Monday, March 10, 2008

A no-point afternoon: Penguins 4 - Caps 2

It stinks.

Their fans came and cheered, their team played and won, their fans stayed and celebrated.

It stinks.

It’s supposed to stink. If it didn’t, then why would we bother showing up for these games? If we didn’t care, we’d just say, “ah, #@$& it…I’ll stay home and watch the inevitable on TV.”

The Caps played 59:30 of a great game yesterday, but found a way to let the last 30 seconds get away from them in dropping a 4-2 result to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Verizon Center.

Nicklas Backstom scored an own-goal with 27.8 seconds left to join the ranks of Capitals who have done some odd things in this series against the Penguins – almost all of them bad over the last 20 years. For those of you who keep score of such things, the regular season series stands (with overtime/shootout losses counted as losses), 73-88-16. Unfortunately, 2-10-0 of that is in the last three years.

If you looked at the numbers – and only the numbers – you’d think the Caps won this game, oh…5-2:

Shots: 38-26, Caps
Total shots taken: 63-51, Caps
Giveaways: Penguins 11, Caps 9
Takeaways: Caps 11, Penguins 5
Faceoffs: Caps 39, Penguins 22 (63.9 percent)

But in the end, it was the same old story…the Penguins finished (or had things finished for them), the Caps didn’t.

Alex Ovechkin had three tap-ins on his stick in the first period alone and twice had the puck jump over his stick (the third he mis-hit). Alexander Semin had several opportunities to walk down the slot and fire and ended up hitting Marc-Andre Fleury’s logo (his goal was scored on a pretty stick move in close to Fleury’s right that appeared to fool the goaltender). Backstrom, who other than the miscue at the end had a superb game, had four shots of his own that didn’t find twine. The guys you would have wanted to take shots for the Caps – Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, Viktor Kozlov, Mike Green, Eric Fehr – had 28 of the 38 shots. Cristobal Huet was sharp; the defense was taking care of business by moving the puck smartly out of trouble and away from the Penguins’ big guns.

All of which meant that the Penguins had the Caps right where they wanted them.

The Caps could convert only one of those 28 shots from prime scorers, although the Brooks Laich goal (his 17th) was a redirection goal off a shot from Semin.

That the Caps could be so unsuccessful with spending so much time in the Pittsburgh end on this day and launching so many shots from such high-probability scoring area argues for Fleury’s being named number-one star. He certainly was ours.

That Evgeni Malkin was named first star, Ovechkin second star, and Crosby third star seemed to us equal cases of laziness in looking at the game and theater (since they were the marquee players in the game promotions). We would have had Fleury as the first star, Jordan Staal as the second star (he played a whale of an all-around game), and Malkin as the third star.

For the Caps, this loss is not crushing, except perhaps to the spirit. It capped an odd and most unsatisfying weekend, one in which both games – to Boston and Pittsburgh – were lost in the last five minutes under somewhat strange circumstances (a rash of penalties in one, an own-goal in the other)...the first time in 48 games the Caps lost consecutive games in regulation. Had both games been won, and this team should believe it should have won both games, the Caps would be poised to embark on their last dozen games only two points behind Philadelphia for eighth place and three behind Carolina for the Southeast lead with a game in hand. As it is, the Caps are six points behind the Flyers and seven behind the Hurricanes with those dozen games left to play.

The Caps do not have to win out to make the playoffs, but it’s getting close to that level of desperation. They probably need no fewer than 18 points in their last dozen games to qualify, and that with a six-game road trip looming that starts next Tuesday in Nashville.

Bruce Boudreau said after the game that, "That was officially heartbreaking." He was likely speaking of Backstrom’s well-intentioned error at the end. But he might have been speaking of the larger game, and of the still larger realization that for the spirited comeback the Caps have made from the depths of the conference back in late November, it might not be enough.

It stinks.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is there such a thing as a negative-point afternoon?