The Washington Capitals were utterly humiliated on Friday night inside Verizon Center, falling to the New Jersey Devils 5-0 in the second game of a critical five-game homestand. Zach Parise netted a hat trick for the Devils, who were playing their second game in two nights, and Johan Hedberg recorded his third shutout of the season with 23 saves. With the loss, the Capitals remain one point out of the final playoff spot in the East with three games in hand, but three points out of the Southeast Division lead having played one more game than the Panthers. The hill is getting steeper, and the hole is getting deeper. Can the Caps climb out?
The game got off to a choppy start, with neither team getting good offensive chances through the first three minutes. Johan Hedberg, making his first start in two and a half weeks, made the first big play of the game with 16:30 remaining in the period when he robbed Troy Brouwer on a two-on-one to keep the game scoreless. As the period progressed, the game moved back to its inactive pace, but it was the Devils who drew the first power play of the game with nine minutes to go in the frame after Matt Hendricks was boxed for high sticking.
It took the Devils barely 30 seconds to score with their man advantage, as Zach Parise finished off a crisp passing play down low to give his team a 1-0 lead. The Capitals pushed back hard after the New Jersey goal, trying to get one back before the period was over, and almost got it when Alexander Semin set up Jason Chimera in front, but Chimera could not convert. That missed chance came back to bit the Caps immediately, as Parise potted one that squeaked through Neuvirth to double his team’s lead. Dainius Zubrus scored a third 29 seconds later after a bad rebound from Neuvirth, and New Jersey took a 3-0 lead into the intermission.
New Jersey came out very hard at the start of the second period, pressuring Michal Neuvirth and converting for a fourth goal after three minutes when Zach Parise converted a two-on-one after a Mike Green pass was picked off at the blue line. But despite their huge lead, the away side kept coming at the Caps full bore, pressuring them and preventing them from scoring; however the Caps did get some chances but just could not convert.
With a chance to get on the board during a power play late in the period, but instead it was the Devils who added another, as Patrik Elias took advantage of another odd-man rush against a cashed in for their fifth goal on thirteen shots. The Devils ground down the Caps over the final stages of the middle frame, and by the end, the boo birds were in full force at the Verizon Center and fans were leaving in droves.
The final period, predictably, had little action early as New Jersey slowed the game down and began to completely take control, choking any potential life out of the Caps. DC even got a power pay with a little more than ten minutes left in the game, but again came up empty as chants of “Fire Hunter” sprang up among what was left of the crowd. The game finally came to a merciful end at 5-0 with “Let’s go Devils” chants abounding.
Yuck, yuck. The Capitals had won three in a row, albeit against bad hockey teams, and had a chance to make it four at home against a team that had played the night before and was starting its backup goalie. Opportunity squandered. This one hurts with the tough March that the Capitals have, and it’s getting hard to be optimistic after eggs being laid like this.
Michal Neuvirth wasn’t particularly good, but he wasn’t particularly bad, either. He did his best, and really only should have had two of the goals he let in; one of them, however, was the second and that one was a back-breaker. That puck has to be squeezed. But to say that the reason the Caps lost was goaltending would be wrong; the lost because they were bad. Still, I expect Tomas Vokoun to play the next game, Sunday at home to Philadelphia.
What else is there to say at this point? The Caps needed to win. They didn’t. Now they really need to win. They’re just running out of time, and making the playoffs relies on luck now more than anything. Can’t wait.
Harry Hawkings is a college student who covers the Caps for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.