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Special teams plague Caps in another road loss

by Corey Masisak
NEW YORK -- The Washington Capitals made their first trip Sunday to the partially renovated Madison Square Garden. Their next visit here is on Apr. 7, and if they don't start playing better away from Verizon Center it might just be their last road game of the 2011-12 season.

Washington's struggles away from home continued against the Rangers in a 3-2 loss, their 18th loss in 27 road games this season.

"Everybody plays better at home," Washington coach Dale Hunter said. "Everyone's home record is better because you are in our building and you have the fans behind you. Our special teams aren't good enough on the road. If you look at our stats, they are way down on the road. At home, we are one of the best power-play and one of the best penalty-killing teams. We've got to work on the road on our special teams."

That may be true, but no NHL club has a wider gap in results depending on the game's location than the Capitals. Washington is 19-7-2 at home, which is the fourth-best mark in the NHL. The Capitals are also 9-15-3 on the road, and that ranks 26th.

No other team in the League has a bigger discrepancy between those two rankings.


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"It is nothing, nothing that we're playing any different or anything," forward Jeff Halpern said. "It is not like we're drawing up a different game plan at home versus on the road. The results just aren't there for whatever reason."

There were only two power plays for each team in this contest, and it ended up a one-goal defeat. The critical goal came for the Rangers while shorthanded, so there was a problem on special teams.

A bigger issue for the Capitals is how little offense they generated before the shorthanded goal that put them down 3-1. Once in desperation mode, they controlled the puck and created chances.

Before that, there were few prolonged sequences in the offensive zone and few tough saves for New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist to make.

The Capitals played well last Sunday against Boston after the Bruins had a commanding four-goal lead. They played well for most of the game Tuesday against the Florida Panthers, in part because they went ahead 13 seconds in and had a two-goal advantage midway through the first period.

It is when they don't grab a lead, especially on the road, that the problems occur.

"It seems we get more leads at home than we get on the road," Hunter said. "We got jumped on again today early. Games are hard to come by after they get a lead on you."

Washington has 27 games left, and 14 are away from home. The Capitals are chasing the Florida Panthers for the top spot on the Southeast Division, and the loser might not eke into the postseason as the eighth seed at this point.

The home schedule is pretty manageable. There are only three games against teams in the top 12 of the League standings as of Sunday afternoon.

Away from the Verizon Center, the slate is much more challenging. Washington has seven of those 14 games against the top 12, including two visits to Boston and a four-game trip to Winnipeg, Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia.

After a home game Monday against San Jose, the Capitals embark on a four-game trek to Florida, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Ottawa. Given how tough the road schedule is after that, it could be a make-or-break trip for Washington.

The team with the worst road record since the advent of the shootout was the Calgary Flames in 2005-06. They went 13-20-8 (34 points). The Capitals are currently on pass for less than 32.

"We're aware of our road record," Laich said. "Pretty much everybody wins at home. If you're going to make up ground in the standings, it has got to be by winning on the road. I don't know what to say.

"Guys played hard and we're there at the end. There's been a lot one-goal games just falling short for whatever reason that we couldn't find a way."

They need to find it soon, or a four-year reign atop the Southeast Division, and even their place among the top eight in the conference, could be in jeopardy.

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