THE RESULT: In the first game back from the All-Star break, the Washington Capitals came out guns blazing, scoring twice in the first period and looking like the team that won the President's Trophy last season as the top team in the league.

The rest of the game however, they fell back into the same uninspired, lackadaisical play that has plagued them since Dec. 1, allowing Brian Gionta and the Montreal Canadiens to tied the game in regulation, and eventually win the shootout to take the extra point in an important Eastern Conference matchup.

The 3-2 final score was gracious, compared to the Caps level of play in the final two frames.

It was a disappointing performance after such a scintillating start.

It would be easy to blame the coaching staff on this one.  The Caps jumped out quickly and took their foot off the gas, allowing a beaten team to come back and take the extra point in their barn.

But that's not the case.  What happened was two defenseman made undisciplined plays at inopportune times trying to go for the throat instead of making fundamentally sound plays. 

On two occasions Gionta, the diminutive Montreal captain, broke free of the defense and beat Semyon Varlamov, left alone to his own defense.  On the first, defenseman John Erskine was caught trying to pinch in on the play and Gionta was sprung for a breakaway.  The Habs second goal came after John Carlson attempted a drop pass, which was stolen and turned around the other way, and once again Gionta took advantage of the mental mistake.

These Capitals have yet to learn how to put away a team on the ropes.  Let's not mince words here, the Montreal Canadiens are not an exceptional team.  Gionta, their 35-year old forward, is still their best offensive player.  Their backend is a mix of older veterans (Hall Gill, Roman Hamrlik) and youth (uneven but talented P.K. Subban) and goalie Carey Price is average at best.

Bottom line:  you have this team down two after one, you have to bury them.  The Caps did not.

The Caps, wearing white throwback jerseys honoring Hall of Famer Dino Ciccarelli, stopped doing the things that made them successful in the first.  They sat back and allowed Montreal to carry the play, defensemen made mistakes in the offensive zone and there were no forwards covering on the plays.

Erskine was out of position, trying to play a game he's not equipped for.  Carlson is a rookie that needs to learn that if he has speed entering the zone he needs to commit, not gain the zone and try a back pass that can only result in no offensive opportunity that puts him -- and his teammates -- out of position.

Coach Bruce Boudreau was more resigned than agitated after the game.  "It wasn’t a letdown as much as it was mistakes. We made two bad mistakes and it’s in our net. We’re playing desperate. We killed off penalties. They took it to us. We battled and we lost in the shootout. I wish we could’ve scored a little bit more.”

Yes, the Capitals were outshot 38-29.  Yes, after the two-goal lead they retreated into a shell.  But on this occasion, the loss can be pinned on two defensemen trying to do too much.

“It’s tough, but the answers are in this room and they aren’t going to come from anywhere else," said forward Matt Hendricks.  "We know that we have the opportunity to change things and we’re working hard at it.”

The Capitals better hurry up.  They only have 30 games left to figure it out.

THE GOOD: Mathieu Perreault, upon his recall from AHL Hershey, had a goal and assist in the Caps two-goal first period.  Stop me if you've heard this one before.

THE BAD: Brooks Laich.  On his first shift, he and his linemates did a great job cycling and keeping the puck deep.  After that...well, lets just say Brooks did not distinguish himself.  Three minor penalties, including one that wiped out a Caps power play.  He has just nine goals through 52 games, and his struggles are symptomatic of the Capitals troubles this season.

Adding injury to insult, Laich limped off the ice late in the game late after being struck in the leg by an Alex Ovechkin line drive.

THE UGLY: Six two minute minors taken, including three of the four calls after the first period.  They killed all the power plays, but that kind of undisciplined hockey just can't be sustained.  Some of these players need to be held accountable for their poor play.

Also:  Tampa beat Philly 4-0, so the lead in the Eastern Conference is now five points.  Oh, the ignominy.

THE STATS: Mathieu Perreault (6) unassisted at 2:29 of 1st.  Mike Knuble (12) from Mike Green (15) and Mathieu Perreault (4) at 7:49 of 2nd (PP).

NEXT GAME: Friday at 7:00 pm at Tampa Bay.

CAPS NEWS NETWORK THREE STARS

3. Mike Knuble.  Goal, six shots, two hits.  Nice game from the old man.
2. Semyon Varlamov.  36 saves on 38 shots.  Was huge in the second and third periods.
1. Mathieu Perreault.  Goal, assist.  Maddening that he can't play with this effort every game instead of just when he gets recalled.

3 comments

  1. sellon // February 2, 2011 at 7:37 AM  

    Awesome... I really love the way you write your article here... And also it shows facts which I like. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. GO // February 2, 2011 at 1:55 PM  

    Take a look at John Feistein's article in the Post today, particularly the last paragraph referencing when the Isles traded for Butch Goring. Maybe a trade like that for a tough two-way forward who's a leader -- even a veteran -- could do the trick.

  3. Dave Nichols // February 3, 2011 at 1:42 PM  

    GO: i read that. i think McPhee is going to have to do something. his three best players aren't playing like it and they can't figure it out. maybe a player from outside the org could come in and produce.