Saturday, November 21, 2009

A NO-point night: Canadiens 3 - Caps 2

Sometimes, you lose a game.

Give Montreal credit. They played hard, and they played smart. It wasn’t the jaw-droppingly boring sort of “playing hard” that you might see by the plucky Islanders or the robotic Devils. Montreal played a game tailored to their own skill and that of the Capitals in a 3-2 Canadiens win last night. They took away the middle of the ice, they took away time and space from Alex Ovechkin to deny him shooting lanes and angles, they played an error-free game, and they got a solid game from goaltender Carey Price to get the win. Montreal coach Jacques Martin described the game in a nutshell in the postgame: ''The last 3 1/2 minutes were kind of hectic But up to that point I felt we were managing the game well.'' Yes, they managed the game well.

Make no mistake, even with that the Caps win that game absent two somewhat fluky goals that ricocheted of bodies and bounced oddly past goalie Michal Neuvirth. The Caps did not lack for effort as much as results.

Other stuff…

- OK, let’s get this one out of the way. The home town fans are always going to think they got hosed by the referees when they come out on the short end of a close game. But there was one sequence in a 2:28 span of the third period that fairly dripped with irony. At 3:21 of the period, Mathieu Perreault was whistled for hooking off Guillaume Latendresse from the puck, a man who outweighs Perreault by almost 60 pounds. It was a close call, but OK. 2:28 later Latendresse was whistled for hooking off Brendan Morrison, a man Latendresse outweighs by 45 pounds. And Morrison was sent off coincidentally for… diving? Are you bleeping kidding me?

- John Carlson didn’t get the fairy tale finish to his NHL debut – the Caps lost, and his best chance at a goal didn’t go in (even though it sure looked from our seat that it did – chalk that up to our sitting at the other end of the rink and wishful thinking). But he was solid in all three zones – he managed his own end well (finished the night even), used his body effectively (five hits), and was not shy in the offensive zone (five shot attempts). One thing we watched more of in this game – we kept tabs on Carlson a lot in the second period. It’s the long change for a defenseman, and since he plays on the right side, it’s the longest change. He played the period well in that respect, not getting burned on changes or staying past his time. Sure, he’s done this since he was a kid (Peerless, he’s still a kid), but playing one’s first NHL game might be something of a different experience. It was one game against a somewhat offensively challenged team, but there is so much upside to this fellow.

- Ovechkin had 14 shot attempts (five on goal), but really precious few good ones, and never any that Price didn’t get a good look at. Credit Montreal’s team defense, despite the high (or for Ovechkin, average) shot attempts total.

- Mike Green wakes up this morning as the leading scorer among defensemen (ok, tied with Tomas Kaberle). He’s doing it a lot differently than last year, when it seemed every game offered him at least one opportunity to pinch in and roof a puck over the goalie’s glove. That’s not there this year, but Green has assists in 14 of 21 games in which he’s played. He had two more last night. Give him credit for adjusting his game to take what the opposition gives, or more accurately, to take advantage of what the opposition takes – his space to take open shots – to find the open teammate.

- For one brief, blinding moment, you saw why Eric Fehr was a first round draft choice. That wrist shot that Carey Price could only wave at was a rocket. The trouble has been that such brief, blinding moments have been something else… too infrequent. But Fehr had a solid game last night in all aspects in 14 minutes of ice time.

- This game is why the Caps miss Mike Knuble. There were opportunities for cashing in rebounds lying in and around the crease last night, but no Cap was able to get a stick on the puck before Price calmly covered it up.

- Speaking of Price, that was the goalie was saw a few years back in the Calder Cup final against Hershey. He played “quietly,” with an economy of movement and good position. No swimming, no flapping, no happy feet. He was as still as a quiet lake for most of the game, even when, as coach Martin put it, things “were king of hectic” late in the game. If a team lets him get in a happy zone, he’s hard to beat.

- Carlson’s five hits led the team.

- Michal Neuvirth deserved better. The first two goals pinballed in front of him and caught him in position where he had no chance to keep them from bouncing in to the net. The third one was a nice deflection by Mike Cammalleri. If you look at his saving “only” 19 of 22 shots, you’d think he had a pretty mediocre night. He was better than that.

- Give John Erskine credit for guts and smarts. He had the guts to go with Georges Laraque (even if it was Laraque’s first game back from injury), and he had the smarts to get inside early and wrestle Laraque to the ice. Didn’t seem smart to let that think go on for long and allow Big Georges to find his timing.

- Tom Poti missed the last 35 minutes with what is an “upper body injury.” Hershey’s area code is 717.

Like we said, sometimes you lose a game. Losing this one was not a product of bad effort. The only complaint we have is that when Montreal went up 3-1 in the third, the Caps reverted to the individual style, each man trying to do too much himself. They got the goal late and put on a lot of pressure in the last minute. They just couldn’t solve Price one more time. It happens.

The trick is to make sure it doesn’t happen in consecutive games. They likely face a goalie tonight in Toronto who has struggled lately (Jonas Gustavsson has allowed three, four, and five goals in his last three appearances). The “results” need to match the effort.


Hateoffseason said...

Since you were there Peerless, how did Carlson look speed wise?

On TV it kind of seemed like he was a little slow at first, but by the end of the game had adjusted to having to move faster. It wasn't mental, he didn't seem to hesitate at all, just didn't seem to have enough speed at first.

How many of Mike Green's points this year have come from just being out on the ice so much? Not to take anything away from the guy, but the assist he got from the Fehr goal was really just because he was out there. Pretty sure every one of our defensemen can dump a puck into an empty corner, I've even seen Schultz do it on his way to crushing another winger against the glass.

The Peerless said...

I thought he was absolutely solid. He could have played a very cautious, rookie, "don't make a mistake" game. But he played as if he belonged there. He took initiative to contribute. I expect he's still going to finish the season in Hershey, but that will be his last. He'll be in the Caps lineup to start next season.