The Washington Capitals saw their nine-game winning streak (and six-game road streak) snapped last night at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings, 3-2, in a lively, entertaining game before 20,066 at Joe Louis Arena.
The Caps and Wings played even for most of the night, but with Mike Knuble in the box for tripping midway through the third period, Henrik Zetterberg got his second goal of the night, beating Michal Neuvirth short-side with a backhander to lead Detroit to the victory.
Neuvirth had a solid game, making 29 saves, but in a tied game, on the road, he has to come up with that one. Zetterberg put the puck the only place he could -- between Neuvirth's glove and his head, since the young Czech was hugging the post -- so credit should be shown for the execution.
But if Neuvirth wants to be the goalie Bruce Boudreau calls on to start Game One in the playoffs, he needs to come up a way to keep that shot out of the net.
But Neuvirth doesn't have to shoulder the blame completely for this one.
The Capitals simply have to figure out what to do on the power play. They drew four fouls last night, and got calls in the last minute of the first and second periods, but could do nothing with them. Washington could muster just five shots on goal with the extra man last night in four power play opportunities. That's just not getting it done.
But let's take some perspective in what has been a truly remarkable and riveting season for these Washington Capitals.
The Caps came into the game missing Nicklas Backstrom, Jason Arnott, Eric Fehr, Mike Green and Tom Poti to injury. There are teams in this league that would kill to put those five guys out on the ice to start the game. They also lost last season's plus/minus leader for six weeks, one of their most effective energy guys for the same time frame, and an enigmatic but talented scorer for three weeks.
And they've missed their playoff goalie of the last two seasons for all but 24 games.
Twelve players on last night's active roster fell into at least one of the following categories: 1) Is a true rookie; 2) Was not with the team at the start of the season; 3) Was not with the team last season; 4) Was waived THIS season at some point; 5) Is Tyler Sloan (sorry, cheap shot).
According to a tweet by Mike Vogel at Caps.com this morning, Washington leads the league in minutes played by rookies this season, despite coming off a season where they won the President's Trophy with 121 points.
And yet, the Caps sit one point out of the Eastern Conference top seed, lead the Southeast Division by five points, and are currently tied for third for most points in the entire league this season.
Has it been a disappointing season? I guess that depends on your perspective.
The Caps still have work to do. They still have bodies to get healthy. They still have to settle on a goalie (or not).
They still have four tough games to go on this brutal late-season road trip before another chance to make hay in one of the toughest building to play in in the league.
But they've shown remarkable resiliency coming back from the troubles they had in December and January to climb back to the top of the standings.
How rare is it for one team to have an eight-game losing streak the same season they had a nine-game winning streak? Someone get the Elias Sports Bureau on the phone.