Looking to rebound from their worst loss of the season, the Capitals went into Monday's game against the New York Islanders and fell flat again. Washington was down 5-1 before scoring twice to make the score a bit more respectable at 5-3. Still, this game never really felt in doubt.
Observations from the loss
Is the team thinking too much about 700?
Alex Ovechkin has been largely a non-factor in these last two games. I don't think the schedule did him any favors with three days between the Los Angeles game and the Philadelphia game. He pulled within two goals of 700, was red hot, then had three days to think about it.
I should note that Ovechkin had six shots on goal, much better than the two he had on Saturday, but overall it felt like he was not all that dangerous on Monday.
Well, now we know it's not the goalies
Braden Holtby has taken a lot of criticism for his play this season, but Monday's game reflects this team's defensive woes are deeper than between the pipes. Ilya Samsonov got the start and, just as Holtby on Saturday, was hung out to dry. Samsonov was pulled after giving up five goals on 20 shots, but he had no help at all. Holtby came in and, as the defense in front of him began to play better, so did the goaltending. Holtby turned aside all 12 shots he faced and played pretty well.
Look, it's been a bad season for Holtby. I think he would admit he has not played up to the caliber that we have come to expect from him. Having said that, Monday's game was a clear indication that the defense is a much bigger problem than goaltending.
Problems against the rush
Among the myriad of problems with Washington's defense on Monday, what really stuck out to me was how the team played the rush. The defense continually gets drown out of position when defending and the backcheck was more than just a step behind in getting back to assist the defense. The first goal was a good example with both John Carlson and Michal Kempny getting drawn out of position and Nicklas Backstrom being nowhere close to catching Anthony Beauvillier on the backcheck.
That is not how you defend a 3-on-2.
Two ways to go
We have hit a crossroads. Every team in the NHL goes through highs and lows. The Caps' record has masked some of their defensive problems and those problems are all coming out now. Just as with every team, the Caps are not as good as they looked when they were winning every game and they are not as bad as they look now. They lie somewhere in the middle, but that middle right now is a team that needs to outscore its problems and we have seen in the past how that strategy ultimately works out in the playoffs.
On Monday, the defense was atrocious. Frustration seeped through and they abandoned all semblance of a defensive system and began chasing the puck like crazy. New York toyed with them as a result and opened up a lot of room with some slick passes. The defense has issues, but it's not this bad. No defense in the NHL is this bad. This is a beer league, "we don't practice and meet just once a week for games at 1 a.m." level of defensive structure. Whatever you may think of this team and its defense, it is not as bad as we have seen the past two games. This is a team that is frustrated with its play and abandoning its gameplan as a result.
So what happens from here? There are two ways for this team to go. First, the team eventually starts to play a little better but never really recovers from this slump, the defense will continue to stink and the team will lean heavily on the offense and stumble into the playoffs hoping to outscore whoever they come up against. Or, the team will pick itself up, realize it has to be better, recommit to the defensive structure and begin playing more like the team we saw in the first half of the season.
I can practically hear the pessimists rolling their eyes right now. Two things: First, every time this team has a win streak, I get flooded with questions from people worried about whether the team is peaking too soon. If you are going to have these kinds of struggles, better to have them in February than in April. Second, when you struggle like this in February right before the trade deadline, suddenly all options are on the table. I doubt very much Brian MacLellan has been twiddling his thumbs through these games. I would not be surprised if MacLellan's goals for the trade deadline have changed significantly in the past one or two weeks from looking for depth pieces to absolutely looking to add a defenseman and maybe a bottom-six forward if the team can afford it.
The Caps were hoping to rebound from a disastrous whooping on Saturday at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers. Less than seven minutes into the game on Monday, Beauvillier scored twice and you already knew it was going to be a long night. The first goal came on a 3-on-2 rush that the Caps completely botched defensively (see image above) and the second was generated off a defensive zone turnover from Martin Fehervary.
Play of the game
T.J. Oshie did his best Alex Ovechkin impression on the power play and earned himself a donut with the one-timer goal.
Oshie's office? What a rip. pic.twitter.com/N63wwl3UcJ— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) February 11, 2020
Stat of the game
No one had a good night defensively, but Carlson added to his impressive offensive numbers.
With a goal and an assist tonight, John Carlson is now five points shy of passing Calle Johansson (474) for the most points in franchise history by a defenseman.— CapitalsPR (@CapitalsPR) February 11, 2020
Quote of the game
The players were not pleased with their compete level and Lars Eller had some tough words for his team.
"Maybe we think it’s going to be a little bit easier because we are where we are in the standings. All the teams, every divisional game right now, they’re fighting for playoff spots. So, there’s just playing with maybe more desperation (than) we do and we’ve got to match that. And it’s not a lot. It’s maybe a couple percent, but it’s enough to win a race here and there to a puck and it ends up in goals and right now I said they are outworking us, some goals they are outworking us, but some goals they’re also getting a little bit too easy. And on the other hand, most of the year we haven’t had too hard of a time scoring goals and right now we have to work a little bit harder than the other team to score goals right now."
6-1 caps. Redemption game— Ryan (@rdouglassgolf_) February 10, 2020
Umm...didn't really work out that way.
Oshie scores and I FINALLY get to sing along to Country Roads. (Always scores when I’m not in attendance)— Lisa Desabrais (@LisaDesabrais) February 10, 2020
You got your wish and Oshie got his donut.
Ovi hits 700!— Pepe Silvia (@Reilman79) February 10, 2020
The wait continues.
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