Friday, January 12, 2007

The Morning After -- Caps vs. Lightning

No points tonight, Caps fans . . .

And that, dear reader, qualifies as a wasted opportunity. The Caps did precisely what they needed to do against the Tampa Bay Lightning last night…

They needed to keep the Lightning out of man advantage situations, where they scored more than a third of their goals in the previous ten games. They did (Tampa was held scoreless in two opportunities).

They needed to take advantage of the few opportunities they were likely to be presented, given that Tampa had been shorthanded only 33 times in the previous ten games and faced shorthanded situations less often than any team in the league except New Jersey. They did (1-for-2 in their own power play opportunities).

They needed to keep this an even strength game and muster a measure of aggression in the offensive zone to try to keep the “three amigos” – Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, and Brad Richards -- off their backs. Well, that’s where the wheels sort of came off . . .

. . . and that was a product of goaltending. It wasn’t one for the scrapbook of one Olaf Kolzig, who permitted five goals on 25 shots. More’s the pity, because he wasn’t necessarily the lesser of the goaltenders playing on this evening (Johan Holmqvist let four pucks elude him on the 22 shots he faced). But he really didn’t give his teammates the chance to win he does on most nights.

The silver lining here is that this was an abnormal night for the veteran netminder. If the Caps play games like this in terms of the performance of their skaters – and this was not an abnormal performance for this year – they will win more than they lose. Alexander Semin had two goals as he quietly marches up the goal-scoring rankings (he is now tied for seventh after potting his 23rd and 24th last night, giving him seven in his last four games). Alexander Ovechkin closed to within four points of Sidney Crosby for the overall scoring lead after getting two assists. Lawrence Nycholat continued his surprising play; he now is 2-5-7, +5 in ten games.

But all that was at the offensive end. At the other end, Kolzig had his troubles, but Brian Pothier had a difficult night (-3), as did Shaone Morrisonn, those being a product of the Lecavalier and St. Louis being a combined 3-2-5, +4 for the night. And that is precisely what the Caps could not allow to happen if they were to win this game.

Washington is now 11th in the conference, but at this point –- with five points separating 7th place from 13th -- it is hardly worth the heartburn of worrying that yesterday they were in the playoff mix and today they’re not. A nice eight or ten game points-earned streak would be nice, but what is likely to happen for the foreseeable future is more of the same tightly bunched jockeying and scratching for every available point.

They could have used one last night.

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