Trying to emerge with a weekend split against the New York teams, the Washington Capitals took it to the Rangers at Verizon Center with an energetic opening 10 minutes that included the first NHL goal for Steven Oleksy. Unfortunately, that left 50 minutes still to play.
The Rangers controlled most of those, scoring all of the remaining goals and leaving town with a 4-1 win. Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh each had a pair of assists for the visitors, and Martin Biron stopped 28 of Washington’s 29 shots.
Oleksy got the Caps off to a flying start just 2:16 into the game. Marcus Johansson made a good play to keep the puck in the offensive zone, allowing Jason Chimera to send the puck back to the blue line, where Oleksy’s relatively routine shot made it all the way to the back of the net.
The Rangers went almost five minutes without a shot but managed to respond the next time they did. Derek Stepan and Marion Gaborik were able to pass the puck back and forth several times coming out of their own zone–with Alex Ovechkin making a curiously half-hearted attempt to throw a check along the way–and Stepan was able to bank the puck in off of Braden Holtby from below the goal line to tie the game 1-1 with 8:29 left in the first.
Holtby wouldn’t last through the second period. A goal by Brian Boyle at the 10:53 mark was followed just 41 seconds later by a power play deflection by Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, and the visibly frustrated Washington goalie was replaced by Michal Neuvirth, making his first appearance since February 7.
Biron got his stiffest test near the end of the second period, making several key saves while the Caps has 31 seconds of unsuccessful five-on-three power play time. Brad Richards added an insurance goal late in the third period, just his fourth of 2013.
Nicklas Backstrom had his four-game point streak snapped, while Mike Ribeiro was held pointless for two consecutive games for the first time this season and seemed to allow his frustration boil over in the third period when he and Michael Del Zotto drew matching minors for roughing. Ovechkin also had a second straight poor performance, getting called for two penalties on one sequence–a delayed call that ended in Boyle’s goal and a holding call assessed while the Rangers had Biron off for an extra man–that ended up helping decide the game.
The loss drops the Capitals back to three games below .500 and desperately in need of points with the season officially halfway over. They’ll have a tough task but also a big opportunity with two games coming up against the Southeast-leading Carolina Hurricanes, at home on Tuesday and on the road on Thursday.
The game was over when…
Washington was too passive during both goals in the second period. Boyle was able to circle all the way around from the goal line to above the circle to get his shot off during the delayed call. And on the power play that followed, no one seemed to care that Callahan was screening Holtby (even though he did the same thing on the Rangers’ first man advantage), and he was able to deflect Nash’s shot in with little opposition.
The unsung Capitals hero was…
Joel Ward for giving the honest effort you know you’ll always get from him. He battled hard while killing penalties, and except for one nice sequence early in the second period from the top line, it was Ward’s line with Joey Crabb and Chimera that was the most consistent threat.