Derek Stepan got the Rangers rolling, and they did not look back. (News & Observer)
The Washington Capitals dropped their second game in 24 hours on Sunday afternoon, falling to the New York Rangers inside Verizon Center by a 4-1 margin. After an early goal from Steve Oleksy got the Caps off on a great foot, it was all Rangers. Goals from Derek Stepan, Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan, and Brad Richards brought the Blueshirts back from their 1-0 hole to claim the game from the Caps and again prevent Washington from using their games in hand on teams above them in the standings. With the loss, the Caps fall to 10-13-1 and 21 standings points, and have a huge uphill climb to make the playoffs.
This was just a simple case of a good team beating a mediocre one today. As impressive as the Caps’s streak of eight wins in 11 games was, you knew that it was going to end and with two losses in two days to the two teams from New York, it has. Today the Caps got off to a flying start, taking advantage of the sagging Rangers, but after John Tortorella’s men found their footing, it was almost a foregone conclusion what the result of the game was going to be. The Rangers are bigger, stronger, more physical, better defensively, and their best players are their best players. You saw that today. New York is a Cup contender, the Capitals are not. And I reiterate that spending assets on rentals to improve this mediocre club marginally is not the best course of action.
This penalty parade is really starting to become an issue. In the middle of the second period, another disastrous penalty sequence put the Capitals well behind the 8-ball during a tied game. Alex Ovechkin took two penalties in the same sequence, so after Brian Boyle’s goal wiped out one of the delayed calls on Washington’s captain, there was a second man advantage for Rick Nash to score an absolute beauty with the extra man. That was the second time in 23 hours that penalty problems reared their ugly head for DC against a team from New York. Again: the stats involving the Caps and their penalty kill speak for themselves, and when you’re playing a team as good as the Rangers, you have to be extra careful. This team can’t afford to give away power plays, they simply are not good enough.
Braden Holtby was pulled today, but to say that he deserved it I feel would be a bit of a stretch. Adam Oates was likely just trying to slow the game down, and though Holtby did let in a few soft goals, he also made some big saves on the Rangers. Holtby has been great for over a month, so there’s no reason to panic or pull the plug on him now – but I still would not be surprised to see Michal Neuvirth start their next game, especially after playing well in relief.
On a positive note: how about Steven Oleksy, huh? The man who almost everyone, including me, thought was a call up aimed at improving truculence scored the Caps’ first goal and is a point-per-game player in the NHL. Count that among things that nobody saw coming, especially because he has laid some great checks, absorbed some big hits, and continued to play sound defensive hockey while playing big(ish) minutes for this team. It won’t last from an offensive standpoint, but maybe the Caps have somehow found a defensive player that everyone else missed.
Washington will have Monday off and will be back in action on Tuesday evening at home against the Hurricanes.
Harry Hawkings is a college student credentialed to cover the Capitals for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here for all your news needs this season.