Sunday, January 13, 2008

A no point afternoon: Flyers 6 - Caps 4


The next goal…

That’s what the Caps just couldn’t find in the third period of this afternoon’s contest against the Philadelphia Flyers – the next goal.

Before succumbing, 6-4, to the Flyers this afternoon, the Caps fought back from a three-goal deficit to climb within a goal, gave up another goal, then scored to climb within a single goal once more before yielding an empty netter in the last minute for the final tally.

It was a singularly frustrating game on a lot of levels…

- The Flyers were coming off an overtime loss against the Bruins in Philadelphia yesterday, so the formula would have been to push them early. The Caps did, drawing first blood 82 seconds into the game. The Caps had the territorial advantage and were dictating the pace over the first five minutes, then…pffffft. They were the ones to stop skating.

- A team whose legs might not have three periods in them is a team you have to make skate to take the will out of them. Throw the puck in deep, make them turn and chase it, and pressure them. So, what did the Caps do?...they spent a lot of time being cute with the puck – overpassing, passing up shots for the “highlight” play, and not applying as much physical pressure as they might have in the offensive zone. On defense there was just too much reaching and poking, allowing the Flyers too much space.

- The Wizards might not grab as many rebounds as Caps goalies (and both played) and Flyer goalie Martin Biron gave up in this one. The difference was that the Flyers pounced on the ones Olaf Kolzig and Brent Johnson left, while the Caps weren’t crashing the net in sufficient numbers to take advantage of a very shaky Biron. First Flyer goal…Upshall shot, Knuble jumps in to poke the loose puck under Kolzig’s pads. Second goal…Timonen fires from almost the blue line as a power play is about to expire, Knuble stuffs the rebound from a sharp angle behind Kolzig. Third goal…Timonen again, carrying the puck all the way to the net on a shorthanded opportunity, Kolzig stops the stuff attempt, but Jim Dowd slams the puck in. Fifth goal…Downie fires a low shot from the edge of the left wing circle that Johnson gets a pad on, but Richards swats the rebound home. See a pattern? The fourth goal wasn’t a rebound, it was case of R.J. Umberger throwing a plain-looking shot at the net from the top of the left wing circle that Kolzig could have stopped with his mask on backwards…except it hit Milan Jurcina’s stick on the way in, and while Kolzig still managed to get a piece of it with his glove, he didn’t get enough to keep it from finding the net. That ended Kolzig’s day.

- For long stretches, the Caps looked like another team with red sweaters that play in a nation’s capital…and for other long stretches they looked like, well, November’s Caps. But one had the feeling that the Caps were the better team, that it was just a matter of time before they got that next goal to even things up and give themselves a chance to get that point or two they desperately need. But they never got that next goal.

It would be simple, and perhaps convenient to attribute this loss to goaltending, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Both starting goaltenders were shaky, Biron particularly. But the difference was that Philadelphia paid a price to collect and convert rebounds, the Caps didn’t. The final result might have been more lopsided than it was, but for some superb stops by both Caps goalies, especially Johnson. But even in those instances, the chances were largely a product of rebounds given.

The most important number for the Caps in this game might be these: one, 55. Those represent the number of shifts taken by Chris Clark in the third period and the number of seconds of ice time on that shift. Clark did not take the ice over the last 17:49 of the game.

Did the Caps dominate play?...they “out-attempted” the Flyers 72-51 and won the draws by 31-24. It was like watching a football team out-gain the opposition 350-200 and converting 60 percent of their third down situations to 40 percent for the other guys and losing the game…you feel like it was one that got away.

Tom Poti had a rough game in his return from injury…he was on the ice for four of the Flyers’ goals.

Somehow, it just seems odd that Viktor Kozlov had only 14 seconds of power play time this afternoon.

I just know I’m going to bolt upright in bed at three tomorrow morning shouting, “Alex!..How could you pass up that shot?” and scrunch my eyes together trying to figure out why Semin would pass up a free, unchallenged shot at Biron to try to leave a drop pass to…well, to who, exactly?

Matt Bradley sure has a way with people, doesn’t he?...he smears Sami Kapanen along the boards, then draws an instigator (to go with the misconduct and fighting accessories) from Jason Smith stepping into the fray. One might applaud the Flyers’ captain for stepping up for a guy who just got plastered, but it took him off the ice for 17 minutes and left his club a man short.

That sure was a slick through-Scott-Hartnell’s-legs pass by Michael Nylander to set up the goal Semin did score. And so was Viktor Kozlov's drop pass (gee...one that worked) to Alex Ovechkin who lasered a wrister past Biron.

Did Daniel Briere dress for this game?...one shot, a giveaway, lost nine of 11 draws, and went -2 in 16 minutes. He ought to back up to the pay window for this one.

Alex Ovechkin might be A-O-Rod, in the wake of his new contract, but Mike Richards is “David Wright” (the Mets third-baseman…he’s a 30HR, 100RBI, top fielder at his position type…does everything well). Richards had a goal, played almost 23 minutes, attempted eight shots, had a couple of hits, a couple of take-aways, won 11 of 20 draws, and was +1.

Just when you think the club has turned a corner, they let an opportunity like this pass. These were two points the Caps really can’t afford to be letting slip through their fingers, especially with Ottawa – no doubt looking to avenge that 0-3 season series, so far – looming on Tuesday. But it also does no good to dwell on it. The game’s over, and it can’t be replayed. It's just time to get on with the next one.

1 comment:

Chris said...

I thought this game was interesting in that it really showed where the Caps need to improve and where they are really getting there. My thoughts:

1. The nifty pass aside (and his gift goal from backstrum), Nylander looked terrible. The offensive zone holding penalty he took was absurd (almost as absurd as watching him try to argue it) and he is up to a -19. Something needs to be done.

2. As scary as his -19 is, Semin is only 8 behind (or ahead of) him in about half as many games. When he shoots, he scores the first goal. When he pretends it's the skills competition, he gives pucks away and costs his team goals in the defensive zone. He needs to start making better decisions.

3. I appreciate your defense of Olie, but I can't agree if we are going to pay him at the level we are. Johnson looked good; maybe he should play more.

4. I love Bruce, but what is Brashear doing out on the ice down a goal with 6 minutes left even after having taken a dumb penalty earlier in the game? I mean, even I admit he has been playing a bit better lately, but really?

5. Watching Ovechkin shoot the puck is an incredible thing.

6. Watching Mike Green rush the puck is an incredible thing.

7. Watching Bradley and Laich grind it out is an incredible thing.

8. Down 4-1 a few weeks ago, this team would have folded. Enjoyable game, it is just too bad that every game is a playoff game now.