Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Morning After -- Caps vs. Bruins

Half a loaf.

It’s better than none, but it gets stale quickly, too. The Caps left another standings point lying at the side of the road as a result of both their inability to take advantage of an inferior opponent early and their inability to convert in the shutout . . . uh, shootout (you’ll pardon The Peerless for the slip of the keystroke).

The Peerless is of two minds about this game. Let’s get the bad out of the way first. The Caps started quickly, dominating the first half dozen minutes, then a too-many-men penalty expired, leaving Phil Kessel to skate out the box, collect a pass from Glen Murray, and skate in almost unimpeded on Olaf Kolzig. Kessel might have his faults, but he is a talented offensive player – giving him time and space to collect himself for a one-on-the-goalie isn’t the wisest course of action if you’re a Caps fan.

Follow that up with Brad Stuart leaning into one that rocketed over the outstretched glove of a screened Kolzig, and it looked as if the competitive portion of the game would end early. But on the good side, the Caps – like a fighter – took the punch, weathered the storm, and fought back to halve the lead on a shorthanded shake-and-bake from Matt Pettinger.

Dainius Zubrus scored the obligatory convert-the-cross-ice-pass-from-Alex-Ovechkin in the second to tie the game, but the Caps should have had more. You ever see a toddler taking his first uneasy steps? That’s kind of the style Tim Thomas was employing in goal. Arms waving, legs splaying, pucks left around like so many toys on the family room floor . . . the Caps had more rebounds than you’d probably see at a Wizards game and could convert none of them. At that point, one had to believe (well, I had to believe) the Caps would be lucky to get out of this game with a point.

But that they did when the game ended in regulation. After an inconsequential overtime (not without its Tim Thomas moment when he almost misplayed an Ovechkin shot into the game-losing goal for Boston), we went to the gimmick round. The Caps came in oh-fer-seven on the season and three shutout, uh . . . shootout losses. The three Caps selected to participate in Bettman’s Folly – Alexander Semin, Alexander Ovechkin, and Matt Pettinger – were a combined oh-fer-six. A couple of minutes later, it was oh-fer-nine. Patrice Bergeron managed the only tally on the other side – slipping the puck between Kolzig’s pads as the goalie was sliding across the crease – and that was that, "3"-2.

They fought hard to grind out a point when the puck was taking odd bounces (usually off some part of Thomas’ equipment in the form of juicy rebounds the Caps couldn’t corral), but this was an opponent they should have buried, too. The Peerless thinks it says something positive about this team that one could discuss a game like this – one in which the Caps managed a standings point – and still think of it as unsatisfying. The expectations are growing for this club. We’re starting to expect them to do better.

Your stat of the game . . . 59. That is the percentage of faceoffs the Bruins won. It’s hard to establish any offensive continuity when you’re starting most plays playing defense. Boyd Gordon, who has made something of a cottage industry out of winning faceoffs, lost 16 of 23.

If one looks at the shift chart for the game, there is cause for concern. First, the odd. Donald Brashear did not skate a shift in the last 23 minutes of skating time (18 minutes of the third and the five minute overtime). Tomas Flesichmann didn’t skate a shift in the last dozen minutes of regulation (he did get one in overtime). Now, the concern part – Dainius Zubrus did not take the ice for the last 16 minutes of skating time (11 minutes of regulation, five in the overtime). Given the chemistry he and Ovechkin share at the moment, an injury – and at the moment, we’re not aware what that is – would cripple the Caps, who don’t exactly have a cupboard full of NHL-caliber top line centers at the moment.

All in all, it was a forgettable evening for the Caps, who got a point but should have had more. One wonders, should we come to the end of the season, and the Caps are one point in the playoffs or one point out, we might come back to this game as the reason – for either result.