Sunday, October 19, 2008

A ONE-Point Night: Devils 4 - Caps 3 (OT/SO)

This morning’s word…


Meaning…“confused or disconcerted; upset; frustrated”

That was the Caps in a nutshell last night as they earned (well, “earned” really doesn’t capture it…”slunk away with”) a point they had no business getting in a 4-3 Gimmick loss to the New Jersey Devils at Verizon Center.

There isn’t a stat that jumps out so much as a visual…the shot chart:

The Caps might have had 27 shots, but it was often a case of “bombs away” from the outside. Martin Brodeur is too good a goalie to allow much from that distance. The Caps had some success from between the hash marks, but there wasn’t enough of that. That the Caps scored three goals is somewhat amazing in light of that visual.

The statistics of the game reflect the even nature of the scoreboard. The Devils enjoyed a wide lead in shots (37-27), but the teams were more or less even in blocked shots (Devils, 15-13), hits (Devils, 18-14), takeaways (Devils, 9-8), giveaways (Devils, 14-15), faceoff wins (Caps, 35-30). But what one gathered in watching the game was that the Caps just weren’t into the little things, like winning battles along the boards. If the puck was somewhere near the edge, and two or more players were fighting for it, one could be pretty confident that a Devil was going to come away with it.

One of the numbers that does leap out is the shots late. The Capitals – a team that showed an ability to finish well (they are tied for third in third period goals this morning) – allowed the Devils 14 shots in the third period and overtime, while posting only seven of their own. The Caps allowed the Devils to dictate the tempo in the last half of the game.

What we took away…

What the Devils lack for in offense (and three goals doesn’t really reflect just how boring it is to watch), they made up for in balance. Eight skaters had three or more shots on goal, none had more than four. Only two skaters – Colin White and Bobby Holik – failed to register a shot. And Holik played less than seven minutes, breaking his pinkie finger on an Alex Ovechkin clearing attempt in the second period.

John Erskine might have been “even” for the night, but it seemed that every shift he had out there was an adventure of some kind. Another delay-of-game penalty…having to dive to poke away a puck after it trickled off his stick…being the guy who didn’t tie up Petr Vrana enough to keep him from deflecteing Patrik Elias’ point shot for the Devils’ first goal.

This was the first time in five games (career) against the Devils that Nicklas Backstrom failed to register a point. Backstrom is shooting the puck more (he had seven attempts last night), but he looks just a bit off in, well, most everything.

That pass from Sergei Fedorov to spring Alexander Semin for a breakaway goal was a thing of beauty. No other Caps defenseman makes that pass. It might not be accidental that he and Milan Jurcina – a pairing for much of this game – were the two Caps defensemen who were not on the ice for a Devils score (although Jurcina was not on the ice for the last 7:28 minutes of regulation and all of overtime).

Holik is a not the player of years past, but one thing he still does well is take faceoffs – he won seven of eight.

Speaking of time, the Devils had four skaters who logged less than ten minutes – Holik, Mike Rupp, Petr Vrana, and David Clarkson.

The Caps had the guys they wanted shooting the puck. Ovechkin had six shots, Semin three, and Mike Green three. Part of the trouble was that Tomas Fleischmann, Eric Fehr, Chris Clark, and Brooks Laich were credited with one apiece.

Since Viktor Kozlov left the lineup mid-way through the 5-1 win against Vancouver, Backstrom and Ovechkin have a combined 26 shots, no goals, and one assist.

We had one right in the players to ponder…Jamie Langenbrunner had assists on both of the Devils’ third period goals.

One power play goal in eight tries (and the one coming on a 5-on-3). The Caps look as if they had the part of their brain holding the “what we do on the power play” wiped clean. The Caps had eight shots on eight power plays; the Devils also had eight shots…on four power plays. The Caps spent most of the 5-on-4 time playing the role of the dog in the time-honored game of “fetch.”

Alexander Semin had two more goals – he is now second (to Thomas Vanek) in goals and the league leader in points. He also had no shots on the power play.

The Devils’ TV analyst remarked in the third period that if he was a Devil, he wouldn’t give up the puck in the Caps’ zone until he wanted to, because the Caps weren’t pressuring the puck at all. That was one of the confounding truths all night…the Caps looked very passive in defending the Devils, who are not nearly as explosive a team as the one the Caps played on Thursday in Pittsburgh. They seemed to give the Devils too much room and too much respect.

There really is a glass-half-full, glass-half empty aspect to this game. If you’re a “glass-half-empty” kind of person, you’re probably thinking that last night’s effort and intensity just weren’t there. And, in fact, they weren’t, at least not so that we could see. The Devils play a system and make life very annoying for teams that want to run and gun, but the Caps looked pretty passive out there, too.

If you’re a “glass-half-full” kind of person, you’re thinking that the Caps got a point out of a game they had no business getting one from, and they did (if on a fluky goal) come from behind late. They carry a four-game points-earned streak into a western road trip. And, they did it despite missing some important cogs in Kozlov, Tom Poti, and Donald Brashear.


Anonymous said...

"The Caps spent most of the 5-on-4 time playing the role of the dog in the time-honored game of “fetch.”" -well said. I thought on the powerplay it often looked like NJ was the one on the powerplay and we were trying to keep up. I don't know how to fix the PP and PK units, but I hope BB does!

Flying Cloud said...

Peerless, Thanks for these insights. It's late in the day now but if you're still looking at comments, I offer this one. I took someone to his first hockey game last night, explaining that the Devils had the best goaltender in the world and we had the best power forward in the world, and that it would be a frustrating game for us. Too right! The Devils seemed to block all the shooting lanes, playing angles to perfection. I hope we figure out how to beat that style of play in future. I think we may have scored more goals against them than any other team thus far, and despite having the Brodeur in net it took a shootout (gimmick) to beat us. My friend thoroughly enjoyed the game anyway and is now a Caps fan, that's also good news. If choosing between half-empty and half-full I'd say our cup was a bit more than half-full but a long way from running over. And yet...
Will Ovi break out of his slow start? Will our D step up, even though we are Poti-less for who knows how long? Fedorov had a muddled game, despite his beautiful pass to Semin. I noticed he didn't practice on Friday. Is he up to playing that position for long? Or perhaps he's better off on the blueline than being relegated to third line center (a comedown for someone of his skill)? Poor Backstrom had a terrible time in the dots, I don't think he won more than a couple faceoffs all night. And of course, Ovi's pucks didn't find the back of the net. I know it's early days and everyone is trying their best, but they didn't appear to be having much fun, and that is somewhat unusual for them. What about it, Peerless, tough times ahead?