ease, jumping out to a fast lead and then punishing Washington, which lost to the Rangers for the first time in four games this season.
The Caps’ defenders of record surrendered a season-high 47 shots on goal, 18 in the first period alone. Olie Kolzig was the sacrificial lamb in goal, and but for his efforts, the score easily could have been 5-0 or 6-0 after the first 20 minutes.
New York flowed into the Caps zone en masse on odd-man rushes time after time, and the only resistance the Rangers encountered was the occasional lazy penalty called against Washington. Fish in barrels stood a better chance than Kolzig.
“I don’t think it was that bad,” coach Ron Wilson said. “We turned the puck over at the wrong time, and it wasn’t outnumbered attacks coming from their end. It was coming through the neutral zone, passing up the middle, and the guy in the middle not expecting the puck to come or not understanding that they were trapping now and that you [should] just deflect it off to the side.”
Three times Washington came back to narrow the deficit to one goal, and three times the Rangers answered with an insurance score. Each time the answering goal came off a huge mistake.
For instance, Brendan Witt’s second of the season (Dainius Zubrus had Washington’s other two goals) at 17:55 of the second narrowed the deficit to 3-2.
Less than two minutes later, Peter Bondra, who has one goal in his last 11 games, was trapped along the rear boards and tried to pass the puck out to where a teammate might get to it. The pass came straight out into the slot, where Theo Fleury one-timed a perfect feed over Kolzig’s right shoulder with 22 seconds left in the period. Game, set, match.
“The fourth goal in the last minute of the second period really took some of the starch out of us,” Wilson said, “but in the third, we kept battling. We just didn’t seem to have the patience to wait for the right opportunities. We force issues, issues become turnovers, which end up an outnumbered attack-type situation, which is what happened on their fifth goal.”
Tough as it may be to comprehend, Kolzig was superb despite being charged with six goals. The scoring chances against him had to be in the mid-20s, which is probably another high for the season.
“You’re not going to win too many times when you give up that many goals,” Kolzig said. “We’re in a desperate situation now, and it’s frustrating, that’s all I can say. That giveaway in the slot, I actually got a piece of it with my blocker, and as a goalie you like to make those saves just to give the guys a little boost. We showed a little character in the third and made it 4-3, and then anything could have happened. But we gave up that 2-on-1, and, boom, that was it.”
There are 29 games left in the Caps’ regular season, possibly the entire season.