Instant analysis of the Capitals’ 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center:
How it happened: Back-to-back penalties by Alex Ovechkin midway through the second period led to goals by Brian Boyle and Ryan Callahan just 41 seconds apart, turning a 1-1 game into a 3-1 game and getting Braden Holtby pulled from the game in favor of Michal Neuvirth.
What it means: The Caps reach the midpoint of their season with a 10-13-1 record at 21 points. That’s seven behind the Rangers, who jumped one point past the Devils and into the seventh spot in the Eastern standings with 28 points. The Caps remain eight points behind the Carolina Hurricanes, who begin a back-to-back set against the Caps on Tuesday in D.C.
Penalty trouble: The Caps will need to stay out of the box if they hope to climb into the playoff race. They entered Sunday’s game ranked 29th in the NHL in penalty killing [76.1 percent] and allowed one power-play goal and another on a delayed penalty.
Neuvy’s return: When Adam Oates replaced Braden Holtby with Michal Neuvirth it marked Neuvirth’s first game action since the Feb. 7 meltdown in Pittsburgh. Neuvirth had missed the two previous games with an illness. With Neuvirth healthy the Caps assigned Philipp Grubauer to the AHL Hershey Bears.
MoJo back: Marcus Johansson made his return to the lineup after missing the previous 12 games with an apparent concussion. He took the place of Mathieu Perreault and centered a third line with Joel Ward and Jason Chimera. He also picked up an assist on Steve Oleksy’s first career goal.
Injury update: Defenseman John Erskine skated during pre-game warmups but did not play. He appeared to suffer a hand or wrist injury early in the Caps’ 5-2 loss on Long Island on Saturday. Mike Green [groin] sat out his eighth game of the season.
What’s next: The Caps are scheduled to practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Monday then play perhaps their biggest two games of the season against the 14-9-1 Carolina Hurricanes, Tuesday at home and Thursday in Raleigh. If the Caps can pull off a regulation sweep they would close within four points of the division leaders.