Sunday, April 08, 2007

After-Math -- Caps. vs. Sabres

We’re done here...

Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The forced march that has been the season since New Year’s Day is over. The Caps lost, 2-0, to the Buffalo Sabres, giving the visitors the President’s Trophy and inspiring a video tape burning festival in the Caps locker room (well, probably not, but there should have been one).

It wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been, and that might be the best thing one can say at the end of this dreadful season. First, for all the nonsense leading up to the game that this would be a Sabres “home game,” The Peerless was rather unimpressed with the volume of the visiting fans. To be sure, there was a Sabre presence, but the effect was probably overstated given the Caps’ inability to give their fans much to cheer for.

Second, except for two glaring defensive mistakes, the Caps played a solid defensive game. But those mistakes were crippling. On the first, Maxim Afinogenov was allowed to get position (he hustled, the Caps defense didn’t) to drive to the net. Olaf Kolzig denied the first thrust, but Derek Roy (again, where was the follow-up?) chipped the puck home. On the second, Mike Green tried to carry the puck out of the zone with a Sabre draped on him, instead of moving the puck forward. He was picked clean, and Kolzig was left to fend off two Sabres – Dan Paille and Tim Connolly. Paille left the puck for Connolly who cashed the check. And by the is it that Connolly -- announced as a scratch in the pre-game – ends up on the bench?

That was it for the Sabres, and it was enough, because Ryan Miller made Alex Ovechkin’s life a skating hell. Ovechkin had an excellent game – except on the scoreboard. Eight shots – at least four of which required 10-bell stops by Miller – to go with five hits, more than 24 minutes of ice time, and a faceoff win for good measure. He deserved better.

As for the rest of the Caps? It’s one thing to say for public consumption that it’s important to go out on a high note, it’s another to actually show up to do that. The jump, the extra gear, just wasn’t there. One could see glimpses of gritty effort from the likes of Chris Clark, Brook Laich, and David Steckel – the grinders – but the rest of the club seemed not so much looking ahead to April 8th as much as they just couldn’t find the extra level of effort, try as they might.

There were a few abysmal performances yesterday among the Caps, and those were offered by guys who in all likelihood will not be on the roster come September. We’ll leave it at that. But there was one moment that put into stark relief the differences between these teams. It came in the third period, as the clock was winding down to five minutes in the season, the Caps pressing in the Sabres end on a power play. A pass was put right in the wheelhouse of Kris Beech, who had a wide open net to shoot at from the inside of the right wing circle…if he one-timed the puck.

He didn’t.

Beech stopped the puck, wound, and fired, by which time Ryan Miller had re-positioned himself to be able to glove the puck, and the last gasp for the Caps was just that…a gasp.

The Caps didn’t have the skill and the timing to execute that play and make a game of it, and Buffalo slammed the door on the game right there. This isn’t to say Kris Beech was the reason the Caps lost – he wasn’t. But he had that opportunity to get the Caps back into it and was unable to convert. It is a story for the season, one that applies to a lot of his teammates.

The Caps’ season ended, it is time to embark in a new direction – the construction of the next elements of this rebuilt club. Fans are hearing a lot of the right words being uttered . . .

“We’ve done enough rebuilding…”

“We’ll be active this summer…”

And then there is this . . .

Well, fine…but if uniforms is the only thing that changes, The Peerless hopes they enjoy parading their wardrobe in front of an empty arena.


Stimpy said...

I said the same thing to my wife about the Beech non-goal. Earlier in the game Beech missed a nice break away pass, I said, "If it was anyone else but Beech, it would have been a goal." I had hopes for Beech this year, but he has proven to everyone, he just can't do it. Easter/Passover prayers for summer help!

The Peerless said...

It really is unfortunate that Beech had the year he had. I'm of a mind that he was absolutely ruined by the Penguins, who really had no clue what to do with him (ending up caught up in part of the never ending Lemieux-is-playing, no-he's-not saga). But one thing is painfully clear -- he does not have much of a future as an NHL player. That's a hard thing to say about a 26-year old, but it's hard to arrive at any other conclusion. Absent an act of God, I think he's played his last NHL game, certainly as a regular.