Friday, October 09, 2009

A NO-point night: Rangers 4 - Caps 3

There are nights when players take the ice, when there is a rhythm and tempo that makes for a seamless flow, a thread weaving its way about the ice in red, a tapestry of skill, determination, and success.

Well, this wasn’t one of those games.

Every team will have a real stinker from time to time, a game that hangs above the ice like a haze wafting in from the local sewage plant.

This wasn’t one of those games either. It was more disturbing.

From the center face-off dot to the rafters, Caps Nation – both players and fans – were pretty much dead tonight, a curious turn of events given that the Caps were playing a divisional rival that they met for higher stakes last spring. But the Rangers emerged… well, I suppose “victorious” would be the word here, but it was hardly a “victory.” More like, “we got the two points, boys, let’s head for the bus before somebody figures out we shouldn’t have gotten them, either.”

It was a 4-3 result that had one scratching one’s head (and frankly, we can’t afford too much more scratching – we don’t have a lot of hair left). It was an “Alphonse and Gaston” act in which the Rangers gave the Caps countless opportunities to settle the competitive portion of the evening early, only to have the Caps say, “thanks, but please, after you.”

The Rangers took four penalties in the first period, but the Caps converted on none of them, not even a 5-on-3 advantage. But the Caps did get a goal when Brian Pothier backed off the Rangers defense toward the left wing half-wall, then spied Alexander Semin pinching in from the right wing point. Semin snapped the puck through before goalie Henrik Lundqvist could get across the crease.

The Caps should have considered themselves fortunate to lead at the first intermission despite the four power plays and having taken a total of only seven shots in the period.

Well, fortune smiled on the same end of the ice in the second period – not a good thing for the Caps, because that was the end they were defending. Ryan Callahan scored on a backhand to tie the game 8:47 into the second period, and Ales Kotalik duplicated the feat with another backhand 2:01 later. Just like that, the Caps had played cordial host.

But hey, a cordial host is nothing without an appreciative guest, and the Rangers were exactly that just past the three minute mark of the third period. Looking to send the puck in on what was a harmless dump-in, Nicklas Backstrom sent the puck on goal from just over the center red line. Henrik Lundqvist, apparently pondering “hair gel” or “no hair gel” for the post game shower, waved pitifully at the puck with his stick as it slid past him on the long side from somewhere near the Old Post Office. Suddenly, we were tied.

OK, it’s 2-2, and it’s a game again. At this point, the Caps actually showed signs of life (the irony of the Caps employing a “pulse” in their pre-game intro video was not lost on this observer). Trouble is, life lasted all of four minutes and 34 seconds. That’s how long it took for Backstrom to score in a more conventional manner, taking a nice little feed from Brooks Laich to convert a power play – their only conversion in nine opportunities on this night.

So now it’s 3-2, Caps… what is the next phrase out of every announcer’s mouth since Foster Hewitt? Take your time, we’ll wait…

“You can’t let the other team score on the next shift.”

Sure enough, 18 seconds after Backstrom gave the Caps the lead, Jose Theodore handed it right back. Marian Gaborik fired the puck from between the top of the circles, the game was tied, and the Caps returned to their somnambulistic ways. Less than three minutes later, while the Caps were stifling yawns, it was Gaborik one more time, this time from a little further out, but again right there in the middle of the ice. The second of two goals that Jose Theodore should have turned away.

It was an especially unfortunate end for Theodore, since he played a solid, if not spectacular, 40 minutes to open the game. But those two goals at the end were the kinds of lapses in focus that found him modeling lids on the bench for the next 13 starts the Caps would have in the playoffs last year.

But even with that, the Rangers weren’t done giving. Donald Brashear left a parting gift for his former teammates by taking a rather silly tripping penalty with 5:06 left in the contest. But alas, there would be no tying goal, and frankly, the Caps didn’t deserve the point anyway.

Other stuff…

- OK, the first line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin went 3-1-4, even… not a bad night. But nine power play shots and nothing to show for it?

- There are nights we wonder what color the sky is in the official scorer’s world. Nicklas Backstrom was credited with winning nine of 16 draws, when for the life of us, we were wondering if he was going to win a draw against air.

- The Caps were certainly equal opportunity “blah”… 14 of the 18 skaters could claim to have been on the ice for at least one Ranger goal (John Erskine, Brian Pothier, Brooks Laich, and Mike Knuble being the only ones to escape unblemished). The checkers – Steckel and Laing – were on for two goals. The energy guys – Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon, and Tyler Sloan – were on for another. Add in Chris Clark, who was on for one goal, and lines three and four were on for three of the four goals while recording only one assist (Sloan). As Coach Boudreau said after the game, if you’re not going to score, you’d better not be on for any goals against.

- Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you. Ovechkin had 14 shot attempts (nine shots on goal) without finding the back of the net.

- Mike Green had 15 shot attempts, and it was a display that continued demonstrating that all of sports, it seems, is a game of inches. He had six missed shots among those 14 attempts, and it seemed as if every one was a couple of inches high over the net. Last year, those shots were a couple of inches under the crossbar.

- For what it’s worth, Nicklas Backstrom is now your league scoring leader (2-8-10). Semin and Ovechkin are tied for second.

- Now, here’s the flip side of that. The second line (Brooks Laich, Brendan Morrison, and Mike Knuble) had a total of three shots on goal tonight. OK, it’s only one night, and they still have six goals among them.

- 17 giveaways tonight… boy, it sure seemed like more.

- The Caps have now allowed 12 goals in the last seven regulation periods of hockey, starting with the three Toronto scored in a 6-2 Caps win. That’s “mite” hockey… as in “mite-y bad.”

- At this point, it is more than a little unnerving that a group of Marc Staal (22 years old, 166 games including tonight’s), Matt Gilroy (25, 4), and Michael Del Zotto (19, 4) could play better defense for 60 minutes than Mike Green (23, 246), Jeff Schultz (23, 176), and Tom Poti (32, 721). The Caps simply did not take enough advantage of the young defense for the Rangers.

- And why was that so? Well, it wasn’t only the defensemen. The team just didn’t make the Rangers pay any sort of price for playing in role of the visitor. The forwards bear a measure of responsibility for playing without much energy.

- Playing with such a lack of energy and focus resulted in the Caps wasting an opportunity on a night where Henrik Lundqvist did not look to be in world-beater mode. He was good, but it would have been interesting to see whether he’d have been any better had the Caps managed more quality chances.

- Because with respect to chances… 28 shots on goal, 40 misfires (22 shots blocked, 18 misses)

- On the other hand, the Caps blocked only eight shots. Who was paying a price?

- Anyone want to start taking odds that Michal Neuvirth is going to have another whirlwind season of travel that will see him end up this time in the Caps' net in mid-April?

The Rangers gave the Caps opportunity after opportunity on the power play, and the Caps gave it right back by converting on only one of nine opportunities. The Rangers put the game on a platter for the Caps when Henrik Lundqvist butchered a simple dump in. The Caps gave it right back when Jose Theodore gave up the tying and winning goals on very stoppable shots in the third period. The Caps should have won against a team where the only reliable offensive threat is Marian Gaborik, and the defense is way to green to be able to stand up – on paper – against the Caps scoring depth. But the Rangers managed to win the two points largely because the Caps didn’t seem terribly interested in taking those points for themselves.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure I blame Jose for those 5 holers as much as other people are. The defense was sagging so far back that those shots came from in pretty close through the screen of the defense. The D needs to practice on exiting the zone as all we did last night was launch pucks up the boards and hope our team picked it up. The issue of getting forechecked in our own zone continues to rear its head this year as well.