Saturday, November 21, 2009

A ONE-point night: Maple Leafs 2 - Caps 1 (OT/Gimmick)

Well, didn't they lay an egg?

There is no explanation to do justice to losing to a team that had one win on its own ice in nine tries, whose wins coming into this game came against teams with a combined 22-28-12 record. But the Caps found a way to lose to such a team tonight, dropping a 2-1 Gimmick loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto.

It isn’t even as if Toronto played an especially inspired game. They didn’t. The Caps just didn’t seem to have what it took to pay a price to stomp the Leafs flat, especially at the top of the lineup. Here is an example. Here is how the shots on goal started for the Caps in this game:

1:13 – Tomas Fleischmann, 48 feet
2:57 – Jay Beagle, 22 feet
6:29 – Jeff Schultz, 54 feet
7:39 – Brendan Morrison, 163 feet
9:33 – Eric Fehr, 30 feet
12:57 – Brooks Laich, 22 feet

Let’s leave out the fact that the Caps registered only six shots on goal in 13 minutes against a weak defensive team. It took the Caps almost 13 minutes to get a shot on goal from inside of 30 feet from a top-six forward. Start a game like that, and all it does is invite a team to hang around and gain some confidence that, if only for tonight, they can skate with the big boys.

And that’s just what Toronto did. They stuck around. Even after Alex Ovechkin wired a puck past Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala to give the Caps another first goal of the game, the Caps skated as if they thought it would be easy after that, or convinced themselves that since it was the second of a back to back, they should be tired. Toronto, in the mean time, stuck around.

And when a team lets their opponent stick around, they not only have to rely on their goaltender to keep the back of the net clean, they have to rely on the hockey gods to turn the other way on the matter of bounces. The gods didn’t. Toronto managed to tie things up late in the second period when Niklas Hagman was in the right place at the right time, when a shot by Mikhail Grabovsky pinballed up and off Hagman’s right arm and behind Semyon Varlamov.

After that, it was the 11th commandment that “thou shalt have a Gimmick.” And so it was, and one wonders, was Mark Henderson driving the Zamboni to scrape the ice? It was a weird, not to mention drawn out production to prepare the ice for the Gimmick, and the Caps weren’t exactly pleased with the manner in which it was done, a process that required the referee to squeegee away snow that was left along the runway.

Having tidied up, it was left once more to the hockey gods to point a finger, and they pointed their collective fingers at the Caps shooters. It’s really quite hard to win a Gimmick without getting a shot on goal, but that’s what happened. OK, Eric Fehr will go into the hockey record books as having recorded a shot on Vesa Toskala, but by the time the puck left his stick, he was holding his stick in both hands… half in his left, and half in his right, after the twig broke in half. Note to Coach Boudreau, when it comes to the Gimmick, IT’S NOT FEHR!

When Alex Ovechkin launched his try high and wide right (Bobby Bowden is going to be visiting to see if he wants to kick field goals for Florida State), it was all but over. Nicklas Hagman lifted a backhand over Semyon Varlamov, and with the earlier trick shot success by Phil Kessel, the grisly spectacle was complete.

Other stuff…

- Can’t really fault the power play in this one, despite going 0-for-4. They did get 10 shots on goal in four power plays from an average of 15 feet and only one outside of 25 feet. They had their chances.

- Semyon Varlamov might have a bit of the barracuda in him. It was something Joe Beninati alluded to in the telecast, that (to paraphrase) Varlamov might sense that the number one goalie job is there for the taking. He was sharp, to say the least (38 saves on 38 shots that weren’t off a body part, 0-for-1 on shots off of arms). He has stopped 112 of the last 117 shots he has faced (.957), dating back to the third period of a 3-2 loss to New Jersey on November 4th. Since that loss, he is 3-0-1, 1.30.

- Bad number #1: The Caps were dinged by the official scorer with 18 giveaways tonight. 12 of them were by defensemen. That’s the kind of thing that can make a goaltender’s hair fall out (or his coach’s).

- Bad number #2: Toronto had 39 shots on goal. That doesn’t tell the half of it, literally. The Maple Leafs had 86 shot attempts in 65 minutes. That’s one every 45 seconds, or pretty much one for every single shift, generally speaking. The Caps, on the other hand 57 attempts in 65 minutes (one every 1:08).

- Bad number #3: The score sheet will show that the faceoff battle was almost split between the teams (Leafs 31 – Caps 28). But the Caps were 7-for-17 in the offensive zone, 9-for-21 in the defensive zone.

- The Caps got off lucky to get to the trick shot competition. They could have been whistled for boarding and tripping early in the overtime.

- Various reasons already tied to trial balloons as to why the Caps lost – tired from last night, the building was hot. If the Caps had lost to San Jose in this fashion, one could buy this. If the Caps lost to Tampa Bay in this fashion (Tampa has played in nine extra time games this year, including six that ended in Gimmicks), one could buy this. Not against the Maple Leafs.

- It wasn’t all bad. Chris Clark had five shots on goal, a couple of hits, and a blocked shot in 12:36. Brooks Laich had six shots on goal (tied for the team lead with Ovechkin), a couple of hits, and a blocked shot. Brian Pothier had three blocked shots and none of those dozen giveaways by Caps defensemen.

- Bad number #4: Jeff Schultz wears jersey number “55.” That’s a high number by NHL standards. It’s a high number for any team sport except football. Numbers higher than that are generally the sort you see in training camp, spring training, or… injury call ups. Five skaters wore numbers greater than “55” for the Caps tonight. Four of them started the year in Hershey – Andrew Gordon (63), John Carlson (74), Jay Beagle (83), and Mathieu Perreault (85); and Tyler Sloan (89) dressed for only his 12th game this year.

- Bad number #5: David Steckel won only five of 11 draws. That might not sound so bad, except it is only the second time this season Steckel has finished a game south of 50 percent, the other time being October 24th, when he won only four of 11 draws against the Islanders.

- Bad number #6: In the “he taketh, and he giveth away” category, we have John Erskine. He taketh four hits, and he giveth away the puck four times.

- Bad number #7: With Alexander Semin out, three young guns skated tonight. Two of them – Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green – did not register a shot on goal.

- Odd number #1: Six of the 18 skaters for the Caps averaged at least one minute per shift tonight (the best thing for guys skating on consecutive nights?). No Maple Leaf skated an average shift more than 55 seconds.

- Odd number #2. Of the 18 skaters for Toronto, 17 registered shots on goal. Jeff Finger took the bagel.

- Odd number #3: If under “Team Lead, Hits” you had “Mike Green,” you win. He had five for the Caps.

Bruce Boudreau was quite upbeat for a coach who was on the wrong side of the result. Look, he’s the expert in this sort of thing, so the fan here has to defer to his judgment. Still, we didn’t think the Caps were very much in this game from the get-go. And frankly, despite having devoted 1,367 words to this point, there really isn’t a good explanation for losing this game to that team.


Jimmy Jazz said...

Awesome post, Peerless. With the exception of Varly, that was just an embarrassing performance. It's not often Ovie plays like such a... human.

exwhaler said...

While Gabby didn't bring out the verbal whip at his press conference, his players were in their locker room interviews. I have a feeling the coach only does that when the players don't seem to be getting a message.

Phil Barnhart said...

Dude - besides using a copyrighted image on your post -- you do realize that is a smoke alarm, not a hockey puck?