Well, it was over at the first intermission, anyway, just not quite the way we envisioned.
The Carolina Hurricanes scored early (three goals in the first period), scored late (two goals in the last ten minutes to pull away) and withstood a mini-rally by the Washington Capitals on their way to only their second road win of the season, a 6-3 decision at Verizon Center last night.
It wasn’t pretty. How so? Well, until last night…
- Carolina scored as many as four goals on the road this season once… in Colorado… in a loss.
- They had not scored as many goals in any game since beating Florida, 7-2, on October 9th.
- They did not have a better shooting percentage than their six goals on 26 shots (23.1 percent).
- They had not won a game by as many as three goals since that 7-2 win over Florida.
- They did not have a 5-on-3 goal this season… at all.
Meanwhile, about that first period for the Caps. Washington was credited with four shots. That is being more than generous. Here is the official tally:
2:32 – Knuble, slap shot, 83 feet
8:31 – Fleischmann, wrist shot, 32 feet
13:27 – Backstrom, wrist shot, 76 feet
18:25 – Gordon, backhand, 36 feet
See a pattern? Cam Ward could have knitted a quilt for all the pressure the Caps put on him in the first frame. He could have stopped those shots with a badminton racquet. Oh, Carolina’s three goals were scored from a combined distance of 27 feet.
That, kids, was more or less the game. The Caps are an adept come-from-behind team (best in the league, in fact, winning percentage-wise going into last night;’s game), but a three-goal deficit in the first period is a bit much. A team has to expend so much energy just to get back into the game it doesn’t often leave anything at the end to get over the hump, take a lead, and hold it to the end.
And such was the case for the Caps. They did sort of make a game of it. They got an early second period power play goal from Mike Green, thanks to a nice feed from Tomas Fleischmann and a screen by Mike Knuble in front of goalie Cam Ward. But they gave it right back. OK, Jose Theodore is going to get a fair amount of blame for that fourth Hurricane goal, for giving up a rebound, then not stopping Brandon Sutter on the put-back. But watch the faceoff. Nicklas Backstrom lost it to Sutter, then did his best imitation of an orange traffic cone as Sutter made a bee-line for the net.
The killer, though, was the fifth Carolina goal. As a power play was expiring, Eric Staal sent a shot to the cage that Theodore paddled away from one knee. Staal retrieved the puck and sent it across to Sergei Samsonov in the left wing circle. Samsonov got off a wrister, but it was blocked by Tyler Sloan. Samsonov got the loose puck, though, stepped around Sloan, and wristed it past Theodore. The thing is, though, in that entire sequence, Theodore played from his knees. He never seemed to get himself into a sturdy position to defend against a shot, and when Samsonov changed the angle in stepping around Sloan, he had a much better target of open net to shoot at. It was the frustration of the night in a nutshell.
-- For what it’s worth, that’s four straight multi-point games for Alex Ovechkin (5-6-11, +3). It is the first time he has had a streak of that sort this long within a season since a five-game multi-point streak from November 10-19, 2008 (6-8-14, +12). He had a four game streak that crossed seasons – the last game of the 2008-2009 season and the first three games of this season.
-- With a goal and an assist, Mike Green registered a point in his fourth straight game (3-3-6, +4). He has a way to go to match his best this year, though – an eight-game points streak from November 11th through November 25th.
-- The Caps out-attempted Carolina 71-45 (shots, misses, shots blocked). But last night was one of those instances in which Carolina’s chances were of the much better opportunity sort than were the Caps’ opportunities.
-- No, it was not a personal best for Eric Staal. His five point night was eclipsed by a six-point night against Tampa Bay last March 9th (tying the club record).
-- Carolina certainly didn’t spread things around. Only seven players recorded points on a six-goal night. Four players – Staal, Matt Cullen, Tuomo Ruutu, and Jussi Jokinen did the multi-point damage.
-- Rod Brind’Amour, who is last in the NHL in plus-minus, found a way to finish minus-1 on a night when his club scores six and wins by three. He also had only 4:19 in ice time, only one shift in the last 27 minutes of the game.
-- The Caps came into the game as the best 5-on-5 team in the league. They got pounded, 4-1, in that part of the game (not counting the empty-netter) by the team that was worst in the league in that measure.
-- The Young Guns night… 2-3-5, 15 shots on goal, 32 attempted shots… and a minus-8.
-- The Young Guns Night II… about that expending of energy, after the Hurricanes scored those three goals in the first period, here is how the ice time played out for the Young Guns in the last two periods: Ovechkin – 18:15, Backstrom – 14:28, Semin – 14:07, Green – 22:56.
-- Pretty grim night in the circle if you are a Cap, and your name isn’t “Steckel.” 14 wins and 27 losses for just such players.
The Caps now head west to herald in the new year. What they seem unable to herald in is a clear number one goaltender. Jose Theodore did himself no favors tonight by allowing five goals on 25 shots. The trouble is, Semyon Varlamov is hurt, and Michal Neuvirth has too little experience (though no less than Varlamov had at this time last year). Certainly this will sort itself out by April, but at the moment the Caps are winning in spite of a revolving door between the pipes.
Last night is what happens when a perfect storm of events occurs – last game before jumping on a plane to the left coast, maybe taking an opponent (even a division opponent) too lightly, a lack of focus as a product of the day’s earlier events, and uncertainty in goal. Again, the trick here is not to let one become two, and that will be a chore as the Caps visit the San Jose Sharks next. But last night, the Caps looked, well…