Thursday, March 18, 2010

A ONE-point night: Hurricanes 4 - Caps 3 (OT)

For 40 minutes tonight the Washington Capitals played a very good road game – they kept things simple and did not allow many chances for the other side. Their effort was rewarded with a 2-1 lead over the Carolina Hurricanes at the second intermission. Then, one of the oldest sayings in sports took hold…

“The only thing a ‘prevent defense’ prevents is winning.”

The third period did not start that way. The Caps did manage five shots on goal in the first 8:00 of the period to keep the pressure on the Hurricanes. But the Caps would not get another shot on goal over the next 9:34, during which the Hurricanes tied the game. The Hurricanes would score again to take a late lead, but Eric Fehr saved the Caps from the embarrassment of a complete third period collapse by tying the game with 9.5 seconds left to send the contest to overtime. There, Ray Whitney took advantage of the last of many blunders late, as he had nothing but clear ice between himself and goalie Semyon Varlamov, just the thing to launch a slap shot that hit Varlamov, but snuck through and crawled across the line for a 4-3 overtime win.

Bruce Boudreau said after the game that there was “a lot of good video,” suggesting that there was going to be an opportunity to show a number of guys a lot of mistakes. In the “glass half full/glass half empty” way of looking at it, the Caps got a point. On the other hand, they did not look good in doing it, especially in the last ten minutes of regulation and in overtime.

Other stuff…

-- More “glass half full/glass half empty… Joe Corvo got his first two goals as a Cap tonight, both on plays where he filled a void to take a pass and beat goalie Justin Peters before he could reset. On the other hand, he was out there getting out of position long enough to allow Chad LaRose to see the opening, sprint down the middle, take a long lead pass from Jussi Jokinen and score the go-ahead goal that should have been the game-winner in regulation.

-- Only ten of the 18 Capitals skaters had shots on goal tonight. It is one thing for defenseman Jeff Schultz not to have one – offense is not his game. But the three Caps’ centers not named “Backstrom” (Brendan Morrison, Eric Belanger, and David Steckel) had a total of no shots on goal and only two shot attempts.

-- Steckel had a difficult night – no shots, no points, 7-for-20 in the circle.

-- Glass half full/glass half empty… Semyon Varlamov stopped 17 of 18 shots in the game’s first 52:34, and the one goal he allowed was a tap-in from the doorstep by Eric Staal, a goal he had no chance of stopping. He stopped eight of 11 over the last 11:28, and while the defense did not play very well in front of him, the goal by Brett Carson to tie the game at two apiece was one he just cannot allow in that situation, over his right pad on the long side. And despite the defensive gaffe on the game-winner, he had a clear look at the puck and never did look as if he was set for the shot. 

-- The Caps just didn’t pay much of a price to get goals in this one. The shot graphic (from indicates only eight shots from a triangle (ok, a trapezoid), the boundaries of which are from the goal through the faceoff dots and to the top of the circles…

…the Caps had as many shots on goal from outside the faceoff dots.

-- The Caps spread it around in this respect tonight. 12 different skaters were on the ice for Carolina goals, including every defenseman (Mike Green was on for two – the third and fourth goals).

-- The Caps had one giveaway tonight, according to the official scoring.

-- The Caps had nearly as many missed shots (24) as shots on goal (28).

-- The make-shift top line – Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Knuble, and Tomas Fleischmann – was 0-2-2, minus two, with five shots on goal. That’s not terrible, but they had a combined 11 shot attempts that did not get to the net (blocks and misses).

-- With those two assists, Backstrom climbed into a tie for third in league scoring with Sidney Crosby, both with 87 points (of course…).

-- Here is an odd snippet from this one… John Carlson skated four consecutive shifts in the second period that ended in penalties. He didn’t commit any of them, and he didn’t draw any of them.

-- Eric Fehr became the Caps’ seventh 20-goal scorer with his late tally. That makes five in his last seven games, despite getting more than 14 minutes of ice time in only one of those games.

-- The last two goals for the Hurricanes were both the product of bad reads. On the Hurricanes’ third goal, Eric Belanger attempted a shot from the top of the left wing circle, but the puck did not get through. He then circled down the middle to follow up, but got caught in a no-man’s land as Jussi Jokinen picked up the puck. Joe Corvo did not appear to cycle back in time, and both he and Mike Green were caught flat-footed as Chad LaRose broke down the middle to take Jokinen’s pass on a breakaway.

-- On the last goal, it was simply a case of the sort of miscommunications that you see an any sport – two outfielders looking at one another to take the fly ball that drops for a hit, two defensive backs taking the same receiver that allows another to break free, two defenders in basketball not making a switch on a pick play that allows a shooter an open look at the basket. In this instance, it was Mike Green and Jeff Schultz. Eric Staal cut across the top of the circles with Jeff Schultz on him. Green must have thought a switch was in order, because instead of following Ray Whitney going in the other direction with the puck, he pivoted and started after Staal. That opened up a lane right down the middle, and Whitney took advantage of it to step into the slap shot that won the game.

-- Here is your fun fact for the night. The Caps have outscored opponents this year at 5-on-5 by 182-116, by far the best ratio of for/against in the league. Great at even strength, right? Well, at 4-on-4, they have been outscored 11-5. They are 25th in the league in 4-on-4 ratio (0.45) and have given up more 4-on-4 goals than any team in the league (edit: those numbers this morning are 184-117 and 13-5, which just reinforces the point).

-- Even with all that nonsense, the Caps had the game on their sticks twice in the overtime. Only 35 seconds into the extra frame, Jason Chimera had the puck between the circles and only the goalie to beat. He shot the puck over the crossbar. Then, just over two minutes in, Fleischmann forced a turnover in the Carolina end. Brooks Laich picked up the loose puck and had an opening. Unfortunately, he has to “wrong-foot” a shot off his forehand, and Justin Peters got enough of it to turn it aside. After that, one had a feeling this would not end well for the Caps.

The Caps got a point, but the takeaway for this game is this – Jose Theodore will get the start against Tampa Bay on Saturday. The Caps will then have four days off before taking on the Penguins when they return to Verizon Center. It will be Semyon Varlamov’s turn in the rotation. The thing is, will Bruce Boudreau have made up his mind, with what will then be ten games left to play, on his number one goaltender?

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