"You can't play ten minutes in this league and hope to win a game." Coach Bruce Boudreau, on his team's performance in a 2-1 loss to the Wild.
THE RESULT: One team looked rested, in the middle of a five-game homestand. They had a game plan; forcing shots to the outside, clogging up the neutral zone, and relying on a steady if unspectacular goalie.
The other team looked like they played the previous night on the road, in a different time zone. They looked like they took a two and a half hour plane ride and got to bed around 3:00 am. And they looked like they knew that 24 hours later they would be in a third time zone in a different country.
Looking back at the Washington Capitals 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild, the Caps should consider themselves the beating wasn't worse. The loss drops the Caps' record at the Xcel Energy Center to 0-5-1 all-time.
The things that have plagued the Caps all season long continued to trouble them in this one as well. Poor and sloppy passing through the neutral zone. Forwards skating in one-on-three. No one willing to do the hard work in the crease. And players losing individual defensive battles along the boards.
And the team's best player -- it's captain -- once again had a mostly frustrating evening, getting four shots on goal, but also getting four blocked, as defensemen continue to press him hard as he enters the offensive zone as he carries the puck instead of laying back, not allowing themselves to become a screen.
And when the Great Eight does manage to get a shot through the D-man, it's still far enough out for the goalie to find it.
Not until 18:24 of the third, as the panicked Capitals played 6-on-5, was Alex Ovechkin able to get space and sneak a puck into the opposition net, cutting the deficit to 2-1. Unfortunately, he and his teammates could not find the equalizer, having started their energized play much, much too late.
Ovechkin was very blunt in his assessment of the game. "We didn't shoot the puck. We didn't hit their guys. We didn't finish our shots," he said.
No truer words have been spoken.
The most recent goalie to look like Patrick Roy against the Caps was Niklas Backstrom of Finland. He played well shutting out the Caps until a minute and a half left in the game, but was not tested often, facing just 22 shots. His mates blocked an additional 15 shots, and the Caps misfired on 18, including Alexander Semin's clear breakaway early in the third period.
Backstrom's best was a lunging, back-door glove save on his name-twin, Nicklas Backstrom of Sweden, with just 5.8 second remaining.
Continuing the theme of the season, the hard-luck loser tonight was Michal Neuvirth, who once again was stellar -- if not tested very hard either -- stopping 15 of the 17 shots thrown his way.
These Capitals are struggling to put two good period together right now, let alone two straight games. As well as they played Wednesday night in Carolina, finally putting together 60 minutes of hockey, it has to be especially deflating to Coach Bruce Boudreau and his staff to see that effort mimicked by their slow, lumbering performance against Minnesota.
Boudreau was especially expressive after the game with the media.
"It was a really disappointing effort, I thought, from our team for about about 50 minutes," Boudreau said. "You can't play ten minutes in this league and hope to win a game."
Asked about the team's struggles, particularly in the first periods, Boudreau said, "I haven't changed too much of the way my philosophy as far as getting them ready for the game. I don't know. I don't know what it is."
"It looked like we were in quicksand. We weren't moving the puck, we couldn't handle the puck... I'm not buying any of this excuse about being fatigued -- emotionally or physically."
"I'm not very happy with what happened."
No one is.
"We know what makes this team successful, and it isn't going diagonal passes through the neutral zone. We got a big, strong team, big forwards, and our success has been winning the battles below the circles. That's what we did last night so successfully and tonight we decided we wanted to be fancy."
"You can't be fancy in this league."
The coach seems to have a handle on the general problems plaguing his team. Let's see if he can figure out how to fix them.
THE GOOD: Neuvirth. He's the only thing this team can depend on right now.
THE BAD: Alexander Semin. One shot on goal. Three blocked. Four misses. The Enigma strikes again.
THE UGLY: The Power Play. 0-for-2. Rinse and repeat. And one night after having a dominant faceoff record, in this one they won just 48 percent of the draws. Five more minor penalties, including a terrible giveaway-interference by Tyler Sloan in the first. Please get well soon, Tom Poti.
THE STATS: Alex Ovechkin (5) from Mike Green (2) at 18:24 of 3rd.
NEXT GAME: Saturday night at Calgary Flames at 10:00 pm eastern.
CAPS NEWS NETWORK THREE STARS
3. Mike Knuble. He was instrumental in the penalty kill and had five shots on goal, though most came from the top of the circle entering the zone -- but that's exactly how the Caps got a goal against Carolina, when Backstrom followed up a big shot by driving to the net.
2. Jason Chimera. He had a goal waived off after the referee rule he pushed Backstrom into the net. He also rang two posts and brought what little speed was on display for the Caps.
1. Michal Neuvirth. Maybe we need to retire the three stars until they start playing better.