1. The Caps have been looking for one of their young goalies to steal a game. Well, Braden Holtby almost did it. And in the arena where he played so brilliantly last spring in the Stanley Cup playoffs no less. Guessing the Rangers could do without seeing Holtby in their barn again. He made 20 saves in the first period alone to keep Washington ahead 1-0, including two pad saves on Ryan Callahan while the Caps were allegedly on the power play and two more on Marian Gaborik a few minutes later. New York took 30 attempts in the first with 20 reaching Holtby, seven getting blocked and another three missing entirely. Remember that awful pokecheck attempt in the Tampa Bay game on Thursday against Nate Thompson? Holtby had a great one against Callahan in the second period to thwart a scoring chance.
In the end Holtby stopped 38 of 40 shots. He was excellent. More games like that and Washington might find a way to dig out of this hole yet. But he had no chance on the power-play goal by Derek Stepan. Looked like the PK box was out of whack after a faceoff loss and the Rangers ruthlessly exploited that. New York ended up firing 69 shots at Holtby total with 18 blocked and 11 missing the net. You couldn’t ask for more from him. He should start again on Thursday against New Jersey at Verizon Center.
2. Unfortunately, escaping New York with a win and just one goal wasn’t going to happen. Traffic in front of Henrik Lundqvist was sporadic at times thanks in large part to the Rangers’ domination of the puck. Much of the game was played in Washington’s end of the rink. But there were chances. Wojtek Wolski had a couple of golden ones and missed both. That makes six pointless games in a row for him and the Caps just can’t afford that right now. Their margin for error is too small. Troy Brouwer had one in the slot as well. Eric Fehr hit a post – though Washington scored right after. Alex Ovechkin hit a crossbar flush. Tough breaks. But if the Caps conjure a way to keep possession of the puck more maybe they get a goal off a cycle. Didn’t happen and their inability to finish eventually cost them.
3. There were some questionable calls for and against both teams. Callahan was incredulous that Nicklas Backstrom didn’t get a penalty for a trip in the first period. Given Washington took three in the first period alone that would have been a complete disaster on level with the first Toronto game when they had 10 penalty minutes before that game was 11 minutes old. That, as much as anything, was responsible for New York’s domination.
The Caps were paid back a few times, though. Jeff Schultz’s “hooking” penalty with under 10 minutes left in the third just wasn’t a hook. They killed that one. A few minutes earlier, though, Karl Alzner wasn’t so lucky. He was furious about a trip called at 4:18 and screamed again at the referee as he exited the box for the slow skate back to the bench after the Rangers scored seven seconds later. Didn’t love the boarding penalty on Brouwer in the first, either. But whatever – New York converted on one of its chances and the Caps were 0-for-4 on their opportunities.
4. Whole lot of minutes for Tomas Kundratek and John Erskine tonight. Both players have had their moments this season so I don’t want to pick on them. But it shows the depth on the blueline isn’t exactly overwhelming if an injury to Mike Green (lower body) has that great an affect. Kundratek played by far a career-high in minutes (23:25). Thought he showed good offensive instincts, as usual, and I don’t think a goal is far off in his future. He can skate his way out of trouble, too – though he gets himself into trouble a good deal as well. All-in-all though New York is probably kicking itself for the Kundratek-Francois Bouchard trade last year. Just a giant waste of an asset, even if Kundratek is still a work-in-progress and would probably be at Hershey if Dmitry Orlov was healthy. Bouchard is now plying his trade for Zagreb Medvescak in Austria’s top league. Not saying Kundratek is a future All-Star – but that’s some world-class misreading of your own prospect.
5. Think the only people that hate John Carlson more than Rangers fans are Canadians. All of them. World Juniors hate dies hard, y’all. But Carlson, the New Jersey native, has six goals and four assists in his last 12 games against New York. He added another goal 79 seconds into the game when the Rangers inexplicably left him wide open on the right point. He drove in for a better shot and hammered the puck past Lundqvist. Lot of emotion from Carlson, too, after his first goal of the year. He also took over top power-play duties for the injured Green, but was on the ice for Stepan’s game-winner. He was way too high in the slot and got caught watching as the Rangers made two surgical diagonal passes – the last one behind Carlson to Stepan – to take the lead for good.
Follow me on Twitter @bmcnally14