It would be tempting to say that this afternoon’s 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins was a product of shoddy officiating (there was that) and a lack of discipline on the part of one of the players the Caps look to for leadership in times like this (there was that, too).
But this was a team loss, in every sense of the word. Let’s start with that third period, the one in which the Bruins scored two late goals to win...
The Caps had four shots on goal in the third period. That is a deceptive number...they didn’t have so much as that amount of pressure on the Bruins. Here is the official tally of those four shots in the third period...
2:07: Ovechkin, Backhand, Defensive Zone, 153 ft.
2:46: Bradley, Slap, Neutral Zone, 110 ft.
5:14: Fedorov, Slap, Defensive Zone, 134 ft.
11:41: Fedorov, Wrist, Defensive Zone, 144 ft.
That’s it. No shots on goal from the offensive zone...none.
Then there were the misses on the chances they did have...Brooks Laich failing to cash in on a shorthanded rush with five minutes gone in the second...Tomas Flesichmann in alone on Bruin goalie Alex Auld off a feed from Alexander Semin ringing the puck off the pipe.
The Caps played just enough to put themselves in a position to have the game settled on the basis of a series of brutal calls by the officials. And in that, there is a silver lining. This is a loss, but one that need not be crushing. The Caps were, despite the Bruins coming out full of piss and vinegar, and with a grudge to settle, the better team for just about the entire game. Cristobal Huet had a superb game in goal, which sets up an interesting choice for coach Bruce Boudreau to make for tomorrow’s game against Pittsburgh.
There was Jeff Schultz leading the team with five hits...Quintin Laing with a like number of blocked shots...Laich leading the team with four shots on goal.
But if the Caps didn’t play quite well enough – and they didn’t – the officiating was, to be charitable, off its game. Let’s start with the first period...a five minute and game misconduct for kneeing for Matt Cooke. First, let’s get this out of the way...a major penalty for kneeing requires that an additional game misconduct be applied (Rule 50.5). The question is, why a major penalty in that instance? The infraction itself is defined at Rule 50.1 as follows:
Kneeing is the act of a player or goalkeeper leading with his knee and in some cases extending his leg outwards to make contact with his opponent.
Well, we’ve looked at the video of that and wonder, “where was the “leading with his knee” part? That there would be a question about this in our mind (which questions the very call itself) begs the next question, how could the referee be sure that the violation merited a major penalty? Rule 50.3 permits – but does not require – a major penalty to be called, that the referee may, “at his discretion, may assess a major penalty, based on the severity of the infraction, to a player or goalkeeper guilty of kneeing an opponent.” Sorry, but to put a team at a manpower disadvantage for five full minutes seems to require a higher threshold than what was the case here. As it turned out, Bobby Allen – the victim of this heinous crime – came back later in the period and ended up skating another 2:17 (of his 5:44 of total ice time) after suffering this tragedy 4:06 into the second period. The refs got snookered.
And that made the end-game a little harder to understand. The Brashear calls looked to be on the far side of the line, meriting penalties. The rest?...it is hard to understand the calls on John Erskine and Tom Poti in the context of what the referees let go on. In a league where legend has it that things even up in the end, every call that had a choice about it went in Boston’s favor. That happens, although it would be tough to finish one point out of the playoffs with this kind of game having been called. But again, in the end, the Caps had chances they didn’t convert earlier in the game, and one could take some measure of solace in that they were the better team for most of this contest. That should give them a measure of confidence moving forward.
This might be a speed bump on the Caps’ march to the playoffs, or – if the club lets it get to them – could be the start of a slump the team simply can’t afford. We’ve seen enough of the Caps in the last couple of weeks to think it’s the former, that they will be ready to go when the puck drops tomorrow at Verizon Center. And this edgy kind of loss will be a memory.