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Caps turn in another clunker in loss to Ducks, Ovechkin notches No. 40, Ducks honor Niedermayer, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps /

Spinning Their Wheels - If you didn't know which team was which, you wouldn't guess it was the Anaheim Ducks that entered Sunday's game against the Capitals with just three wins in their previous 23 games (3-16-4). The Ducks were energized from the start of the contest, they were quicker to loose pucks, crisper with passes and just generally more engaged.

As for the Caps, they looked lethargic, stuck in the mud. When the Ducks mucked up neutral ice and kept Washington from getting through with speed, the Caps continued to try to finesse their way through with poor decisions and passes, thus shortening the ice for Anaheim to continue its own forays into the attack zone.

The end result was what it should have been, a 5-2 Washington loss. Three games into their longest trip of the season, the Caps have sandwiched two dismal efforts around one of their best games of the season as they seek the consistency that has eluded them for most of 2018-19.

"We played a desperate team that worked, and they were more detailed than us," says Caps coach Todd Reirden.

"I felt like our execution wasn't where it was the other day in San Jose. I think that was one of our better games of the year, and we weren't able to back it up with the effort we wanted tonight. Our passing was just a little bit off and [there were] some turnovers that they were able to transition quickly our way, and we gave up some chances off of that. We've got to be much sharper if we want to have success the rest of this trip."

Not to mention the rest of the season.

It's been a month now since the Caps lost their hold on first place in the Metropolitan Division, and they've now dropped five points behind the New York Islanders, and the Isles hold a game in hand as well. With 23 games remaining and a week away from the trade deadline, the Caps still occupy second place in the division, but that hold is tenuous. Washington is only three points clear of Carolina, which is currently the highest non-playoff team in the standings. The Caps have two games remaining with the Hurricanes next month.

Forty - The main highlight from Sunday's game from a Washington standpoint was Alex Ovechkin's 40th goal of the season early in the first period. It's the 10th time in his NHL career that Ovechkin has reached the 40-goal plateau, and he is only the fourth player in league history with at least 10 seasons of 40 or more goals, joining Wayne Gretzky (12), Marcel Dionne (10) and Mario Lemieux (10) on that short list.

Niedermayer, Rafters - Prior to Sunday's game, the Ducks conducted a lengthy ceremony to honor Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Niedermayer, raising his No. 27 to the rafters, never to be worn again by an Anaheim player. Niedermayer's sweater joined those of Paul Kariya (No. 9) and Teemu Selanne (No. 8) hanging high above the Honda Center ice surface.

Niedermayer was drafted third overall by New Jersey in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, and he spent the first 13 seasons of his NHL career with the Devils before signing with Anaheim as a free agent before the 2005-06 season. Niedermayer spent the final five seasons of his career with the Ducks, playing with brother Rob, and helping Anaheim to the Stanley Cup championship in 2006-07. Scott Niedermayer won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP in the spring of 2007.

Niedermayer retired at the age of 36 after the 2009-10 season in which he totaled 10 goals and 48 points, and finished third in the league with an average of 26:30 per night in ice time. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame three years later in his first year of eligibility.

Born In The USA - Ducks goalie Ryan Miller earned the 375th win of his NHL career on Sunday, moving him one ahead of John Vanbiesbrouck for the top spot among all American-born goaltenders.

The 38-year-old Miller started his career with Buffalo in 2002-03 and won the Vezina Trophy as a member of the Sabres in 2009-10. He improves to 19-14-0 lifetime against the Capitals.

Each of Miller's last two victories came at Washington's expense. He earned his 374th career win in a relief effort against the Caps on Dec. 2 in Washington, gaining the win when Anaheim rallied from a 5-1 second-period deficit for a 6-5 regulation win.

Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears continued their torrid stretch of hockey on Sunday in Allentown, when they earned a 4-3 victory over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The win was Hershey's ninth straight, and it extends the team's point streak to 15 straight games (14-0-0-1), matching a franchise record established 76 years ago, during the 1942-43 season.

The Bears fell behind 1-0 just before the eight-minute mark of the first, but they rallied for a pair of Beck Malenstyn goals later in the frame to take a 2-1 lead to the first intermission.

Malenstyn scored his fifth goal of the season at 13:52 of the first, getting help from Ryan Sproul and Connor Hobbs. Just under three minutes later, Malenstyn potted the go-ahead goal at 16:48, putting the Bears up 2-1 with help from Garrett Pilon and Sproul.

Hershey expanded its lead with two more goals in the second. On a Bears power play at 6:28 of the second, Mike Sgarbossa scored his 23rd goal of the season to make it a 3-1 game, Riley Barber and Aaron Ness assisting.

Less than two minutes later, Sproul scored his seventh of the season with help from Jayson Megna and Brian Pinho. Sproul's goal came at 8:20, and it enabled the Bears to take a 4-1 lead into the third.

The Phantoms pulled to within a goal with a pair in the third, but Hershey withstood the late push to defeat Lehigh Valley for the second time in as many nights. Vitek Vanecek made 24 saves to improve to 14-8-2 on the season.

The 29-20-0-3 Bears will be idle until Friday when they visit the Baby Pens in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Caps with 22:05 in ice time … Ovechkin led Washington with seven shots on net and nine shot attempts … Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen led the Caps with five hits each … Niskanen and Michal Kempny led Washington with three blocked shots each … Washington won only 16 of 54 face-offs (30 percent). No Caps skater won more than four draws on the night, and the Caps won only seven of 32 face-offs (22 percent) in the game's first two periods … Tom Wilson won all three of the face-offs he took in Sunday's game.

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