Capitals vs. Canucks: Washington Loses 3rd in a Row to NHL-Leading Vancouver

Alan Zlotorzynski@@zlotsportsCorrespondent IIIJanuary 15, 2011

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 14:  Alexandre Burrows #14 of the Vancouver Canucks dives for the puck between Marcus Johansson #90 and John Carlson #74 of the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on January 14, 2011 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The Vancouver Canucks skated into the Verizon Center for their contest with the Capitals as the best team in the NHL. Vancouver has a league-best 28 wins and 62 points.

Playing in their third game in four days and having been shut out by the Rangers last evening, the Canucks appeared as if they could be vulnerable, especially with the Caps not playing yesterday.

Many fans even wondered if Vancouver’s loss would have an effect on them since it was their first loss in regulation since Dec. 5, a streak of 17 games.

Instead of dealing Vancouver their 10th loss of the season, Washington struggled again on the power play, committed another defensive miscue leading to a late-period goal and allowed the Canucks to steal two points in a 4-2 loss.

This was a game the Capitals should have won and are beginning to have many fans and media wondering just where the effort is.

Little by little the Caps are missing chances to pick up valuable points in a tight Southeast Division. Tampa lost to the worst team in the NHL at home tonight, losing 5-2 to the New Jersey Devils.

Not to make it sound worse, Caps fans, but Vancouver lost defenseman Aaron Rome to a sprained knee in the first period and beat the Caps offense with just five defensemen.

The Capitals did manage to score the first goal tonight, something they had not done in the previous five contests but less than four minutes allowed the Canucks to tie the game.

Matt Hendricks scored his fifth of the year as he skated past Vancouver defenseman Alex Elder on a breakaway just 5:50 into the game to give Washington the 1-0 lead.

The lead didn't last long as Edler made up for getting beat on Washington's goal, tying the game by beating Semyon Varlamov with a slap shot at the 8:15 mark of the first period.

Vancouver scored the only goals in the middle period, heading to the second intermission with a two-goal lead. For the second consecutive game the Capitals gave up goals in the first and last five minutes of the period.

A questionable roughing call to the Capitals' Jason Chimera just 3:02 into the second period gave the NHL's best road power play an opportunity and they didn't take long to take advantage.

Less than a minute later Canucks defenseman Christian Ehrhoff broke the 1-1 tie and the Canucks never looked back.

The game-winning goal with 4:01 remaining in the second period was another lackluster effort at the blue line by Jeff Schultz and Mike Green.

Jannik Hansen poked the puck from Jason Chimera in the neutral zone and when Mike Green stepped up to hit Hansen, Jeff Schultz couldn't get back to prevent the breakaway for Sedin, who easily beat Varlamov over his blocker for the 3-1 Canucks lead. 

The Canucks' left wing sniper Daniel Sedin came into the game tied for third in the NHL with 25 goals. Sedin had scored seven goals in his last nine games.

The Capitals continued to struggle on the power play with another oh-for performance, 0-3 to be exact. Washington is now 8-78 (9.3 percent) in their last 21 games with no signs of changing the dump and chase routine with the extra man.

There was a Nicklas Backstrom sighting tonight in D.C. Backstrom played his best game in weeks recording five shots and recorded the assist on Marcus Johansson's goal, which pulled the Caps to within one goal midway through the third period.

Johansson has become one of the lone offensive bright spots for the Capitals with his fast and grinding style.

Backstrom fed a one-timer to Johansson who drilled it past the outstretched glove of a seated Roberto Luongo, making the score 3-2 and ending Washington's scoring for the night.

Backstrom's game may have surfaced due to the fact that the Vancouver Canucks have five of Backstrom's fellow countrymen playing in their lineup.

The Sedin twins, Mikael Samuelsson, Alex Edler and Jonas Andersson all hail from Backstrom's homeland of Sweden and played in tonight's game.  Daniel Sedin and Edler each had two points.

The Capitals have not played a 60-minute game since the Winter Classic and the players are feeling the pressure as Nicklas Backstrom said following the game, "Of course it is frustrating when you don't score as soon as you want, but at the same time you can't just use magic and push a button." 

Backstrom continued, "You have to work hard and then the chance is going to come to you. Maybe if we play a good game for 60 minutes it will come, but right now we don't do that."

Mike Green committed another blue-line blunder costing the Capitals a power-play chance in the game.

Just seconds into a man advantage, Green had his pocket picked at the blue line. He had to turn and chase down the Canucks forward, tripping him to prevent the goal, promptly killing Washington's extra-man advantage.

These are not physical mistakes from an aggressive hockey team. These are mental mistakes by a hockey team that is simply underachieving. The so-called stars of this team have stepped away instead of stepping up.

The Capitals were again outshot, 35-27 as Vancouver was clearly the more disciplined and aggressive team in the contest. The Capitals showed they could skate with Vancouver at times during the game but for whatever reason chose not to do so for 60 minutes.

The Capitals started the year 14-4-1 but since then have lost 16 of 26 games getting shut out six times in the process.

The Canucks and Capitals were supposed to be teams that mirrored each other's seasons with identical types of players and identical playing styles.

The Capitals have a lot of work to do and a lot needs to be fixed if they want to look anything like the team that just handed them their third straight loss.