If a writer on the Bleacher Report had predicted before the NHL season began that the Washington Capitals offense would get shutout seven times and lose the season series to the Atlanta Thrashers before the All-Star break, his right to write would have been revoked.
That is exactly the scenario that played out in the Capitals 1-0 shutout loss to the Thrashers in Atlanta this evening. Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec made 36 saves for his third shutout of the season.
Pavelec prior to this season was 1-6 against the Caps, surrendering four goals per game. This season is a much different story. Pavelec is 3-1 with two shut outs and a goals against average at 0.50. He has a save percentage of an astounding .985.
After sweeping the Thrashers last season, going 6-0, the Capitals dropped four of six to Atlanta this season.
The Capitals are now 3-4-1 on the road against the Southeast division. The Caps played their 24th road game of the season tonight in Atlanta. Washington lost for the tenth time this season away from DC, matching their road loss total from all of last season in the process.
Bruce Boudreau is clearly frustrated. Amongst the many quotes he gave in his post game news conference following the loss, ”I don’t have any answers," is the one that sticks out.
The Capitals continued their defensive and goaltending dominance, but allowing less than two goals per game when you score less than one does not amount to a win, any way you slice the pie.
The Capitals have some serious offensive issues, and right now they simply are not a very good all around hockey team.
Every team every night is going to make a mistake defensively and the mistake Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz made tonight allowed the only goal of the game. Schultz failed to control a bouncing puck in his own zone as the Thrashers Freddy Modin forced the play.
Modin found the loose puck Schultz could not control and hit a breaking Nik Antropov. Seymon Varlamov who started for the first time in four games for Washington came out and challenged, but Antropv beat him glove side.
The goal, scored 11:21 into the second period, was Antropov’s ninth of the season and his fifth point in six games.
The Capitals dominated the Thrashers in time of puck possession and shots on goal, but could not translate into goals. Washington out-shot Atlanta 36-24 in the game but Pavelec played the butterfly style to perfection.
When the Caps play around the net, they score. Tonight they were out-muscled in front of Pavelec by the big Atlanta defense. Every time the Caps headed to the net, three or four Thrashers met them.
Pavelec did not leave many scraps for Washington to bag up as he often covered up for the whistle.
Headed into the All-Star break the Capitals are clearly a tale of two different hockey teams. The Capitals are not even close to the offensive juggernaut they were last season.
Through 51 games this year, the Caps have scored a mind boggling 55 less goals than through 51 games last year.
Alex Ovechkin has 23 less goals than this time last year and while his shot selection and frequency have improved over the last few games, his accuracy has not.
It is time to admit that no matter how good the Capitals have become defensively they simply will not do any damage in the playoffs without putting the puck into the net.
Their power play is struggling as much as it has at any time in recent franchise history. Tonight the caps were 0-3 with the extra man, running their current streak over the last 27 games to a horrendous 9-88, or a paltry 10.2 percent.
The flip side is the penalty kill continued it’s dominance in losing to Atlanta. The Caps killed their only two short-handed situations, making them 24 for their last 25 on the PK.
Tonight was the Caps last game before the All-Star break and while Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green may be headed to the land of skills competition's and goal scoring, their teammates are left to ponder what happened to their skills and goal scoring in the first 51 games.
The Caps have four solid days off to think about their current offensive situation. They currently reside as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and are second in the Southeast division four points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Bruce Boudreau cannot do much to fix the problem over the four-day layoff. An NHL policy says that teams cannot begin practicing again until 2:00 p.m. on Monday.
The Caps are in trouble and a major offensive over haul in the game plan is necessary to fix these issues. If I were Boudreau, I would make sure my guys were on the ice at 2:01 on Monday after spending all weekend watching film.
Tonight is a loss that will stick with the Capitals, as it should. The Thrashers won for just the fifth time in 17 games and no matter how good Pavelec was in the win, there is no excuse for not scoring a goal.
This is the same Thrasher’s team that surrendered seven goals this past Sunday.
It is time to admit that they simply are not a good offensive team and need more scoring help. Being shut out seven times in 51 games with this talent is unacceptable.
Unless this play changes, this team is destined to repeat the misery of Capitals playoff pasts, if they even make the post season at all.