Saturday, October 10, 2009

A NO-point night: Red Wings 3 - Caps 2

Goaltending. It was a game about goaltending.

Well, sort of. Because if Jose Theodore didn’t play as well as he did, and Chris Osgood didn’t play as poorly as he did on two shots, the Caps would have lost tonight’s game against the Red Wings by a much wider margin than the final 3-2 score.

Actually, it was something of a clinic in Red Wing hockey. Subtle, yet effective defense. Don’t let the two goals fool you (both of which were on stoppable shots). The Caps really weren’t that close to mounting much of an offense. They spent the entire game fishing pucks from along the walls and from behind the Red Wing net. Take away the nine shots on goal from Alex Ovechkin, and the Caps had a total of 15 shots in 60 minutes, a lot of them from guys who aren’t necessarily that much of a threat to score – two by Matt Bradley (one of which resulted in a goal), and one each by Quintin Laing, Tyler Sloan, and David Steckel.

Here’s another way to look at that. The top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin took 12 of the Caps’ 24 shots on goal. The other four lines of forwards had nine, and Mike Knuble had four of those.

And another… seven Caps didn’t have a shot on goal. Five of them didn’t have a shot attempt (Boyd Gordon, Eric Fehr, Chris Clark, Milan Jurcina, and Shaone Morrisonn).

And there is this – the Caps had a total of 40 attempts on goal, the Red Wings had 68. You’re going to expect a top line to get their shots, and the Red Wings’ top line of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Todd Bertuzzi had 11 shots on goal. But the other three forward lines had 20 shots and all three goals. Compare that to the Caps, where the second, third and fourth lines had a total of nine shots on goal and both goals.

It was a story of the undercard, and the Red Wings won that battle. The Red Wings make you spend so much time and effort just getting into position to shoot, you don't often manage to get a shot off before the puck is out of the zone going the other way.

And there was the curious inability to learn from one’s mistakes when it mattered. Semin and Mike Green took two minor penalties apiece, and the Red Wings scored on two of them, those being the last two power plays the Red Wings had. The Caps had one power play tally on three opportunities, so in that respect the special teams were the difference.

It’s not that the Caps played poorly – they didn’t. What they didn’t do, and what they haven’t done since the opening night 4-1 win over Boston, was play a solid 60 minutes at both ends of the ice. Tonight, the Caps didn’t have long stretches of poor play, like they did in the second period against Philadelphia last week, but they had those 10-15 second lapses that gave the Red Wings enough room to get shots on goal that Theodore couldn’t stop. There was the inability to prevent the Red Wings from crashing the net on the Ville Leino goal in the first and the leakage on defense that allowed Jason Williams and Tomas Holmstrom to have wide open looks at the Caps net that resulted in the power play goals that would secure the win.

Other stuff…

- Nicklas Backstrom saw his eight-game points streak (dating back to last year) come to an end.

- Alex Ovechkin had 10 hits. By itself, that would leave him in a tie for 41st in the league, and it is more than 540 players in the league who have dressed so far.

- Ovechkin was on the ice for 5:30 of the Caps’ 5:39 of power play ice time. Mike Green was on for 5:25.

- Green was reported to have changed his gloves to those he used last year. This isn’t a good sign. It’s not the gloves, it’s not the stick, but all this stuff seems to have gotten into his head.

- Alex Ovechkin had an assist tonight, giving him five on the year. Sidney Crosby has only one. Can we now call Sidney Crosby a “puck hog?”

- That Holmstrom goal in the third period? The first third period goal the Red Wings have scored this season.

- If Pavel Datsyuk and Mike Richards played on the same team, their goalie might not ever see a shot.

- Seven power play shots… five of them from Ovechkin. You get the feeling if the rest of the club raised their level of effort to that which Ovechkin has displayed thus far, the Caps would be 5-0.

- On the other hand, the Red Wings had only six power play shots, but they came from six different players, two of them finding the back of the net.

- The Caps were 13-for-16 on draws in the offensive zone. You’d have thought they would have been able to put more pressure on the Detroit net with that kind of dominance. OK, the Bradley goal did come off a faceoff win by Boyd Gordon.

- We don’t have a time-of-possession clock, but maybe a reasonable proxy is this… 16 faceoffs in the Detroit zone, 26 in the Caps’ zone.

- Some of the best chances on the Capitals power play came on the penalty to Derek Meech in the third. Unfortunately, those best chances were had by Detroit.

There is still a gap between these teams. Not much of one, perhaps, but still one nevertheless. The Caps had stretches when they played very well, where the effort was top notch, but there weren’t enough of them, and not for long enough. The Red Wings had a particularly solid effort up and down the lineup at both ends. But for the play of Jose Theodore, it might have been a four or five goal night. And but for a couple of stoppable shots that Chris Osgood flubbed, it might have been a 5-0 night.

You could say that this is a sign of the Red Wings’ maturity. Well, no. Not anymore. This Caps team is in their third year together, and even the younger guys have built a fairly lengthy body of work at the NHL level. What they haven’t given evidence of in the last three-plus games is having grown up, of having the moxie to grind out games like this. Maybe there is too much “slick” and not enough just meat and potatoes hockey, although again, there were stretches of that on this night.

They’ve been outworked in the last three games, and they have three losses to show for it. And on Monday, the hardest working team in hockey pays a visit to Verizon Center. If the Caps don’t match the effort that the New Jersey Devils are likely to bring, the Caps will find themselves on the south side of .500 for the first time this year.

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