Saturday, October 24, 2009

A TWO-point night: Caps 3 - Islanders 2 (OT)

Tonight’s menu special…

Bruce Boudreau was in a tinkering mood tonight, desperately trying to find a wing – any wing – who could make a difference skating with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Mike Knuble, Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, Matt Bradley (seriously), Peter Bondra, Alan Haworth, Brian Bellows, Esa Tikkanen… ok, those last few weren’t in the lineup, but if they were, they’d have gotten a shift or two on the top line.

And in the end, it was a runt of the litter, so to speak, who finally made a difference. Keith Aucoin allowed the Caps to salvage at least a point in tonight’s game against the Islanders when he banked a shot off the Islanders’ Josh Bailey, who went to a knee trying to block a centering pass, and behind Islanders goalie Dwayne Roloson, who frankly deserved better than he ultimately got. Why? Because Brooks Laich did what the Caps failed miserably at all night – he drove to the net. In doing so, he gave himself a chance to tip a pass from Mike Green through Roloson 60 seconds into the extra session, and the Caps escaped from Long Island with the second standings point in a 3-2 overtime win.

It would be hard to find a win in the last decade that the Caps deserved less. Let’s look at a few key numbers…

See a pattern? The Islanders outworked the Caps all over the ice. It was the sort of effort that back in 2005-2006 we might have said did honor to the Caps. The Islanders might take little solace from the sentiment, but they should be proud of that effort.

The Caps, on the other hand, should not be. Against a team that had not won a game in regulation since April 4th, dating back to last season (two wins in regulation in their last 20 games dating back to last season), the Caps didn’t even mail in their first 50 minutes. That would have required an effort to get to the mail box. Here are some other examples of the exasperating play…

- Three different Islanders won ten or more faceoffs. Nicklas Backstrom lost 18 draws by himself, almost as many as the Caps won in total (20). The Caps were eight up and 21 down in the offensive zone… hard to establish any offensive pressure when you don’t have the puck.

- This one is almost unbelievable… the Caps won one… ONE… faceoff in the defensive zone all night. They lost 15.

- Alexandre Giroux led the Caps in hits (four). Giroux isn’t up here to hit, he’s up here to score… he had one shot attempt (blocked) in nine minutes of play.

- Radek Martinek had as many blocked shots (seven) as the entire Caps lineup.

- Alex Ovechkin went more than 34 minutes before registering his first shot on goal.

- The Caps yielded a shorthanded goal for the second consecutive game -- the second by a defenseman -- which makes the score Opponents 2 – Caps 0 on the Caps’ power play the last two games.

Why was Boudreau searching for a wing – any wing – to do something on the top line? Eric Fehr… no shots on goal. Chris Clark… no shots on goal. Giroux… no shots on goal. Mike Knuble… one shot on goal. Aucoin scored on his only shot on goal.

Lost in all of this is that the Caps played a pretty good game from the blue line back. The Caps gave up a shorthanded goal (note to Caps..."backchecking" is not a penalty) and a goal off a behind-the-back deflection that might go in one time in a hundred when you’re in practice. We will not fault Shaone Morrisonn on that one… he had inside position on Jeff Tambellini. Maybe he could have put more of a body on him, but Morrisonn did not play that one badly. All of the defensemen played the games they have to play, more or less. Mike Green might have been guilty of the occasional hold-the-puck-a-few-seconds-too-long in rushing up ice. Milan Jurcina might have done better getting pucks through from the point. But all in all, the defense played a solid game.

Green had an especially interesting game. He was the recipient of a knee-on-knee hit by Nate Thompson a little more than 13 minutes into the second period. He had four shot attempts after that (including a goal) and assisted on the Laich winner. Sometimes Green can look like he’s skating in another world, but the incident seemed to refocus his attention on the ice.

Jose Theodore deserved a star in this one. He didn’t have much in the way of highlight saves, but on a night when the team in front of him – especially the forwards – was struggling, he kept the Caps close with solid, consistent, well-positioned netminding. Good Jose was on display tonight. If Bad Jose had showed up, the Isles might have pulled away in the third with a soft goal or two.

The Islanders were the better team tonight by miles. It is only that the Caps have so much more talent that they were able to muster a decent finish to this one. There will be better nights for the Islanders, although those nights might be a couple of seasons (and lottery draft picks) away. For the Caps, maybe they were looking ahead to Tuesday night’s game against Philadelphia. Maybe there is a bug running around the Caps’ locker room that we’re not aware of that sapped the boys of some energy.

But whatever the reason, the Caps were lucky. Lucky that the Islanders couldn’t scare up a third goal when it was 2-0, lucky that the Islanders really don’t yet have the talent or the experience to put teams like the Caps away when they have such teams down, lucky that they finally found a wing who could make a difference and that he wasn’t in Hershey playing against Binghamton tonight (the Bears could have used him, too – they were roughed up by the Senators, 5-2).

It’s a win, and a win is a win is a win. But this one was too ugly, even for Kanoobie.


Diane said...

Come back, Sasha!

Justin said...

Aucoin hustled his butt off all night it seemed to me. I was glad it paid off.