Alex Ovechkin flashed down the left wing and fired a scorching shot right over Henrik Lundqvist’s shoulder. Vintage Ovechkin to be sure, but with the Washington Capitals trailing by two goals to the New York Rangers in the third period, it came too little too late.
It certainly wasn’t how Ovechkin or anyone else envisioned it. The Capitals superstar winger scored his first goal at Verizon Center this season, but it was overshadowed by a series of bad turnovers and undisciplined play that helped a struggling Rangers’ offense snap out of its slump with a 6-3 win.
Washington’s brief two-game winning streak is now a thing of the past and coach Bruce Boudreau hinted at a “lack of confidence” among several of his players following the game.
“It seems like we start to feel sorry for ourselves,” Boudreau said. “This is a league where you can’t feel sorry for yourself. We just got to go out and suck it up and do what you have to do.”
John Carlson, who was responsible for the Rangers’ first goal, wasn’t thrilled with the numerous breakdowns that killed any momentum generated by wins over Phoenix and Winnipeg earlier in the week.
“We won the last two games, but I don’t think too many things are going our way,” he said.
They sure weren’t on Friday as the Rangers jumped on every one of Washington’s second-period mistakes to build a 3-0 lead in a 4:18 span.
It started when Carlson turned the puck over at the offensive blueline and Marian Gaborik one-timed a shot past Michal Neuvirth to make it 1-0. Then a careless giveaway in the slot from the usually sure-handed Marcus Johansson resulted in New York’s third goal.
“Marcus tried to force a puck up the middle rather than make the simple play,” Boudreau said. “We talk about keeping it out of the middle all night long and win the battles on the boards, but it was a young mistake.”
However, Johansson wasn’t the only one making poor decisions. As a team the Caps committed 17 turnovers, three of which resulted in Ranger goals.
“You got to take care of the puck especially when you play a team like this,” said Nicklas Backstrom. “I mean they were forechecking good and we got to make sure to [make] good passes and stuff like that.”
Ovechkin’s goal had the desired effect, energizing the crowd, but on the ice New York reversed the Caps’ all-out pressure to their benefit. As Washington ran themselves ragged in the third period to try and create chances against a world-class goalie, the Rangers counter-attacked with a grinding shift to seal the game.
Ryan Callahan carried the puck behind Neuvirth before dishing it to a wide-open Ruslan Fedotenko who scored his second goal to put the game away. The forward was camped out in front of Washington’s net without a defender anywhere near him.
“We were too slow. We were soft,” said Karl Alzner. “We weren’t making the smart plays, helping each other get open. If you’re not working hard for each other, you’re not going to be successful.”
Against Winnipeg, the Caps were able to put forth a controlled effort in which they wore the Jets down by taking the body. While there was more of the same physical play against the Rangers, it spilled over into the realm of undisciplined — something Boudreau knows can’t continue.
“We’ve got to get through to them that the risk isn’t worth the reward,” the coach said. “It’s not worth it. You get it deep and then you win the battle and eventually something good will happen.”
Boudreau has done all he can this season to get the Capitals to practice what he preaches. Instead of listening, the team has struggled to overcome its mistakes, dwelling on them rather than moving on.
“We’re getting too down,” Alzner said. “As soon as we get a goal scored against us, it kind of feels like it’s the end of the world.”
That’s a problem that can’t persist if the Capitals want to rediscover their winning ways.