Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Morning After -- Caps vs. Flyers

It was a two-point night, Caps fans.

There is an old saying about baseball . . . there are 40 games you’ll win, no matter what, and there are 40 games you’ll lose, no matter what. It’s what you do with the rest of them that matters.

Well, we’ll leave the matter of the games you lose, no matter what, and the rest of them for another time. This morning, the matter at hand is games you win, no matter what.

The Caps last night faced a beaten team in the Philadelphia Flyers – beaten long before the final 6-2 result was displayed on the scoreboard, one that their own coach implied gave up in their last game against Ottawa. The Flyers also were beat up, missing Peter Forsberg and Joni Pitkanen, not to mention the lingering absences of Mike Rathje, Denis Gauthier, Mike Richards, and Geoff Sanderson. Add to that the fact that both goalies have suffered a variety of ailments this year, and a bad team becomes a sorrowful one. The Caps should have beaten this team, and should have been able to do it sleepwalking.

Lucky for the Caps, that’s pretty much what happened.

Robert Esche played the first shot of the game – one that one normally sees in a skate around – into a goal 15 seconds into the game. Alexander Ovechkin netted a goal six minutes later on the Caps’ third shot after the Flyers coughed up the puck in their own end and failed to pursue the matter with any intensity. When Ovechkin scored, you could see the Flyers collective shoulders visibly slump . . . here we go again. To their credit, they gamely pressed on, but unlike the case in, oh, the last decade or so, it was the Caps who badly outmanned the Flyers in terms of skill and quickness.

But the Caps, who could have applied a knockout in that first period, allowed the Flyers to dominate large stretches of play. Perhaps it was an effort to put on a show of skill for the home folks, perhaps it was just a lack of focus to the duties at hand, but there just didn’t seem to be a sense of urgency in the Caps’ play. Here’s an example of what went on . . . in the 23:21 between the Caps’ second and third goals, spanning parts of the first and second period . . .

Philly outshot the Caps, 19-13
They held the Caps even in face-offs, 15-15
They matched them in hits, 6-6
They protected the puck better, yielding only two giveaways to the Caps’ eight.

But let’s be fair here, too. In an 82-game season, there will be nights like this, and it is as much a testament to the development of the Caps as it is the woefulness of the Flyers that a comparatively pedestrian effort could result in such a lopsided result. Caps fans might be too timid and unsure to admit this, but the fact is, the Caps are better than the Flyers, and they are developing into a pretty good team right now, despite the holiday blues they experienced.

Looking at the numbers coming out of the game, you might not say that the Caps played badly or that any one player did . . . just that the team probably put forth their “B” game. One nice thing to see was Ben Clymer get that 15-seconds-in goal and get a plus-2. He might finally be righting his ship. In his last 11 games, he’s 2-3-5, -1, which isn’t bad for a guy getting about 14 minutes a night over that stretch of games.

And what can one say about Donald Brashear. If there was one Cap who seemed to bring a sense of giddyap last night, it was Brashear, and that’s not just because of his scoring his first goal as a Cap. Five shots on goal? They’ll be calling him “Alex” or “Bravechkin” at practice. Add in two hits and a blocked shot, and it wasn’t a bad night’s work for 12 minutes.

One down note was the absence of Mike Green in the third period. He’d had something of a quiet game through the first 40 minutes, but didn’t play in such a manner than obviously suggested a benching. One fears that he suffered an injury that is sure not to be disclosed as being anything but some sort of “(fill in the blank)-body injury.”

This being the NHL and not the Beauty Contest Sweepstakes of college football, two points is two points. You don’t get extra style points, and with the two they earned last night the Caps find themselves in eighth place in the East with a game in hand on each of their closest pursuers – Tampa Bay and Toronto.

And for those of you following the hijinks of Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, ponder this . . . since December 1st:

Sidney Crosby: 18 games, 11-22-33, +5
Alex Ovechkin: 18 games, 12-20-32, +3

They are now one-two in the scoring race, and both of their clubs are fighting for a spot in the top-eight. It will be a fun 40 game sprint to watch.