Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A NO-point night -- Game 6: Bruins 3 - Caps 1

Pride is a considerable motivator. The Washington Capitals came into their game with the Boston Bruins tonight having killed 21 consecutive opposition power plays to start the season. They would have four more opportunities to add to that perfect record, including a 53 second 5-on-3 situation in the second period. The Bruins not only did not score, but they failed to get as much as a single shot on goal on their 5-on-3. They managed only two shots on goal in 6:57 of total power play time. The Caps played like a prideful bunch that simply would not yield that first goal on a penalty kill.

Wouldn’t it have been nice if that same “can-do” attitude extended to the even strength and the four power play advantages the Caps enjoyed? Alas, it did not, at least not until the Caps had dug themselves another hole. The Bruins won those portions of the contest, holding the Caps to only four shots of their own in 6:56 of power play time and outscoring the Caps by 3-1 at even strength to win the game by that score.

The Caps came out flat as a stale crepe in the first period, allowing the Bruins to establish a territorial advantage early. The Bruins had five shot attempts in the first 2:27. Fortunately, only one got through to Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth. Not even a fight between the Caps’ Matt Hendricks and Boston’s Gregory Campbell could provide a spark for the Caps, who looked uninspired on offense and unaware on defense early. Boston capitalized on yet another low-energy start for the Caps by popping two pucks past Neuvirth in the space of 2:45 midway through the first period, David Krejci and Milan Lucic doing the honors. It was enough, frankly, to make one sick.

Well, at least a goaltender. Less than a minute after the second Boston goal, the puck jumped the glass for a stoppage in play, and Neuvirth high-tailed it out of his crease to the Caps’ bench. He immediately went down the tunnel and was not seen on the bench for the duration of the contest. It was reported later that Neuvirth complained of headache and dizziness.

Enter Semyon Varlamov for his first action of the season. You could say that Varlamov slammed the door, but more accurately the Caps did – they slammed the door on any further Boston scoring chances in the period, holding the Bruins to one shot over the final 7:18 of the period. Varlamov was not tested often in the second period, but there were three penalties to kill in that period, too. The Caps got one back when Jason Chimera picked up a loose puck behind the Boston net, out quicked rookie Tyler Seguin to control it, then fed the puck past Matt Hendricks standing at the post to an open Marcus Johansson at the inside edge of the right wing circle. Johansson bunted the puck past goalie Tim Thomas for his first NHL goal and halved the deficit in the process.

That would be all the Caps would get, though, as Boston got a marker from Matt Hunwick in the third minute of the third period to provide the final 3-1 margin.

Other stuff…

-- Again it was a case of getting behind the eight-ball early, and there really isn’t an excuse for this, not against Boston. The Bruins were the last team left in the league that had not scored a first period goal. You could explain the result as a product of a queasy goaltender, but the Caps weren’t really on top of the Bruins as a group, either.

-- In their first three home games the Caps had a total of 55 hits. Tonight they had 33 in this game alone. One might not be surprised that John Erskine had seven of them, or that Alex Ovechkin had six. But Tomas Fleischmann had three. That more than doubled Fleischmann’s season total (from two to five). Perhaps oddly (or not, given he played only 4:05), D.J. King had none of them.

-- 14 different Caps skaters were credited with hits. Those not joining in were: Eric Fehr, D.J. King, Karl Alzner, and Jeff Schultz.

-- Speaking of Schultz, he was finally on the ice for a goal scored by the opposition. A loose puck slid between the feet of Schultz and Milan Lucic in close, and Lucic was just quicker to get his stick on it to punch it past Neuvirth.

-- Tim Thomas stopped 35 of 36 shots, giving him 95 saves on 97 shots so far this season (.979 save percentage). Rumors of his demise have been greatly exaggerated.

-- That Thomas faced 36 shots is not especially surprising in this respect. The Caps were 19-for-27 in offensive zone draws (70.4 percent).  If you possess the puck in the offensive end, you get more chances.

-- Is this April? Alexander Semin had ten shots on goal. None went in. No, it is not a personal best in shots. He has had 11 on two occasions, most recently last April 9th against Atlanta. He didn’t score on any of those shots last April, either.

-- That was the first time the Caps were held to fewer than two goals at home since losing to Toronto 2-1 on March 5, 2009, a streak of 50 consecutive games coming to an end.

-- We like that Jason Chimera had five shots on goal. For our money he was the most consistent Capital tonight in terms of energy. But the other two guys on his line – Eric Fehr and Marcus Johansson – one shot on goal between them (Johansson’s goal).

-- OK, Mike Knuble set a personal record for longest consecutive games streak without a point as a Cap (four games), but he was a stud on the penalty kill. He was especially effective on the wall tying up pucks and springing them free.

-- The Caps had 60 shot attempts for the game. Of that amount 43 came in the second and third periods, evidence of another slow start.

-- This is the third game in which Alex Ovechkin played in more than 23 minutes. The Caps have lost two of them. Are these things related? Well, yes, in that tonight Ovechkin skated four shifts in the last 7:43 totaling 6:12 in ice time with the Caps down a pair of goals. His average ice time in that stretch (1:33) was longer than his total time on the bench (1:31).

-- The Caps had as many shorthanded shots on goal (two) as the Bruins had on their own power plays (two).

-- Boyd Gordon sat tonight. It was the second game for which he did not dress this season. The Caps lost both of those games. They are 4-0-0 with Gordon in the lineup. Happy Birthday.

In the end, it was a better overall game the Caps played tonight than the one they played against Nashville on Saturday. The difference is that Tim Thomas is a better goaltender than Anders Lindback. It was probably a better game on a purely technical level than they had against the Islanders last Wednesday. The Caps had more scoring chances tonight and held the Bruins in check in periods 2 and 3 in that regard. But sometimes you play in a way that is good enough to win on most nights, and you don’t. The difficulty is that the Caps are putting themselves behind the eight-ball early. With the two goals allowed in the first period tonight, the Caps are now tied for the third highest number of first period goals allowed (seven), as many as in the other two periods and overtime combined. If the Caps don’t address that problem, their goaltender won’t be the only one getting sick.

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