I came to Verizon for the Caps-Rangers Sunday unsure that I’d find the team Mike Rucki got to see play Thursday—and apparently he is the Capitals’ lucky charm, since Rangers goaltender Marty Biron proved too great of a hurdle for Washington to overcome more than once.
There was no magic comeback like the Capitals showed last Tuesday against Boston. Apparently, the clock striking midnight for them was more like 1 pm on Saturday, when they lost 5-2 to the Isles—unless, of course, you’re Steve Oleksy, whose fairy tale keeps rolling.
In fact, let’s start with Oleksy’s performance Sunday in Washington’s 4-1 loss.
It’s been awhile since the Capitals have had a player who makes standing up for their goaltender a priority. Oleksy does. On Sunday, he got into a shoving match with none other than Rangers’ captain Ryan Callahan because he thought Callahan had infringed on the Capitals’ goaltender.
It’s a niche that needed to be filled on the Capitals’ roster.
“If they want to drive the net hard, they’re gonna have to pay a price—especially their top players,” Oleksy said. “It’s my job to keep the net clear for the goalies and make them pay the price if they do want to go to the hard areas, so especially when you see their top players, nothing comes easy.”
When he wasn’t busy sticking up for Holtby and Neuvirth’s honor Sunday, he managed to score a goal—his first one in the NHL, and the Capitals’ only tally of the game.
“I’m kind of a kid living the dream right now,” Oleksy said.
He may be the only one; for many in Washington, reality is becoming all too hard-hitting. One could write an entire trilogy on something that has emerged as the Capitals’ bane, and which showed up again Sunday: shot-blocking teams. Of note, the Capitals’ last three losses have to come to teams ranked in the top 10 in shot blocking. Theoretically, shot-blocking should be most NHL teams’ bane, but Washington seems consistently unable to adjust its offense to this style of play, and not just this season (see: Montreal, 2009-2010 playoffs). Yes, the Capitals themselves are a decent 14th in shot-blocking this season, but that doesn’t help much at the other end of the ice.
Poor offensive play leads to the next consideration: Momentum was the primary reason Adam Oates gave for pulling Braden Holtby in the second period (the walkway from the Capitals’ locker room to the ice is going to have a few more dents in it thanks to Holtby’s trudge back, by the way). But in the end, what good does a momentum shift do if your offense can’t score afterwards? The observation isn’t so much a reflection on Oates’ decision and whether it was right or wrong, but more a reflection on the fact that the entire roster remained inflammable.
Finally, the Capitals’ PK wasn’t much to write about, either. It’s hard to find the heart to criticize a group of guys who have to walk into a situation knowing they’re at a disadvantage and probably going to walk out with a few puck imprints on their bodies, but the contrast between the two teams’ PK units was even more black and white (or should we say blue and red?) when the Rangers’ Girardi, Callahan and McDonagh managed to kill a 5-on-3 against the Capitals when it was a 2-goal game. With that kind of personnel on the PK, twenty-nine other teams in the league scream, “not fair.”