Friday, February 06, 2009

A NO-point night: Kings 5 - Caps 4

It was fitting that last night’s opponent was the Los Angeles Kings. I felt as if I was hearing the voice of Charlton Heston standing upon the rock in "The Ten Commandments," proclaiming...

“Behold, his mighty hand!"

And then the Red Sea parted.

That was pretty much the recipe for success for the Los Angeles Kings as they parted the red-jerseyed Capitals often for breaks down the middle of the ice for scores and scoring chances, then held on for dear life in the final seconds in a 5-4 defeat of Washington last night.

Even though the Caps scored 15 seconds into the game when Brooks Laich stripped Matt Greene of the puck behind the Kings’ net and fed Alexander Semin for an early goal, you saw what was coming. Barely a minute later, Kings defenseman Jack Johnson found Derek Armstrong breaking down the middle of the ice, and with both Milan Jurcina and Jeff Schultz caught outside the dots on either wall of the ice, Armstrong had an unimpeded path to goalie Jose Theodore. The Caps’ goalie made the save, but that was just a taste of what was to come.

Only a minute after that, Michal Handzus found Alexander Frolov sprinting down the middle of the ice all alone behind Mike Green on a shorthanded breakaway. Theodore made the save once more (talk about a guy who would deserve a lot better than what he got on this evening from his teammates).

After the Kings tied the game on a 5-on-3 power play to close the scoring in the first period, Los Angeles broke the tie early in the second when Tom Poti and Shaone Morrisonn both found themselves, not only on the same side of the ice, but along the same stretch of boards. Standing between them, Frolov backhanded the puck to Anze Kopitar breaking free – down the middle – and the Kings’ center banged the puck past Theodore.

Then, on a Caps power play, Handzus beat Sergei Fedorov to a loose puck at the Kings’ blue line, then fed Frolov breaking – down the middle – past Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin closed the distance, but Frolov managed to stop, turn, and put a shot on Theodore. The goalie could not find the puck beneath him, and Handzus swooped in to poke it into the net for a 3-1 Los Angeles lead.

The Caps got one back when Mike Green lugged the puck out of his own end, then fed Nicklas Backstrom cutting down the left side. Backstrom slid the puck back to Green, who ended up all alone to flick the puck past goalie Jonathan Quick to get the Caps back to within one.

That didn’t last long. From his own blue line, Kopitar found Patrick O’Sullivan breaking – down the middle – behind John Erskine. All that was left for O’Sullivan to do was take a couple of steps, deke, and slap the puck past Theodore to restore the two-goal Kings lead and leaving Theodore shaking his head at his own defense.

Right after the very next faceoff, Kyle Quincey lobbed the puck out of the Los Angeles end and found O’Sullivan at the Caps blue line. As he was falling, O’Sullivan backhanded a pass to Frolov – barreling down the middle – who was foiled by Theodore. I could almost hear a voice...maybe Theodore's..."please, Mommy, make it stop."

The Caps got it back to one again in the third period when a puck squirted out of the right wing corner to Quick’s left. Alex Ovechkin caught the puck, and in one motion wristed it past Quick before he could square himself, and Ovechkin killed the two birds with one puck of getting his 200th career goal and notching his first career goal against the Kings.

The Kings got it back, though, in the last 90 seconds when Kyle Calder and Dustin Brown were allowed to cycle the puck between themselves in the left wing corner. Calder ended up with it, then stepped out unchallenged from Theodore’s right. Taking two whacks at it, Calder managed to slide it past Theodore and close the Kings’ scoring.

With Theodore off for the extra attacker, the Caps made it interesting with just over a minute to play when a wrister from the point by Mike Green was deflected past Quick by Brooks Laich to shave the deficit to one goal. It set up a furious finish for the Caps, but they could not get the equalizer, as the Kings held on for the 5-4 finish.

So…what of it?

- It might be a blessing that the Caps lost this game. Had the Caps actually come back and won, or even forced extra time to get a standings point, after playing their worst hockey of the season in the first 40 minutes (the goal 15 seconds in, notwithstanding), it would have sent a bad karma message, rewarding the Caps for bad behavior. And let’s face it, they stunk on toast.

- It would be easy to criticize the defense for all those free and easy strolls the Kings took down the middle of the ice in the Caps’ end. And, they’d deserve it. But it isn’t as if the forwards were putting up much of a fight keeping Kings from sending those passes in for those breakaways. We might not be an expert on this, but waving a stick isn’t a defense (and neither is sticking it in a guy’s sternum – Shaone Morrisonn, we’re looking at you).

- Six power plays allowed, two of them 5-on-3’s. Caps fans might scratch their heads at some odd officiating (how does David Steckel get a minor for roughing when he’s being mauled by two Kings?), but the Caps didn’t exactly put themselves in a position to do much other than take penalties in too many instances. Penalties resulting from lazy play. Sniff…sniff, sniff. What’s that? Oh, the hairs on the back of Bruce Boudreau’s neck burning while he’s watching this go on.

-- Nicklas Backstrom…3-of-12 on draws in the offensive zone. For a team that has a fair amount of success scoring goals off set plays off faceoffs, that’s not especially helpful. Add to that the fact that Backstrom lost both defensive draws, and we’re wondering if there isn’t some sort of University of Phoenix online class he can take to improve his proficiency (he’s been above 50 percent in three of his last 24 games).

-- On the other end of that, Michal Handzus won 11 of 14 draws in the defensive end for Los Angeles.

-- The Caps took nine of the last ten shots of the game in the last 3:10 of play. Trouble was, the one shot the Kings took, they scored on (Calder).

-- The Caps had two missed shots all night?...two??

-- Penalty-Killing Watch: That's 13 games, and counting, having allowed at least one power play goal. The Caps are 53-for-71 in that span (74.6 percent). Yeesh...

-- Nine goals in this game, and Milan Jurcina isn't on the ice for any of them. Huh...

-- Ovechkin was on the ice for six of them. Trouble was, the score in those instances was 3-3.

-- Ditto, Mike Green.

-- We know, Jeff Schultz will get pounded for his play in other spaces, but he was on the ice for only one Kings goal, the 5-on-3 power play goal in the first period.

-- From the NHL official play-by-play…"WSH #21 LAICH(13), Tip-In, Off. Zone, 64 ft. Assists: #52 GREEN(27); #19 BACKSTROM(42).” A “tip-in” from 64 feet? I don’t know what’s more amazing, the fact that Laich was able to be that good at tipping, that Quick was that asleep in the crease to defend it, or that the official scorer actually typed that in.

It would be hard to say that any Cap played a good game. A few of them played a “desperate” game in the last ten minutes, but all in all, this was a waste. As I was going to the game last night, I was thinking – as a number of Caps fans might have been – that this might be a “let down” game after a nice run against the likes of Boston, Detroit, and New Jersey.

As a season ticket holder, that sort of goes with the package – there will be exhilarating nights, and there will be games that are real dogs (guess which one this ends up under). But for a father and his son who might have driven 75 miles or so to see the Caps for what might be their only time this year, they might not have had much in the way of a memorable experience, whatever the ferocity the Caps showed in the last 90 seconds. It was that ugly a game.

That might not seem fair to players who put it on the line for 82 nights a season, but that’s part of what they signed up for, too. I don’t think these are two points the Caps are going to need to win the Southeast, but there aren’t any throw away games in a season, either. And you had the feeling the Caps just threw this one away. It was a very disappointing night.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Horrible game! The only bright side for me was that I have Kopitar on my fantasy squad...

Hopefully they can figure out how to beat the weaker teams but for now they just need to let this one go.