Sunday, November 11, 2007

A NO...that's right, a NO point night...Lightning 5 -- Caps 2


Since the three-game winning streak to open the season, that’s the Caps’ record. Worse, that record includes a 1-5-0 record at home, that lone win being the 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on October 24th that was avenged by the Lightning last night, 5-2.

It was the same old story for the Caps in this slide…a solid first period that was unrewarded on the scoreboard, followed by a sonambulistic second period, capped with equal parts poor judgment and a desperate – if futile – rush late in the third.

By the numbers…

-- Alexander Ovechkin is going to be dragging his tongue along the ice out of fatigue by Christmas. Last night, he not only logged almost 25 minutes in ice time (second to Tom Poti), 11 of his shifts ran past 60 seconds. For the high-octane style that Ovechkin plays, perhaps that wears on a guy. He’s 12th in the league among forwards in ice time, but of those ahead of him, only Brad Richards has a longer average ice time-per-shift. Of course, with all that ice time, Ovechkin was all over the scoresheet – one goal, six shots, eight misfires (three blocked, five misses), two hits, two giveaways, a takeaway, and a couple of blocked shots. He did coast much in his time out there.

-- Speaking of Ovechkin, Caps games are starting to look a bit like “Win a Shift With Alex” contests…The Peerless tried to cobble together a shift chart out of those worthless “TOI Shift Reports” the NHL thinks is an improvement, and the outcome was pretty startling. Much as The Peerless likes the grit of Brooks Laich, that he’d be skating a regular shift on the right side of Ovechkin and Michael Nylander – as he did for much of the contest – had that “pick numbers out of a hat” quality to it. While there is a certain physical resemblance between Laich and Chris Clark, the resemblance doesn’t (or certainly didn’t last night) extend to production.

-- And why, pray tell, when the Caps were getting one (count it, one) man advantage opportunity in the third period, down two goals, was Donald Brashear getting a shift on the power play? On a team that could put Ovechkin, Viktor Kozlov, Michael Nylander, Tom Poti, Mike Green, Tomas Fleischmann, Nicklas Backstrom, Matt Pettinger, Brian Pothier, and maybe even David Steckel as a big guy who has scored some goals (at least in his AHL life), why is Brashear getting time as the nominal “guy in front creating traffic?” Look, Caps fans love Brashear – we do too – with good reason. But if that is the “man in front” option on this club with Chris Clark on the sidelines, then that isn’t Brashear’s problem (for being put in a position in which it would be difficult to succeed). That’s a problem that can be laid at the feet of guys who wear suits.

-- Back to that one (count it, one) man advantage in the third period. We get it…the Caps, even with Chris Clark, don’t have the sort of lineup that is going to make a living getting their noses dirty and batting in rebounds when they’re up a man. But this is a club with some high end talent and excellent puck handlers (passing?, that’s another thing). But to draw only two penalties? Two?? OK, Tampa might be a disciplined team (fifth lowest in the league in power play chances yielded), but that’s not discipline, that’s putting whistles away. For long stretches, that game looked as if it could have been played in 2002, not 2007.

-- But let no one think for a moment that this game turned on what guys in striped shirts were doing. The Caps earned this loss. 29 turnovers (their giveaway’s and Tampa’s takeaways) to 14 by Tampa suggests a certain laziness with the puck. And familiarity might have played a role in one other respect, too. Tampa played eight games against the Caps last year and probably figured out that the defense wasn’t going to pose much of a threat on offense. Well, guess what…the Caps’ defensemen recorded two shots on goal (Brian Pothier, Milan Jurcina). As a result, the forwards had little room against the compacted Lightning defense, and only Ovechkin among them had more than three shots that found their way to the net. Even among attempted shots, Ovechkin – surprise, surprise – led the club with 14. Who was second?...Nicklas Backstrom, with five.

-- What perhaps has been most disappointing, numbers-wise, has been the gaping hole on the third line. The line that began the year – Matt Pettinger, Boyd Gordon, and Chris Clark – is 4-5-9 through 17 games. This is a trio that one hack thought could combine for 50 goals. They’re on a pace for 20 – combined. They, even with David Steckel sliding into Clark’s spot in many situations in the captain’s absence, have been very good in their own end (last night, though, was not one of those games). But they have to contribute something at the offensive end, too. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but with the parity that is emerging as a defining characteristic of this league, it might make the difference in five games – ten standings points – this year.

-- Between blogs and news reports on the Caps, one of the disconcerting trends mentioned so far this year has been to start well, then suffer a poor second period, leaving the boys in the difficult situation of having to press in the third. It is not an illusion. The Caps have held opponents even in the first period of games (0.82 goals for/0.82 goals against). But in the second period, that tilts to the opponent – 1.00 goals against versus 0.71 goals for. It gets better in the third, but the differential still favors the opposition, 0.94/0.82. Here is what that suggests to us…the Caps are very poor at making in-game adjustments. Last night, the Caps controlled play in the first period and outshot Tampa Bay 8-5. But in the second period, Tampa Bay made a line adjustment and started stretching the ice with passes. They ended up taking a lead (later tied by Ovechkin) and outshot the Capitals 18-6. If not for excellent play by Olaf Kolzig, that game would have been over at the 40-minute mark (lost in the result was that Kolzig stopped 23 of the first 24 shots he face, many of them in that second period of the high-quality variety)..

As you start to plan your menus and guest lists for Thanksgiving, here is a fact to chew on…since returning from the lockout, there have been 16 slots filled in the Eastern Conference for the playoffs. Of the teams occupying those 16 slots, 15 had records of .500 or better at Thanksgiving (Ottawa, at 10-11-1 last year, being the exception...the Caps, as if it needs explanation, are not Ottawa, last week's win notwithstanding). The Caps are 6-10-1 and have four games running up to the holiday. You can do the math.


Anonymous said...

This is not a playoff team come April.

Ted, fails. His pocketbook, succeeds. His fans, disappointed.

dougeb said...

More good work by the Peerless. The $64M question --
Are the Caps

1.) Short on talent and the record reflects the talent
2.) Talented enough to be significantly better than they are, but lacking experience

Is the lackluster performance:
1.) The product of players consistent lack of effort
2.) The product of poor coaching

DMG said...

Nice job showing the numbers to back up what all Caps fans have to be feeling - this team starts every game looking like a playoff team; like the better team and ends up getting their butts handed to them in the second. As you said, I think that this has to be in large part because of the coaching staff's failure to make adjustments.