By Glynn Cosker
Managing Editor, DCpuckDrop
On NHL trade deadline day – when the Capitals’ upper management left their team intact, despite various rumors all day – Washington was aiming to complete a five-game season sweep of the Columbus Blue Jackets; they didn’t succeed as the Caps fell 5-1 inside Nationwide Arena in another ugly outing.
Fairly Awful First Period For Every Capitals Player
For the 15th time in their last 21 games, the Capitals’ opponents scored first. This time it was on the power play as Artemi Panarin smashed home past Braden Holtby – who was expertly screened in front. However, the Blue Jackets lead didn’t last long because the Caps profited on their own man advantage just 1:26 after Columbus’s tally. A howitzer from Alex Ovechkin flew past Sergei Bobrovsky’s blocker before ‘Bob’ moved a muscle; John Carlson and T.J. Oshie had the assists on Ovechkin’s 39th goal of the season. Fifty-six seconds after that goal, Columbus took the lead again when Sonny Milano back-handed past Holtby from just outside the crease during 5-on-5 play. It was a goal that Holtby likely wanted back, and at that point, Holtby had allowed two goals on only four shots.
The scoring in the first continued when Mark Letestu scored his ninth goal of the season with 5:28 left to give the Blue Jackets a 3-1 lead. Holtby had pulled off a remarkable save just before that goal, but the poor guy couldn’t do everything while his defensemen squandered opportunities to clear the puck. In fact, the Caps’ blue-liners were guilty of puck watching and mishandling throughout most of the first stanza.
Match Penalty Handed Out – Tortorella and Ovechkin Exchange Words
The Caps’ Brooks Orpik took an interference penalty with 2:25 left in the first and – once again – the Blue Jackets capitalized with a bomb from Seth Jones that flew past a screened Holtby. At that point, Holtby had allowed four goals from 10 shots and was out of sorts for a sixth straight game. That said, his team-mates’ lack of back-checking and moving the puck did not help his cause. The Caps were outshot 16-7 in the opening frame, and the whole team (with only a few exceptions) got a D+ for efficiency. In short, the first period was an unmitigated disaster for the Washington Capitals.
Before tonight, the Blue Jackets had scored just one power-play goal during their previous six games; tonight, they got two. The first period ended with a match penalty doled out to Matt Calvert for cross-checking Ovechkin to the face. There was an obvious argument between Blue Jackets’ head coach John Tortorella and Ovechkin – who had stayed down, face-first, before rising to reveal blood on the ice.
Philipp Grubauer Replaces Holtby in Net
Holtby, despite having little help throughout the first, was asked to give way to Philipp Grubauer in the second period which began with 4-on-4 play because the Caps’ Tom Wilson was adjudged a roughing minor in the melee at the end of the first. When that expired, the Caps had a three-minute major power play, but barely bothered Bobrovsky.
Not scoring at least one goal on a three-minute ‘all-you-can-score’ man-advantage was an indication of how the Caps have played this season; the team could not get anything going and rarely troubled Bobrovsky. In relief, Grubauer was impressive early on in the period as the Blue Jackets’ offensive thrust was relentless. The German kept up his string of impressive appearances of late by stopping all nine of the shots he saw in the period.
The Caps’ produced a marginally better performance in the second (which wasn’t difficult, given the first 20 minutes) and kept the score at 4-1 going into the third, despite a late Brett Connolly slashing minor penalty.
The third period started with a ton of pressure from Columbus, who deserve credit for their prolific fore-check. The Caps gave the puck away way too much and gave the Blue Jackets too many scoring chances, without creating enough for themselves. Instead of coming out with gusto and peppering Bobrovsky with the puck, the Caps had just one shot during the first seven minutes of the final frame. There was no passion, and the whole team looked disconnected.
Washington had their third power play of the game with just over four minutes to play in the game; not long into that man advantage, head coach Barry Trotz made the bold decision to pull Grubauer to give the Caps a 6-on-5 spell. The move backfired in appropriate fashion – a breakdown and puck takeaway in the Caps’ zone that allowed Cam Atkinson to slot into the gaping net from about three feet out.
This game was another turkey, similar to the recent rout over the Caps by the Blackhawks, but Grubauer kept the score under 7-1. Washington looked tired, the passing wasn’t on point, the fore-check was absent, the 5-on-5 play was atrocious, and (most alarmingly) quite a few Capitals players checked out and simply gave up.
Do the Caps Now Have A Goalie Controversy?
Ultimately, the Blue Jackets wanted this win more than the Capitals, who were out-shot, out-classed and 0ut-scored on a night that saw one shining light for Washington: net-minder Grubauer – who now, surely, has created a goaltender selection dilemma for Trotz.
Is it an official goalie controversy? Who should start the next few games? Comment below.