Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Morning After

No points tonight . . .

What’r ya gonna do?

If you look at the Caps’ 3-2 loss last night to the Ottawa Senators in the context of what’s been going on lately, one might be tempted to say, “same old, same old.” The 13th loss in the last 19 games, playoff chances bleeding away.

But look at the game on its own merits. The Caps certainly didn’t play badly in the first period; they just didn’t play as well as they needed to out of the gate. Ottawa scored on a screen and an odd play off an errant shot in the first period, creating the hole (again) that the Caps found themselves needing to dig free of. It wasn’t as if the Senators dominated a clearly inferior team. And, the Caps did outplay Ottawa over the last 40 minutes. Alex Ovechkin summed up the overall 60 minutes – “"I thought we played very well today. We had lots of chances. We played hard, we skated fast and we checked, but we didn't score. That was the key."

Unfortunately, the Caps didn’t have as many chances, didn’t play quite as hard, didn’t skate as fast or checked as enthusiastically, and certainly didn’t score in the first period. Getting outscored 2-0 in the first period last night brings the first period scoring over this 6-13-0 skid to 31-16, the Caps on the short end. No club can spend its energy, night after night after night, crawling out from under the pile of goals they’re giving up early. The NHL is really a front-runner’s game. Clubs that get an early lead or take one into the first intermission are likely to be the winner. Only two clubs in the entire league have a winning percentage below .500 when scoring first, and no club – none – has a below-.500 winning percentage when leading after one period. The Caps are being bludgeoned into an early off season by this truth.

Looking at the numbers . . .

13:42 – that was the ice time Mike Green got last night, coming on the heels of only 8:22 in his last game. And again, his ice time late suffered – two shifts in the last eight minutes of the second period, three in the last 12 minutes of the game (all of them in the last seven minutes when the Caps were looking for the equalizer). But even this wasn’t quite like the . . .

8:36 . . . the time Kris Beech got. Five shifts in the last 39 minutes of the game after taking a holding penalty at the end of the first period.

55 . . . Jeff Schultz had another pretty solid game. 17 minutes and change, two hits, two blocked shots, and he wasn’t on the ice for any Ottawa goals. He wasn’t being matched against the Heatley line, but still a pretty decent effort.

32 . . . that’s how many times Glen Hanlon tapped Boyd Gordon’s shoulder to take a shift. No Cap player had more. Maybe it had something to do with winning 10 of 17 draws. And here is the odd part about those numbers – he took no draws in the offensive end; he was the designated faceoff guy in the defensive end (winning 7 of 12). Folks are going to be calling him, “Yanic,” before too long.

Stealing a point in a game like this could have been a huge lift, especially coming on the heels of the big win against Carolina on Saturday. But now the momentum has been halted, and the Caps get to face those pesky Panthers tomorrow. And on top of that, there is the temptation to peek ahead at the game Saturday against Pittsburgh. This is an even harder week than it looks to be on paper.