Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Peerless' Morning After -- Caps vs. Oilers

If it was a chicken dinner, it’d be a wing and a breast . . . but no legs. Three games in four nights, each in a different time zone. Other teams go through it – and many of them suffer the same fate, in this case a lackluster 4-0 loss to the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place. The game was not as lopsided as the final score indicates, but the Caps really were never in it, either.

Alexander Ovechkin was the only Cap who showed any consistent spark. He led the club with four shots and was credited with seven hits, and looked for the most part to be the only Cap who had his legs delivered from Vancouver for this game. Brian Pothier had three shots and played a decent game, but it was the “almost” fourth shot – the one that rang off the pipe that might have been the signal that this would not be the Caps’ night.

It would be tempting to find fault with a number of aspects of Washington’s play, but both teams deserve some credit. The Oilers played a solid, workmanlike game, knowing that they had an opponent that would likely be suffering the effects of a game the previous night and travel. The Caps stayed in the game – at least on the scoreboard – well into the third period when their old bugaboo, taking an inopportune penalty, finally did them in as Joffrey Lupul finally put the game away with a power play tally.

Brent Johnson really deserves better than to be 0-1-2. His 2.53 GAA is better than Marc-Andre Fleury, Martin Brodeur, and Tomas Vokoun (all with winning records), and his .926 save percentage is better than Ryan Miller, Kari Lehtonen, and Dominik Hasek (all backstopping division leaders). He had another solid effort last night.

Last night’s scratches had an odd quality to them – Jamie Heward, Kris Beech, and Jakub Klepis. Assuming none of the trio was injured, one might think that Heward was merely being rested so Bryan Muir could shake some rust off (he didn’t have a bad game in almost 20 minutes of play, certainly no worse than most of the rest of the club), but one also supposes that a message was being sent with the other two. After averaging 16 minutes a game in his first six games, Beech was moved off the second line and averaged 10 minutes his next three. He was benched last night in favor of Boyd Gordon. Brooks Laich got a sweater for the first time on this trip at the expense of Klepis, who has not scored in eight games and taken penalties in each of his last three. The hunt for a second line center continues.

But not all was bad. Oiler coach Craig MacTavish said of the club after the game, "They played us hard; they are going to win some games."

And Glen Hanlon was even more upbeat with this effort than in earning a point against Vancouver the previous night -- "That is likely our best game of the three-game trip so far. To me it wasn't really a four goal game. I almost have a better feeling tonight than I had after taking a point in Vancouver. It's a long process to get where we want to go this year but I think we looked farther ahead tonight than we did the night before."

We’ll see how far the boys have come when they visit on Calgary tomorrow – Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf aren’t likely to be in a hospitable mood.

-- The Peerless

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