Ryan Callahan and his teammates were simply better Wednesday night in DC.
The Government shutdown may be almost over, but the Washington Capitals’ struggles apparently are not. Adam Oates’ men were humbled on Wednesday night at Verizon Center, falling to the New York Rangers 2-0 on home ice to break whatever momentum they may have picked up with a 4-2 win against Edmonton two days ago. As is seemingly always the case, Henrik Lundqvist was outstanding in net for the visitors, running his shutout streak against the Caps to three full hours of playing time. In addition, the puck-possession starved Caps were outshot badly throughout the game and even worse at even strength, with the final fenwick numbers showing almost a 2-1 5v5 shot advantage for Alain Vigneault’s squad. Washington’s only two wins this season are now against bad teams from Alberta, and their record stands at 2-5-0.
Continued slow starts by Washington have the potential to absolutely kill this team. It didn’t burn them tonight because the Rangers didn’t score early, either, but you have to start quickly in sports if you want to win games consistently. Unless you’re Manchester United, you can’t fall behind regularly or start poorly and expect to win or even be considered a championship-caliber team. It got even worse as the game went on in terms of possession, too. Even against the Oilers on Monday, who are a bad possession team, Washington fell behind and needed to battle back – and they were aided by the brutal Edmonton goaltending in their successful attempt to do so. The only time during this game where Washington seemed to be consistently in control was on the power play…which means just about nothing. As indicated by the result, there are still underlying problems with this team that are significant and real, despite what people might want to tell you. There is a lot of work to be done.
Braden Holtby has rebounded nicely following a poor start to the campaign, playing very well over the last two games after yielding to Michal Neuvirth on Saturday. He had no chance on the second goal and though the first one was not a great goal against, Holtby made some awesome saves before conceding that first goal to keep the Capitals in the game. The goaltending has gotten little help throughout the first two weeks, so it’s hard to blame Braden here for the loss. Moving on…
The Martin Erat situation must be rectified. It is simply inexcusable at this point. George McPhee traded away one of his top two prospects for a player making $4.5 million on the salary cap for the next two years, and he’s playing single digit minutes while Joel Ward, Marcus Johansson, and others who are worse offensive players see more ice than him. It’s crazy. There is simply no other word for it, and if Erat doesn’t start playing soon, the club may have no choice but to deal him for pennies on the dollar. Terrifying.
The deadline to determine Tom Wilson’s fate is approaching fast. Adam Oates told reporters early Wednesday that Capitals brass will make the decision on Wilson’s future before the team departs for their upcoming four-game road trip out west. Big Tom got in a fight tonight, which of course meant that people were talking about how central the “toughness” he brings to the team is, despite the fact that they’re below .500 with him and his toughness on the roster. Look: Tom Wilson is a fine player with a ton of potential. But keeping him on the roster to play bottom-six minutes and fight when you already have fighters like Aaron Volpatti and John Erskine on the roster is simply not smart. He’s not going to see top-six minutes in the NHL and the entry-level contract of a first-round pick with such high potential upside is bad roster management. The Capitals don’t need to get tougher, they need to get better. Keep him on the roster if you think he can make you a better offensive or defensive team; anything else is simply a waste. And no, “he fights” does not make the Capitals a better offensive or defensive team.
One minor note: I have reason to believe that the Michal Neuvirth-to-Edmonton rumor has life. I have suggested that these two parties should do business for Washington’s backup goaltender many times, and offering him as trade bait was one of the main reasons that McPhee signed Neuvirth to that extension last spring. Nothing is close yet, however.
Overall, another odd game from the Capitals as they try and find their identity in the early part of this season. There were some good things and some bad, but some terrible deployment decisions and some just overall bad play are really hampering Washington so far. As stated above: there is a lot of work to be done, and it won’t be easy work. If the power play isn’t on top of its game completely, then the Caps need to score at evens, and they’re not very good at that. Their defense is very top-heavy, so they often rely on goaltending to keep them in games – and when the goaltending isn’t excellent, they lose. It’s not a difficult trend to spot, and it must be rectified if this team has any hope of becoming a contender. In fact, there are the same trends we saw all of last year once the system was installed…and we all know how that ended. These are not individual problems, they are team problems.
The Capitals have Thursday off and will practice Friday before welcoming another elite goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky, and the Columbus Blue Jackets to Verizon Center Saturday evening.