Thursday, February 11, 2010

A NO-point night: Senators 6 - Capitals 5

OK, now it’s over.

The Caps lost a game in regulation for the first time in almost a month, dropping a 6-5 decision to the Ottawa Senators in Ottawa. Although the game appeared exciting and close, this one had “loss” all over it almost from the drop of the puck. The Senators scored three first-period goals, gave up the lead, then took it back for good in the third period, while the Caps enjoyed a hat trick – their third consecutive game with one after not having one all year – from Alexander Semin and a rare goal from Jeff Schultz.

But the story was defense, or more precisely, the utter absence of it. There were some oddities at the other end of the rink, too. It’s hard to know where to start…

-- Semyon Varlamov allowed six goals on 28 shots (.786 save percentage), and despite a couple of very nice saves looked very much the goalie who hadn’t seen any NHL action in two months.

-- Tomas Fleischmann was something of a rabbit’s foot for the Senators; he was on the ice for four even strength Senator goals. He also lost nine of 11 draws (including all of five in the ends of the ice). He didn’t take a draw in the last 22 minutes of the game. We’ll see whether this center experiment carries over after the Olympic break.

-- Alex Ovechkin had nine shot attempts for the game. That isn’t out of the ordinary. That he would get only one shot on goal is. Eight shots were blocked. Six of those were blocked by Anton Volchenkov. The Caps had five blocked shots for the game. Volchenkov deserved his first star of the contest.

-- Sometimes, you watch Alexander Semin and think he could be the premier offensive talent in the game. He had eight shot attempts, four shots on goal, and two goals in the second period alone, the goals coming 42 seconds apart, and he could have had a goal seconds before his second goal of the period on a nice move and quick snapper on goalie Brian Elliott. As for the first and third periods, let’s just not talk about that.

-- If you counted all of Ottawa’s shot attempts, it would still have been a brutal night for Varlamov – six goals on 40 attempts works out to a .850 save percentage.

-- Two of those goals came on power plays. Ottawa had two power plays for the evening. In February the Caps are 11-for-19 in road penalty killing. Think 57.9 percent is going to do it down the road? Didn’t think so.

-- First time in franchise history (amazing how often that phrase gets used these days) the Caps had a hat trick in three consecutive games. Of course, going 1-1-1 in those games sort of takes the luster off of that accomplishment.

-- You could say that having Chris Bourque, Tyler Sloan, and Karl Alzner in the lineup made for a less-than-optimal group of skaters. At least one of them was on the ice for three of the six goals. Alzner actually had a decent game. He was on the ice for Ottawa’s first goal, but the Senators couldn’t get any while he was on the ice thereafter.

-- Brendan Morrison had a pretty quiet game – one shot attempt, one hit, and an assist. He did win 12 of 21 draws. But he finished a plus-4. That would be his getting a close-up view of the Semin hat trick and the Schultz lightning bolt.

-- The Caps are 4-1-1 for the month of February, but giving up 4.0 goals a game and a save percentage of .894 is disturbing.

-- We’ll live a long time before we say, “hey, let’s have more of that Sloan-Erskine pairing.” They were on the ice for the goal in the last two minutes of the second period to tie the game at four apiece. Then they were on the ice for the goal in the first 150 seconds of the third period to give the Senators the lead for the last time.

-- Right now, the Caps have the top four players in the NHL in plus-minus: Alex Ovechkin (+43), Jeff Schultz (+38), Nicklas Backstrom (+33), and Mike Green (+28). Backstrom didn’t get a point tonight, but he has climbed into a tie for third in overall scoring (26-49-75).

-- This game will give ammunition to anyone who thinks the Caps: a) need a defenseman, b) specifically need Anton Volchenkov, c) have neither the goaltending, nor the defense to really make noise in the playoffs, d) think the Fleischmann-as-center experiment has run its course, e) need to distribute antacids to fans watching Alexander Semin over 60 minutes, and f) look better in their road white uniforms than they do in the home reds.

But it’s also possible to make too much of this. The Caps were missing Jason Chimera, Tom Poti, and Shaone Morrisonn. They were backstopped by a goalie who hadn’t seen an NHL shot in more than two months. It was the back end of a back-to-back on the road. They just had a long winning streak snapped. Tonight was the perfect storm of circumstances that conspired against the Caps. And still they made a one-goal game of it. It doesn’t excuse some flat out poor play that would be poor play under any circumstances, but this shouldn’t be seen as the onset of doom that we suspect a substantial number of Caps fans will see from the result.

Still, we couldn’t say it any better than the coach… “"It was an ugly display. I thought our defense was horrible and our goaltending was horrible…Their goalie wasn't any good, either. They just got more shots, so they scored the extra goal." A few days ago, words were being written that the Olympic break was coming at the worst time for this team. Now, it seems as if it can’t get here fast enough.

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