Friday, November 02, 2007

A NO point night -- Caps vs. Rangers, November 1st

"He play unbelievable tonight. He win the game for the Rangers."

That’s it, in a nutshell. It is Alex Ovechkin’s succinct summary of last night’s 2-0 win by the New York Rangers over the Caps. “He” refers to Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped all 31 shots he faced en route to his third shutout of the year. There have been some outstanding performances this year in goal so far – Pascal Leclaire’s four shutouts, Martin Biron’s leading the Flyers back to dominance, Martin Gerber filling in more than admirably for Ray Emery in Ottawa – but no one has played better on a bigger stage with less of a margin for error than Lundqvist. And given that he is a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist already in his young career, he is no fluke. At the moment, he stands at the top of the goaltending heap.

The Capitals did not suffer for opportunities – they “outattempted” the Rangers 70-45 (the Caps had 30 attempts blocked and nine missed shots in addition to the 31 shots they got through to Lundqvist). Ovechkin had 14 attempts on his own, and Viktor Kozlov was credited with eight shots on goal. Even Nicklas Backstrom got in on the attack with a season-high three shots on goal.

But in the beginning (when the Caps were the better of the two teams), in the middle (when Michael Nylander was stuffed on the best chance of the night for the Caps), and at the end (when the Rangers were hanging onto a lead), it was Lundqvist that was the story of the game.

Except for that, it’s hard to find fault with the Caps’ effort, or even their “production.” Despite missing Alexander Semin, Chris Clark, and Tom Poti, the Caps threw everything but the skate sharpener at Lundqvist. Not even four power play chances – and eight shots on goal – could serve as a vehicle to solve the Rangers’ goalie.

In a game this close, it came down to a mistake. It wasn’t of the defensive breakdown variety that leaves a man open or a net untended – it was the simultaneous minor penalties taken by John Erskine and Brian Sutherby that gave the Rangers a full two-minute 5-on-3 midway in the third period. The Rangers used that advantage to net the insurance goal that Lundqvist made stand up, even when the Caps would have a four-minute power play later in the third period.

If you look at the numbers alone, they reflect a tight, hard-fought game. The Caps won the shots battle (31-28), the Rangers won on hits (42-29)…the Caps had fewer giveaways (eight versus 13), the Rangers had more takeaways (11-10). But there is one number that screams off the score sheet that reflects what a different team the Rangers have become – “30.” Sure, it’s Lundqvist’s jersey number, but it is also the number of blocked shots the Rangers were credited with – fourteen skaters were credited with at least one. The Rangers have turned into the defensive team that Jaromir Jagr seemed to despise when it was the style in Washington during his days here…quite an irony. We’ll see how long this lasts.

The Caps are at the stage of the game where they are “competitive” in just about every game they play (they’ve suffered two blowouts this year, which is the difference in a 5-7-0 record). Now, they have to find a way to win these games on a consistent basis. Lundqvist was the difference this night – he can fairly lay claim to being the best goaltender in the league at the moment – but teams with great aspirations find ways to beat those guys, too. Last night, the Caps could not. Come the spring?...we’ll see.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

Do the Caps lead the league in blocked shots yet? ...and I mean the bad kind, where the Caps are shooting.

That was ugly, it looked like the releases were slow or the angles we bad (especially on the first power play).