There are some days when the Caps insist on making the high-risk play instead of taking the simpler, safer route. Today was one of those games where the Caps courted disaster one too many times and the Rangers jumped all over their mistakes on the way to a 6-3 win.
Over the first 20 minutes you could say that the Caps played a solid period of defensive-minded hockey. They did not give New York very many good looks on Michal Neuvirth, while at the same time had two outstanding chances to score on Henrik Lundquist.
Washington has had some success against the Rangers king in the crease, but he stoned them in the opening period. Joel Ward had the first chance to tuck one in on a 2-on-1 break. His scoring chance was so good that the red-goal light actually came on as Wards shot was being smothered by Lundquist. It looked like a sure goal; instead it would go down as an extraordinary save for Lundquist, whose save percentage is over .940 in his last seven games.
Jason Chimera used his blinding speed to sneak through the Rangers defense on a clear breakaway, only to be foiled by Lundquist. Chimera tried to keep the puck low and between the leg-pads of the Rangers keeper, but he closed it down in a hurry.
Throughout the day, I was more and more impressed by Ranger defenseman Dan Girardi. He played over 29 minutes in the game, had four blocked shots, five hits, two assists, and one big shot of praise from Head Coach John Tortorella, who told me after the game how much Girardi means to his Ranger club.
After a scoreless first period, the two teams went on a post-Thanksgiving feeding frenzy in the second frame. Six goals would go on the board, four of them in favor of New York.
An odd-man rush for a top shelf put-away by Marian Gaborik started the spree. Artem Anisimov scored from the left wing circle on a wrist shot that Neuvirth did not track very well. Marcus Johansson then tried to swing through the middle in his own zone which led to a bad turnover and a Ruslan Fedotenko marker. Three New York goals in a tad more than four minutes put DC in a hole.
But they would start digging out. Troy Brouwer was parked at the post to steer in a loose puck at 8:53 of the middle period. While on a power-play, John Carlson whipped a slapshot that beat a partially screened Lundquist to make it 3-2.
The Rangers would improve their lead before the break when Brian Boyle found himself and the puck free in front of Neuvirth for a backhand finish.
For a team that had been struggling to score the Rangers were awfully opportunistic. The Caps kept giving them odd-man breaks, and after a couple of brilliant saves by Neuvirth, New York newcomer Brad Richards re-directed a pretty feed from Ryan Callahan for a 5-2 cushion early in the third period.
Alex Ovechkin would strike for his first goal at home this season, a rising wrist shot that almost singed the ear of Lundquist . From my vantage point, Ovechkin was skating very well today and that goal was another version of his patented move from the off-wing shooting through a defender.
When the Caps needed to put a force-field up in from of Neuvirth, they allowed Fedotenko to stand in the slot and bang home a centering pass from Callahan, who finished with three helpers.
Looking quickly at the post-game stat sheet, it was a minus-3 performance for Marcus Johansson, Dennis Wideman and Roman Hamrlik. Thankfully those dont happen very often and cannot happen in Buffalo Saturday if the Caps are to finish this holiday weekend with a win.
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