Monday, November 22, 2010

A NO-point night -- Game 22: Devils 5 - Caps 0

“In the end, there is no plausible excuse for losing this game. None. The Devils cannot compete offensively with the Caps, unless Ilya Kovalchuk goes absolutely nuts, and the Caps can put out any goaltender in their system at the moment and likely get a better performance than what the Devils have gotten from the backups. You could say, like they do in football, that 'on any given night' any team can beat any other, but that just should not be the case in this game.”

OK, what idiot said THAT?!

Guilty as charged.

The Caps did lose their game tonight against the New Jersey Devils, 5-0. And no, there is no excuse… not Michal Neuvirth’s pre-game injury, not Semyon Varlamov’s late-arriving skates, not Braden Hotlby’s rebounds. The Caps didn’t even mail this one in; they called it in collect, avoiding the cost of a first class stamp.

You could say that the game might have gone very differently had the Caps not been guilty of two horrendously bad plays late in the first period. With the Devils ahead 1-0 on a goal by Patrik Elias in the game’s sixth minute, New Jersey won a faceoff in their own end in the 17th minute of the period. After getting the puck out to the neutral zone, John Erskine got tied up with Mattias Tedenby at the Caps’ line. Erskine lost his footing, then swept the puck toward the right wing boards. Unfortunately, that is the lane Jason Arnott was filling, and he picked up the puck in stride. Erskine tried to get back into the play but was able only to trail Arnott as he skated deep. As Arnott started to wind around the net, goalie Braden Hotlby came out to challenge and dropped to his butterfly well outside the crease. Defenseman Tyler Sloan then got tied up with Holtby, leaving the net unoccupied as Arnott swept around the net and wrapped the puck in the far side for the Devils’ second goal.

John Erskine would figure prominently in the third Devil goal in the 19th minute of the period, too. He was worked over by Tedenby on a rush to the net that resulted in Erskine hauning Tedenby down on his way to the net. A penalty shot was called, and Tedenby converted it, depositing a backhand past Holtby in confident fashion, and instead of a manageable 1-0 deficit at the first intermission, the Devils had a choke hold on the game, 3-0.

That did it for the competitive portion of the game. New Jersey added two goals in the second period, but for all intents and purposes, it was over when Tedenby netted his penalty shot.

Other Stuff…

-- New Jersey came into the game having scored a total of nine first period goals this season. They had not had a multi-goal first period since Game 2 (against the Caps). They had three in the first period tonight, their high in the first period this season.

-- By the end of the game the Caps were down to four defensemen, Tyler Sloan having gone out late in the first period and Mike Green departing at the 7:10 mark of the third period.

-- The mystery of where Alex Ovechkin’s game has gone continues. No points, five shots on goal (all of them coming after the Devils had built a 4-0 lead early in the second period), and his game seems to lack any spark. He is 1-2-3, minus-3 in his last six games.

-- If there was a bright spot for the Caps, it would be John Carlson. With Sloan and Green going out, he stepped up and skated more than 27 minutes, had three shots on goal and was not on the ice for any of the Devils’ goals.

-- The Streak is over. The Caps lost with Boyd Gordon in the lineup, the first such loss in regulation this season.

-- The Devils came into this game having scored three power play goals in 20 chances in November. Now they have four, a product of Patrick Elias beating Mike Green down the middle and deflecting a shot by Mattias Tedenby.

-- The Caps pounded Calgary, 7-2, in the last game of October. Since then they have scored 39 goals in 11 games in November… and allowed 38.

-- Johan Hedberg stopped all 30 Caps shots for his 15th career shutout. It was the first time that the Devils shutout the Caps since dropping a 3-0 decision on December 4, 2003. It was the first time a Devils goalie not named “Brodeur” shut out the Caps since Craig Billington shut out the Caps, 3-0 , on November 13, 1992.

-- How many games can the Devils win with Ilya Kovalchuk registering only one shot on goal? Well, one anyway.

-- Jeff Schultz (minus-2 tonight) is now minus-6 in his last four games and is a minus in each of those games. Last season he had consecutive minus games only twice all season. Four in a row is his career high (he had three in a row October 28-November 4, 2008).

-- We’re having a hard time wrapping our head around the idea that the Caps could not solve a defense that included such household names as Matt Corrente and Mark Fayne (playing in his first NHL game), and that included a goalie with a goals-against average north of four-and-a-half goals a game.

-- If there was a turning point, it might have come mid-way through the first period. First, Matt Hendricks and Adam Mair had a kerfuffle that got them five minute each in the penalty box. As the story goes, such a thing could be an inspiration for a team. Well, nine seconds later the Devils took a penalty, Travis Zajac going off for holding. The Caps might have parlayed the bout and the power play into a tying goal that might have propelled them forward. Instead, the Caps went the entire power play without a shot on goal and in fact had only one shot attempt (a miss on a deflection try by Nicklas Backstrom).

In the end, the Caps are now losers of three in a row (0-2-1) and have allowed 14 goals in recording those losses. The last three weeks have served only to fuel impressions that the early take on the Caps – weak on defense and in goal – was right all along. Braden Holtby appeared not to be ready for action tonight, having been named the emergency starter when Michal Neuvirth was injured in the morning skate. He couldn’t find a rhythm, was guilty of bad positioning, left too many big rebounds, and after having done so left himself in positions where he could not recover. To his credit, he fought back to play respectably well in the last 30 minutes. Of course, by that time the Devils were in shutout protection mode for their own goalie and easing off the gas in the offensive end.

But Holtby was not the only Cap to struggle tonight. You would be hard pressed to find a player who had even a fair game. The defense was forced into some odd rotations (swapping out one at a time by game’s end with only four defensemen to pick from) and pairings (Schultz/Alzner, Erskine/Carlson being featured), but it wasn’t as if they played well early, either. The forwards just didn’t have anything at either end of the ice, and not even some fisticuffs and a power play could get them out of their funk when the game was still competitive in the first period.

It doesn’t take long to go from one end of the momentum continuum to the other. Less than a week ago the Caps were riding high on an 8-0-1 run. Tonight they are in the midst of an 0-2-1 streak with divisional games coming up to close out the month (twice against Carolina wrapped around a game with Tampa Bay).

There isn’t an aspect of the game that doesn’t need improvement at the moment. The offense has deserted the Caps (shut out twice in the last three games), and the defense and goaltending has been grisly, to say the least (14 goals allowed). The best that can be said about a game like this is that after being shut out by a team tied for the fewest points in the league, there is nowhere to go but up.

Well, we’ll see Wednesday night, won’t we?

1 comment:

Justin said...

Oye...that leading picture says it best without saying anything at all.