Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A NO-point night: Hurricanes 5 - Caps 2

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define influenza symptoms as follows:

Influenza (also known as the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The flu is different from a cold. The flu usually comes on suddenly and may include these symptoms:

* Fever (usually high)
* Headache
* Extreme tiredness
* Dry cough
* Sore throat
* Runny or stuffy nose
* Muscle aches
* Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, also can occur but are more common in children than adults
* Sucky effort
* Indifferent passing
* Equating backing up, backing up some more, then backing up again with playing defense
* Forgetting that a “power play” means YOU have a man advantage, not the other team

OK, we added a few.

Jose Theodore was excused from participating in the debacle that was a 5-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes because he had the flu, or at least the first few symptoms listed above. We’re going to chalk the loss up to the rest of the team exhibiting the last few symptoms. Call it “Blue Line Flu,” because the Caps were awful from their own blue line into the goalie. They were merely “bad” over the rest of the ice sheet.

It had better be the flu, because if it’s not, then this team has a backbone check to conduct on itself. Losing two in a row at home isn’t the end of the world. Losing two in a row at home by a combined 11-3 to teams they should beat, and beat handily…that’s another matter.

Where do you start? Well, there was the virgin sacrifice, for starters. Rookie (as in three whole NHL appearances rookie) goaltender Michal Neuvirth had the kind of night that suggested the rest of the team got together in a secret team meeting and agreed to leave him out to dry to see just how many shots he could stop without the benefit of a defense around him. The answer was 25. Trouble was, Carolina took 30. He looked badly overmatched on the first goal – a penalty shot by Eric Staal, who froze Neuvirth with a wrist shot over Neuvirth’s glove – but otherwise was more victim than perpetrator.

Then there was Mike Green. That might have been Green’s worst game as a pro, including his stints in the AHL. The only reason he wasn’t on the ice for all five goals was that the rules of hockey don’t permit a defenseman on the ice when a penalty shot is taken. But he was there for the other four. And frankly, he looked lost…or ill. One might actually hope for the latter (and that it is a 24-hour flu), because if it wasn’t illness…

The record will state that Alex Ovechkin has an assist and 12 shot attempts. That might be, but it didn’t look as if his heart was in it. In fairness to Green, it was Ovechkin who Matt Cullen chipped the puck around to skate up ice and score the Hurricanes’ second goal (their first of two shorthanded goals). It was almost as if he deliberately played in a more subdued manner to shut the likes of Don Cherry up. Or, maybe it was the flu.

Nicklas Backstrom’s 10-game scoring streak came to an end, and maybe that’s a good thing. Enough with the streaks! Unless they’re winning streaks, that is. Green had a streak, and has been in something of a funk ever since it ended. Backstrom went on a streak, and we’re hoping that the same fate is avoided by the youngster. But, in an odd twist that only a game such as this could produce, Backstrom won 11 of 17 draws (64.7 percent).

The Caps had three shots on the power play. Hey, you know what? Carolina had three shots on Caps power plays, too…they scored on two of them.

Staffan Kronwall spent the first intermission telling Al Koken in a TV interview that he wasn’t the biggest hitter out there. Well, he was tonight. He led the team with four.

The Caps had 28 giveaways. Twenty-eight. They had 40 turnovers in all (including Carolina takeaways).

There were actually a few Caps who played decently, if only in spurts. Tomas Fleischmann seemed to be the only Cap with any jump early. He even had a hit (his 15th of the year). David Steckel had five shots, tying a season high for him. And, he won 10 of 15 draws. John Erskine toughed it out, as he was reported to be less than 100 percent before the game. We have no problem with his play tonight (if the club gives out a hard hat for losses, Erskine should get it). Alexander Semin scored a goal from his seat and otherwise played a pretty good game.

It wasn’t even as if Carolina played an especially dominating game. They just hung around wnd waited for the Caps to give them opportunities. And boy, did they. The problem was that guys who should, and really have to play well…didn’t. In fact, they were awful. And Neuvirth is not nearly seasoned enough to be able to put the club on his back when the kind of adversity strikes to scratch the starting goaltender and a top-pair defenseman, while leaving another defenseman playing at less than 100 percent. Heaven knows who else was not quite up to snuff – there was ample evidence that other guys might have been nursing something.

After 65 games last year, the Caps were 30-27-8 (68 points). This team is objectively better, especially since they’re not sneaking up on anyone this year. So again, this isn’t the end of the world. But it doesn’t change the fact that for two games, this team has flat out stunk up the place. There isn’t enough perfume to make that pig smell any better.

Translation Services from Your Uncle Peerless

Tarik El-Bashir reports in this afternoon's "Capitals Insider" that Capitals' general manager George McPhee "is not expecting the Caps to make any major moves" as the trading deadline approaches tomorrow.

Uh, yeah...right. Buy that if you will, but we've seen this act before -- last year, in fact, when the Caps didn't do anything except get a hall-of-fame bound center, a number one goalie, and a pest, all for a sheet of S&H green stamps (God, I'm old) and a pack of Wrigley's spearmint gum.

So with that in mind, let's take a look at the quotes McPhee provided to "Capitals Insider" and see if we can divine the true meaning...

Quote: "If we can add a little something here or a little something there, we would do it. But we don't sense right now that very much is going to happen with our club - and that's fine."

Translation: "There are 24 hours left to sense something that is going to happen with the club."

Quote: "What it comes down to is making the right decisions for your hockey club, and taking that long-term look. We've taken a long-term approach, and we've got a good club as a result. We can continue to be a good club if we're smart about things."

Translation: "We're not trading Karl Alzner for Chris Pronger, but we're not above trading a guy at Hershey or a pick to get a Derek Morris."

Quote: "We have some terrific young players that took some years to accumulate and we're not interested in giving them away."

Translation: "We're going to fleece somebody."

Quote: "You don't know what can happen, but right now it's quiet."

Translation: "We put a few irons in the fire this morning."

Quote: "We talked to a lot of clubs yesterday, we talked to everyone again today. But I expect the rest of the day to be quiet and we'll see what happens tomorrow."

Translation: "We'll just let those irons cook a little bit longer."

This has been a public service from your old pal, Uncle Peerless.