Friday, October 29, 2010

A NO-point night -- Game 10: Wild 2 - Caps 1

Well, we suspect Minnesota Wild fans left last night’s game happy. They watched their team skate off with a 2-1 win over the Caps. They saw Alex Ovechkin score a goal.

Minnesota Wild coaches were probably happy. They watched their guys hold the Caps to a season-low 22 shots on goal – the first time the Caps had been held under 30 shots on the road so far. They could take comfort in the fact that they broke a two game losing streak. And, the Wild held an opponent to two or fewer goals for the sixth time in ten games.

The folks on Versus were probably happy. They got a tight game with some fireworks at the end to hold their viewers’ eyes on the tube or hand-held device.

No one in a white sweater should be happy. No one rooting for the guys in white sweaters should be happy. No one who signs the checks of guys in the white sweaters should be happy. What was there to be happy about? The Capitals sleep-walked through 50 minutes of hockey, managing a total of 14 unremarkable, unsuccessful shots on goal in that span, giving Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom as much as a night off as a goalie gets in the NHL.

By the time the Caps realized they were in a hockey game they were in jeopardy of losing, it was too late. A goal by Alex Ovechkin with the Caps skating an extra attacker in the last two minutes and Nicklas Backstrom almost netting one in the dying seconds provided a fine patina of excitement to an effort that was chock full of “meh” all evening and not nearly enough to solve the suffocatingly dull style of hockey the Wild employed.

The Wild got one when John Carlson lifted the stick of Chuck Kobasew for an instant in front of the Caps net, but couldn’t keep Kobasew from getting his stick back down to bury a centering feed from Andrew Brunette to give the Wild the game’s first goal. That was bad enough. But the second goal…

With Minnesota already on a power play and with a delayed penalty going to be called, all four Caps on defense were caught pinned within 20 feet of goalie Michal Neuvirth, and all four were looking at their own net when the puck squirted from the clot of players onto the stick of Mikko Koivu, a player the Caps simply lost in the high slot. Koivu threw the puck past the jumble of players, past Neuvirth (who lost sight of the puck and did not recover in time to find the shooter), and with 16 seconds left in the second period got an insurance goal.

Other stuff…

-- Of the 22 shots on goal, the first line had 11. That’s good as far as it goes. But one goal, one point. The search for the “big night” continues.

-- There is no clearer indicator of the problems the Caps are having icing a healthy defense than what is going on with John Carlson. Second on the team in minutes tonight (21:42), he was on the ice for both Wild goals. The best that can be said of the minutes Carlson is accumulating (and the growing pains) right now is that he is going to be a stud in the spring.

-- When we were thinking about this season last summer, Caps fans, who among you would have bet that the surest thing on a night to night basis for the Caps would be the production they get from their goaltender… and that the goaltender would be Michal Neuvirth?

-- Two shots from the second line last night. That is all.

-- It hardly seems to matter, does it? Who plays the second line center position that is. Marcus Johansson is out, but he isn’t really ready for prime time in that role, anyway. Tomas Fleischmann can’t really handle the auxiliary responsibilities of the position (faceoffs, defense) all that well and last night had one shot on goal and lost eight of 13 draws. Mathieu Perreault – one shot on goal, five losses in six faceoffs, a giveaway, and barely ten minutes of ice time, only three shifts in the third period. The Capitals do not have an answer on their roster or in their system for this problem.

-- Matt Bradley had the strangest of games. No shot attempts, no giveaways, no takeaways… but five hits in less than nine minutes.

-- In the “Being There” category… Eric Fehr had no shot attempts, no hits, no giveaways or takeaways, no blocked shots, didn’t take a draw when a center was tossed, and he played less than 12 minutes. But he was a plus-1.

-- “Being There II”… Brooks Laich had one shot attempt (blocked), one hit, one giveaway, one blocked shot, lost all five draws he took… he was a plus-1, too.

-- Tyler Sloan (this is getting tiresome, Peerless)… no shots, no shot attempts, no hits, no giveaways or takeaways, no block shots, and a penalty in less than eight minutes of ice time. Brutal.

-- Compare all that above with the Wild, who got enough from the guys they need to get “enough” from… Matt Cullen had three shots, an assist, and won six of ten draws. Mikko Koivu had a goal and held his own in the circle (13-for-26). John Madden blocked a pair of shots and won ten of 17 draws in 15 minutes of earnest hockey. And, the Wild got their power play goal (the game-winner, as it turned out).

-- Ovechkin played 5:22 of the last 9:48. This is what happens when the Caps are behind in the third period.

-- Fleischmann played 3:11 of the entire third period (four shifts). Perreault played 1:42 of the entire third period (three shifts). This is what happens when the Caps don't have an answer for their second line center problem.  Trust issues?

In the end, the Caps were not a very good hockey team last night. They squandered the win they earned the night before, one that was obtained through effort and consistency… things that were abundantly absent last night. Michal Neuvirth deserved better. He continues to be the rock that the team can depend on. One wonders if this will last and for how long, given that Neuvirth is a rookie (and perhaps prone to rookie moments himself).

The Caps have the look of a “rookie” team in some respects. They cannot be depended on for consistency in their effort or production on a night to night basis. Some of that is the injury bug that has gone through the team. It’s hard to build a sense of continuity and comfort if the lineups keep getting scrambled.

But that certainly isn’t the whole explanation, either. The top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble has been in the lineup all ten games. They have a total of nine goals, or as many as Patrick Sharp has in Chicago by himself. That is not going to do it. And then there is the second line. The big donut with the hole in the middle. One hopes that either Fleischmann or Perreault or Johansson will grow into the role and fill the hole in. But at the moment, that’s a mighty big bucket of hope to carry around. And the defense needs to get healthy, not to mention more consistent. Skating a less-than-100 percent Mike Green for more than 30 minutes (as was the case last night, including more than 12 minutes in the third period) impresses us as playing with a Bic lighter in the middle of a gas station.

We hope these things will work themselves out and that we won’t see such wild (pardon the pun) swings in consistency and results on a night-to-night basis.

Hope is a nice thing to have…

...but don’t expect us to be happy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Although there were a few 'D' lapses, I tend to be more concerned about the star forwards (Ovi, Backstrom & Semin) who, in 60 minutes of play, only managed a combined total of 7 shots on net. Also of concern were the 3 penalties taken in the last 21 minutes of the game when we're down 2 - 0 (Alzner, Green, Chimera). There seems to be several other good teams struggling with consistency as well, so I hope (as you do) that things will work themselves out.