Sunday, November 23, 2008

A NO-point night: Sharks 7 - Caps 2

…they’ll have their butts handed to them.

Sorry, we were just finishing the thought we started the last time we wrote a wrap-up, as in:

“[A game like that against the Kings] just shouldn’t happen again tomorrow night, because if it does…

And the San Jose Sharks did just that in treating the Caps like chum in a 7-2 win last night. We could talk about numbers and this and that and the other thing, but the one thing that fairly jumped at us was a graphic – the shot chart…

San Jose scored five goals from the doorstep. The Caps barely had five shots from the doorstep. That’s your game. It wasn’t so much that San Jose was willing to pay a price to get themselves into position to score those goals, the Caps simply didn’t offer much in the way of resistance. Brent Johnson, whose GAA (2.26 to 2.79) and save percentage (.928 to .910) took a beating in this game, might have fared better without teammates…fewer bodies to clog his view.

The Caps were guilty of a youthful exuberance…much heat, no light (as is red lights going on). California must have this thing about violence, as in seeing it where it doesn’t exist (like on TV or something). The Caps were credited with 49 hits. That’s a rather amazing number, made more so when you look at it at an individual level…Alex Ovechkin was credited with 10 – one every 2.5 shifts. Chris Clark (five on 16) and Matt Bradley (seven on 19) had about a hit every three shifts. Sergei Fedorov was credited with two in six shifts before retiring for the evening after 4:54 of ice time, an apparent reoccurrence of his ankle injury sitting him down.

Trouble was, none of that alleged physical play was taking place in front of Brent Johnson, where Sharks swam free to deflect point shots and knock in pucks.

Here is a subtle glimpse of the differences between the teams in this game. Defensemen for San Jose attempted 21 shots, 15 of them getting to Johnson. At the other end, Caps defensemen attempted a total of nine shots, only three making it to Sharks’ goalie Brian Boucher. Small wonder that the Sharks’ defensemen were 1-7-8 last night, and the Caps defensemen were 1-1-2. Think the Caps don’t miss Mike Green? The Sharks have multiple copies (though none as prolific as the healthy original).

The Caps were playing their third road game in four nights, the Sharks were resting in their own beds since returning home from a win over Nashville last Sunday. It showed. San Jose took nine minutes to shake out the cobwebs, then scored on their first, third, and fifth shots of the game, all of them from inside the faceoff circles. Game. The rest was for the stat sheet.

We could write about which Caps had good games, but the list would look something like this…


Get the picture? If, though, you’re thinking about Caps who weren’t bad, that list starts with Brent Johnson. How can a guy who gave up seven goals in 28 shots be said to have not had a bad game? With the way San Jose was skating in the slot and Johnson’s face, seven could have been 14. Pucks were changing direction in front of him more than a Caps fan trying to find a meter with time on it ten minutes before the opening face off.

We’re 20 games in, and we’ll have more to say about that another time, but there are some things coming into focus about this team. And nothing is clearer than when they are bad, they are awful. The Caps have lost six games in regulation. In four of those losses they gave up at least five goals (all of them on the road) and lost all of them by at least three goals. In three of those losses, the Caps gave up three goals in the first period. In each instance, we would consider the circumstances an intimidating environment -- opening night in the other guy’s rink (Atlanta, a 7-4 loss), a place where the Caps have had little success (at Buffalo, a 5-0 loss), and a rink where the home team hasn’t lost yet in regulation (San Jose, a 7-2 loss).

That is not a good sign. It suggests that for all the talent on this team, what they are lacking is the swagger that truly good teams have that allows them to go into a hostile rink and eat the other guys’ lunch in front of their fans. If the Caps are going to have long run this spring, they’d better develop that talent. Giving up four goals a game on the road – their mark this morning – isn’t going to end happily.

It won’t get easier for the Caps, as they travel on to Minnesota to end this road trip. They are 1-2-1 this morning on the trip, and a win in Minnesota would not make the trip a success, but it would make things more palatable as the club heads home for Thanksgiving. The Caps and Sharks are similarly skilled teams, but the Sharks imposed their will on the Caps once they got their legs under them. The Wild are similar in that they are all about imposing their will – a suffocating defensive system – on opponents. If the Caps can’t deal with that and turn the tables on the home team…

1 comment:

Doug said...

It's funny how things go. When you are winning, you see all of this impressive talent in the pipeline and think we'll be goof for another 7 years. When you lose 2 in a row and expose a chronically weak defense and average goal tending, you wonder if we'll ever get there.....
Another day in the life of a Caps fan.