Sunday, November 01, 2009

A ONE-point night: Blue Jackets 5 - Capitals 4 (OT)

If the NHL had a seismic detector, it would have registered 8.0 on the Richter scale at 6:10 of the second period of this evening’s Capitals-Blue Jackets game. It was then that Columbus’ Raffi Torres and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin collided in the sort of innocent collision that takes place dozens of times a game. Both players went down. Torres skated back into the play, Ovechkin skated to the Capitals’ bench shaking his head. He went immediately down the tunnel to the locker room and would not return in a 5-4 overtime loss that was a game bizarre enough that it should have been played last night – on Hallowe’en.

Ovechkin didn’t look right from the opening faceoff. He did not register a shot on goal until 6:02 was gone in the second period, just before his evening was done. He took two penalties, which would be his high for the year. There was the sloppy toe-drag that led to an R.J. Umberger breakaway 11 minutes into the first period.

Ovechkin’s departure cast a long shadow over a truly strange game, one in which the Caps really deserved better. They did a lot of things right…

There was the clinic put on by Nicklas Backstrom, Tomas Fleischmann and Alexander Semin in setting up the first goal that went Flesichmann to Backstrom, behind the back to Semin, over to Fleischmann, and back to Backstrom in the slot, all inside the Blue Jackets’ blue line, Backstrom ultimately banging the puck into a virtually empty net.

There was Brooks Laich stepping up into the void left by Ovechkin’s departure to pot a pair of goals to tie the game, then give the Caps a lead 2:08 apart in the second period. One came by getting dirty in front, potting a rebound on the power play. The other came when Laich found a seam down the middle, taking a pass from Brendan Morrison and snap the puck past goalie Steve Mason.

There was the unbelievable shift put in by Mike Knuble, who was a one man penalty killing effort in the Columbus zone, tying up the puck for what seemed like the entire Columbus power play.

There was David Steckel driving to the net and nudging a rebound of a shot back to Quintin Laing at the top of the crease for a goal.

But the Caps did enough wrong to lose, too…

There was Mike Green letting Rick Nash skate around him to the outside to glide in on Jose Theodore alone for a goal. The way Green moved – very stiffly, poking at Nash with his stick – you’d have thought he had a back injury. Such a thing shouldn’t be ruled out.

There was the inability to hold a third-period lead, something they actually gave up twice in this game, the last one with 23 seconds left in regulation.

There was Tom Poti leaving his feet in the overtime, giving Rick Nash the time and opportunity to pick his spot and find Umberger in front for the game-winner.

Nothing, however, beat the bizarre…

The puck that ricocheted strangely off the end boards to R.J. Umberger, who deposited the puck in an empty net with Jose Theodore behind the cage to collect the puck that never came.

The stick – Theodore’s – that got caught up in the meshing of the goal, leaving the goalie defenseless against a backhand wrap-around by Raffi Torres.

Ovechkin finally ending his evening after what seemed like an innocent nudge from Raffi Torres (although the injury might have occurred earlier in a scrum at the Columbus bench).

Other stuff…

Nicklas Backstrom led the team in shots in Ovechkin’s absence (six, tied with Alexander Semin). That ties a career high, accomplished twice, the last time also against Columbus last January 9th. What might seem odd about Backstrom’s number in this one is that all six of his attempts were on net.

Three Caps won at least ten draws – Backstrom (10-for-19), Brendan Morrison (10 of 14), and David Steckel (13 of 25). It was the second straight game that Backstrom won the majority of his draws after failing to do so in seven straight. For Steckel, he had the misfortune of losing his last draw, and Columbus scored the game-winner 12 seconds later.

Ovechkin still tied for the team lead in hits (three), despite playing only 7:43.

That’s nine straight games with at least one point. No team in the NHL has lost fewer games in regulation than the Caps (two).

By the same token, no team has lost more extra time games at home than have the Caps (three).

The goaltender interference call on David Steckel was lame. There really is no other word for it.

Only five giveaways in this game for the Caps, and Theodore had two of those.

The Caps yielded six power plays. With that many, there are likely to be a couple of silly ones. Knuble’s slashing penalty (which just expired when Columbus tied the game in the last minute) and Brian Pothier’s behind-the-play interference penalty were in that category. Both were penalties you might expect rookies to make, not veterans.

Time on ice… Who got those 13 or so minutes among the forwards that Alex Ovechkin didn’t skate? It wasn’t Nicklas Backstrom (18:26 against an average of 21:00 this year). It wasn’t Alexander Semin (19:44/19:51). It wasn’t Mike Knuble (16:33/17:24). On the other hand, Brooks Laich (20:49/19:18), Tomas Fleischmann (17:42/15:53), Matt Bradley (13:54/11:59), Quintin Laing (13:36/11:20), and David Steckel (16:16/14:14) got some extra time, some of it coming with the extra session.

The Caps played several games in this one, and it did not make for a good combination. There was the pretty phase, in which Backstrom, Fleischmann and Semin combined for a goal, then went silent thereafter (they had a combined two shots on goal in the third period). There was the grind phase, reflected the pair of goals by Laich and the goal by Laing. There was the gremlin phase of the game, which generally took place within a foot of wherever Jose Theodore might have been standing with the odd goals Columbus scored.

All things considered, this was far from a perfect game, but it wasn’t as bad as the final score indicated, either. Losing the best player on the planet for 34 minutes and overtime is going to leave an impression, especially when the club doesn’t have time to reorient itself to the loss. And, there might be an injury to Mike Green that isn’t being talked about. Jose Theodore will be on the hook for allowing five goals on 32 shots, but two were quirky, and a couple others were the case of Capitals losing track of some Blue Jackets in front of the net.

The Caps still have the fourth most points in the league, second best in the East. Things could be a lot worse… like if Ovechkin misses any significant time. Caps fans will be holding their collective breath the next day or so. That’s the bigger story than an overtime loss.

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