The Washington Capitals found themselves in familiar territory Tuesday night, trailing 3-1 after the first period to a lesser opponent.  It's almost become habit, as they have now been outscored 9-1 in their last three games.

The league's highest scoring offense started hitting some home runs and managed to steal the lead in the third period against a somewhat shocked Ottawa squad.

But, in what might actually be more troubling than getting down 3-1, the Caps could not hold a one-goal lead in the third period, coughing up the tying goal just five minutes after finally taking the lead. 

Eventually, Alexei Kovalev would score for Ottawa in overtime with 19 seconds remaining to put the final dagger in the hearts of Caps fans in sold out Verizon Center.

Both the tying and winning goals were scored while the Caps were killing a penalty.

It's the Caps' third loss in a row, and they have now won just two games in regulation in their last 11 games.  The league's No. 1 offense mustered just a season-low 20 shots on goal.  They were outshot 12-4 in the first period alone.

Coach Bruce Boudreau tried to talk away the rough start in the post-game press conference, instead opting to give praise to the evening's opponent.  And while it's true that Ottawa did block quite a few shots, Boudreau's defense let his squad down again, time after time.

Goalie Jose Theodore made 26 saves, but again did not look sharp.  He allowed another goal from a sharp angle, perhaps confused by defenseman Jeff Schultz' not-quite committed laying out to block the on-coming shot.

But Theodore was hung out to dry on several occasions not of his own making.  Shaone Morrisonn, playing in reduced capacity due to removal of four wisdom teeth, was part to blame on the first two goals of the game.

On the first, Morrisonn went for the big hit on the board and while he did make good contact, was left out of position on the play and could not get back to guard Peter Regin, who backhanded past a defenseless Theodore.

On the second goal, Morrisonn checked an Ottawa screener into Theodore, knocking him to the ice, and Jason Spezza tipped in a shot from the point without any resistance.

There were high points, though.

Alexander Semin had two goals, including a "how'd he do that?" shimmy, and he also finished a terrific stretch play with Nicklas Backstrom throwing the Hail Mary to Alex Ovechin, who slid the puck around two defensemen to hit Semin breaking in all alone.

Spark-plug Mathieu Perrault notched his second goal in as many games since his recall, and defenseman Mike Green hit a bomb for his 18th goal of the season.

But Boudreau can't like how his team is playing down the stretch--much like last season, when they apparently took their lesser-ranked opponents lightly.

"The difference between last year and this year is last year we were playing teams that were out of the playoffs, so our level of play came way down," Boudreau said.

"I think the teams we're playing [this season] are fighting for something. That was a hard-fought game. That wasn't a go-through-the-motions-type game. You had two teams wanting it. I don't think our level of play will be dropping, like it was last year."

Even as Boudreau spoke the words, it seemed more like he was trying to convince himself than the assembled media.

2 comments

  1. Anonymous // March 31, 2010 at 5:01 PM  

    Thank you for articulating what I've be saving to my husband over the past three Caps games. Where's the defense to help out the goalie? The last game the CAPs played for the whole three periods was the game they won against Pittsburgh in my opinion. One can't help thinking that if we can't play complete games against teams trying to make the playoffs how are we going to play against teams who've made the playoffs already.

    Thanks for your great words - I recently starting reading your blog. I've been a CAPs fan since the mid-70s and am still wondering if I'll see them win the CUP before I die.

    A devoted FAN from way back.

  2. Dave Nichols // March 31, 2010 at 6:47 PM  

    Anon, thanks for reading.

    the Caps' struggles down the stretch is troubling, as they did the same thing last year.

    one would have hoped adding a veteran prescence like Mike Knuble to a still very young room would have rubbed off, but i think part of the problem is inherhent--they are still young players trying to make their way in the NHL.

    the defensive problems, on the other hand, may be more of a systemic thing, a by-product of Coach Boudreau's system if you will.

    in both the CAL game and the OTT game, a goal can be directly contributed to a forward not getting back in position to help the D, and in both cases, the players were up ice attacking when the play broke down and went the other way--quickly.