There are days in hockey when nothing goes your way. Every turnover leads to a goal for the opponent, every offensive chance is fumbled and momentum is stymied by an ineffective power play. Wednesday night against the Washington Capitals in D.C., that was just what happened as the opportunistic Caps claimed the no-doubt 4-1 victory over the New York Rangers.
For much of the 34-game season up until their second date with the Capitals, the Rangers have played a simple game defensively -- very sound with the puck, smart decision making and rarely commit turnovers in high-risk areas. Wednesday night the total opposite occurred as three-quarters of the Caps' goals were on turnovers by the Rangers. Their first was on a Michael Del Zotto giveaway midway through the third. It was an evenly played first period, and the Rangers were lucky enough to get a goal from Brandon Dubinsky on a two-on-one late in the period to give the Rangers some life.
But the defensive-zone woes continued for New York. The second period began quietly with neither team recording a shot until just over six minutes in. The Capitals scored a goal about midway in on a lengthy shift as Michael Del Zotto lost the handle on the puck -- often reminiscent of the way New York has played this year -- in which the Rangers couldn't get the puck out of their zone and a screened Martin Biron allowed a Jeff Halpern deflection off a John Carlson point shot to get by. Uncharacteristically, the Blueshirts were disorganized and scrambling in the defensive zone, and quite honestly, were out of sync on that end all night. They weren't physical enough with the initial forward surge through the D-zone, which often led to pretty good offensive opportunities. New York wasn't crisp with the puck: passes weren't connecting, point-blank opportunities were fanned on (Artem Anisimov at the goal line in the first, Brian Boyle in the third at the side of the crease off a Ryan McDonagh shot, plus several others with a wide-open net).
The Rangers would head to the third period trailing 3-1 because of another turnover caused by an Alex Ovechkin check on Brad Richards that lead to an Alex Semin goal on a breakaway (he would score twice in the game, later in the third period to ice it.)
New York had opportunities to make it a game again, before Semin's second goal of the game with less than three minutes remaining. The Capitals took two penalties, back-to-back, but the Rangers could get nothing past Tomas Vokoun, who was sharp, but also had some luck on his side. And when they did score, Ryan Callahan, the best player on the ice along with Dubinsky, ended up kicking the puck in so the goal was taken back. The man advantage was 0-for-5 on the night and is nearing the bottom third of the league right now. Richards hasn't had an assist in 10 games and has two goals in that span, but it's more than just him. Something has to be figured out -- possibly a new strategy with more shooting and not finding the "perfect" shot, or some personnel changes -- or they will have difficulties remaining one of the "elite" teams in the Eastern Conference.
This was only New York's first loss in its last six games, so there's nothing to sound the alarm about, but there are some factors to improve upon.