The Isles took advantage of a slow start and mistakes to take two big points. (WP)
For the second time this season, the New York Islanders have denied the Washington Capitals in their quest to win four consecutive games. The Caps lost to New York 3-2 on Tuesday night at Verizon Center, dropping a golden chance to keep pace with the teams in front of them in the standings. After falling behind early in the first period on two straight goals from the slot, Washington battled back with markers from Mike Ribeiro and John Carlson to get on level terms. A strong showing following those two markers was all for naught in the end, however, as a bad play at the end of a shift led the Islanders’ game winner with a little more than five minutes to go in regulation. Making things worse was that both the Rangers and Jets won on Tuesday, putting the Capitals seven and four points out of the Southeast Division lead and eight spot in the Eastern Conference, respectively. Now 15-17-1, the Caps’ chances to make the playoffs are 21.4%, according to SportsClubStats.
Mike Green, in no uncertain terms, cost the Capitals on or two points this evening with his bad play along the goal line late in the third period. Brooks Laich tried to take blame for it after the game, saying that he put Green in a tough spot, but the reality is that Green tried to do too much with the puck; he should have just made his pass and gone on with his life. Instead, Matt Moulson forced a turnover and John Tavares broke free of his man to get the Isles’ game winner. Other than that, I thought Green played well, but the play in this instance is what matters, though this is not a regular occurrence for the Caps’ best offensive defenseman anymore. Still, a very tough pill to swallow for Green and the team in general as they battle for the playoffs.
Mike Ribeiro scored a goal Tuesday, simultaneously igniting vociferous opinions both from those who want the Capitals to keep him and sign him to a long-term, big-money deal and those who want to trade him for pieces to help the future. All I will say is what I have said before: Ribeiro is having an awesome season; just like he did in his last contract year with the Stars (the only other year in his career he has exceeded a point-per-game pace). Contract years like this are what agents feed on and what get players signed to exorbitant deals like the ones we see for Mike Richards and others. The Capitals would be wise to not sign Ribeiro to one of those massive deals, as paying for past production really hurts a team’s salary cap structure when they stop producing like they did in that contract year – and they do stop producing.
This was yet another good game from Alex Ovechkin, who now has a six-game point streak for the first time in more than a year. The Captain generated chances right off the bat, was positive in his movement all night long, and continued his recent string of solid play. It’s very easy to see that Ovechkin has been motivated by the negative talk around him lately and though he wasn’t the driving force in the game Tuesday like he has been in past games, he was still good. Credit where it is due for the streaking Great Eight.
Matt Hendricks said after the game that he didn’t think the Caps came out with the “fire and intensity that they needed.” I would agree with this assessment. Coming off of three great games in a row, the Caps had a chance to grind down a team that was in the playoff chase with them and were unable to get it done. You can fault individual plays as much as you want (as you probably should), but when it comes down to brass tacks, this is a team game and though the Caps rallied, you have to play a full 60 minutes in a playoff chase. They did not.
Luckily for the Capitals, the road ahead does not look too bleak. They have six games in a row coming up against teams that are currently in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference, so they have more games like this where they are presented with an opportunity to do damage against other struggling teams. It’s not over yet, but tonight was a missed opportunity and just like the Pittsburgh game a week ago, you are left wanting more and lamenting missed opportunities. Because make no mistake about it, the chances were there. Evgeni Nabokov made some big saves in the New York net. But at this point, you need the two points.
The Capitals will have Wednesday off and then two days of practice before a back-to-back set on Saturday and Sunday against the Sabres and Flyers, respectively.
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.