Capitals' problems start on their back end

Capitals' problems start on their back end
October 17, 2013, 12:00 am
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Lundqvist, Rangers shut out Capitals

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

WASHINGTON – Fans will look at the Capitals’ 2-0 loss to the New York Rangers and point fingers at an offense that generated just 22 shots on goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

Justifiably so.

But it is on the back end that the Capitals have been struggling most this season and that was clearly evident Wednesday night as the Caps lost for the fifth time in seven games Wednesday night.

“Defensively, it's like a fire drill out there,” Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said. “…What's the old cliche? Defense wins championships? Right now, we're trying to win with just offense.”

The Capitals were outshot 36-22 and went 0-for-4 on the power play, but they also spent far too much time in their own zone, prompting coach Adam Oates to shuffle his defense pairings in the third period, matching Alzner with John Carlson and Mike Green with rookie Nate Schmidt.

“We gotta take care of our own end better,” Oates said. “Obviously, we want to score and we want to get down the ice, but until we cross [the defensive] blue line we can’t.”

In other words, too many forwards are leaving the defensive zone before the puck is cleared. Against the Rangers, each of the Caps’ top two lines was on the ice for even-strength goals.

“One of our plays [out of the defensive zone] is a high flip into the neutral zone,” Oates said. “You’ve got to get it out first. You can’t be pretty. The ice is lousy and you gotta get it out.”

The Caps went the final 9:12 of the second period without recording a shot and simply spent too much time in their own zone. Oates said some of that can be pinned on an inexperienced blue line that includes rookies Alex Urbom and Schmidt, but he expects more from Green, Alzner and Carlson.

So, apparently, does goaltender Braden Holtby, who stopped 34 shots.

“If we play like that we’re not going to win games, simple as that,” Holtby said. “We played alright in the third but that was too late. The preparation in this locker room has to get better.”

The Rangers broke the game open on back-to-back even-strength goals by John Moore and Ryan Callahan. Moore’s goal appeared to handcuff Holtby, while Callahan beat Carlson and Ovechkin on a footrace to the net to bat his own deflection past Holtby.

“Carly lost him there and I think they were tired,” Oates said. “That shift was a long one. We had two chances to get it out and we didn’t.”

“I was a step behind,” Carlson said, “and he made a great play.”

The Capitals agreed that if they are going to overcome their slow start they’ll need more from everyone.

“We knew they were a desperate team,” Brooks Laich said. “The games against the Rangers are always that tight. But I think we’ve got to find more effort. Nobody’s exempt. We need more from everybody.”

Marty Erat agreed, saying 22 shots on Henrik Lundvist isn’t going to win games.

“It’s not enough,” he said. “You’re not going to score in this league if you don’t put the puck on the net. A hundred percent of the shots you don’t take are not going to end up in the net.”