Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Morning After -- Caps vs. Bruins

A one point night . . .


The Peerless has no idea what to make of this team. Yesterday, we wrote:
If there was a team served up on a platter for what ails the Caps, it would be these Bruins. And that is precisely the kind of opponent the Caps have saved some of their ugliest games of the year for (see the combined work against the Florida Panthers in the last three meetings).

If the Caps show up and do something more than merely toss their sticks on the ice, they should win this game, and it shouldn’t be close.

Well the Caps didn’t exactly just throw their sticks on the ice, but it wasn’t exactly an inspired effort, either. There are those who forgot more about hockey over this morning’s coffee than The Peerless is ever going to know, but frankly, to say the club has “made a solid turnaround since the Ottawa game [on defense]” is really overstating the case in terms of the numbers, especially regarding last night’s game. Boston came into the game having scored a measly 31 goals in their last 16 games, only 13 in their last eight road games in which they went 1-7-0. This is a team that, for the moment at least, is supposed to get shut down. And the Caps give up one goal off a lost faceoff in their own end (the Caps lost 38 of 67 draws) and another to Patrice Bergeron, who couldn’t hit the water with the puck if he shot it off the poop deck of a cruise ship the last 16 games.

Then there was the offense. Again, here is a team – Boston – coming into this game ripe for the plucking. 72 goals allowed in their last 16 games, 37 in their last eight road games. And the Bruins end up giving up fewer goals in a road game than they’ve managed in almost two months. The Peerless believes that shots on goal matter over the long run of the season. Some argue to the contrary that if you keep the shots to the outside and don’t allow them in bunches, the shot total doesn’t matter. We think that over a season, you can’t count on that. But it sure looked to be the case last night. The Caps didn’t appear to be sticking their collective noses in tight to win loose pucks and bang them in.

But there were a few good performances. One deserves a special bag o’ chips . . .

Richard Zednik might have a “TRADE ME” sign on the back of his jersey, but it hasn’t seemed to hamper his effort. He had the best original chances to score last night and skated hard throughout. Brooks Laich played one of his better games with the club, and that would be true absent his goal. He played hard at both ends and was the only center who seemed to have a clue on faceoffs (winner of eight of 13 draws). Olaf Kolzig probably deserved better than to take the loss. The first goal, from Brandon Bochenski, he might like to have back, but he made a number of key stops down the stretch and really didn’t have a chance on a wide-open one-timer from Bergeron. And Eric Fehr had one of the few “paying attention” moments when he swept in a rebound for his second NHL goal. His taking five shots in the third period (almost half the club’s entire total for the period) suggests he’s starting to assert himself in the offense.

Which brings us to Alex Ovechkin. Every player has their worst game (even Wayne Gretzky, even Sidney Crosby…honest), and last night was, if not Ovechkin’s worst with the club, comes close. One got the feeling sitting in the stands that Zdeno Chara is really in this kid’s head. You can almost see Ovechkin trying to reason it out when he’s skating with the puck and Chara closing . . . “ok, now if I do this . . .” and by that time, his chance has passed. And last night was the extraordinarily rare game when Ovechkin skated without an obvious energy to him. We sat there thinking, “is he coming down with something?” He ended up with 17:38 in ice time last night, his lowest ice time total in a game he didn’t get thrown out of since November 28th. His two shots on goal ties his low mark for the season. And, he’s pointless in three straight games for the first time in his career (he hadn’t been held pointless in consecutive games this season until this stretch). He is in a slump. It happens. But it is odd, even in his brief career to date, to actually see it playing out on the ice.

Oh, and for all you folks longing for a return to the days of yesteryear, well, you saw it last night in the referee stylings of Don Koharski (whose mind might have been on other things, given the new concessions at Verizon) and Wes McCauley. They called 12 penalties in all, but that is very deceptive. Many were of the “non-discretionary” sort – coincidental fighting majors, coincidental roughing minors, a double minor for a high stick that drew blood, and a delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass. Only three “obstruction” fouls were called in the game, and it appeared as if they could have called three times that many. What, they left their whistles at the hotel? It was old time (1990’s) hockey.

But in the end, it was another point squandered, and there have been a lot of them over the past two months. Add them up, and the sum of it is – 13th place.