Thursday, December 16, 2010

A ONE-point night -- Game 33: Ducks 2 - Caps 1 (OT)

Baby steps.

When a team has been kicked about over six games, having been plastered 7-0 in the last game it played, it would be a stretch – even for the 1977-78 Canadiens – to make everything right in one fell swoop.

And so it was tonight as the Caps did just about everything you could ask of a team reeling with six straight losses. Everything but find a way for pucks to hit iron and go in instead of out. After ringing iron four times in their 7-0 loss to the Rangers last Sunday, the Caps hit posts two more times tonight – once on a breakaway by Alex Ovechkin – which gave the Anaheim Ducks just enough room to hang close and eventually win a 2-1 overtime decision to give the Caps their seventh straight loss.

The Caps got an ugly goal to start things off in the first period, a play that started with Nicklas Backstrom taking the puck wide and behind the Ducks’ net. Coming out the other side, he tried to slide the puck to John Carlson pinching on the right side. The puck came loose and squirted to the slot where Brooks Laich swept a shot over goalie Jonas Hiller’s glove and into the back of the net.

Anaheim got it back on power play goal, a bit of a gift for Joffrey Lupul (who isn’t exactly unfamiliar with pucks landing on his stick in the eastern end of the Verizon Center rink, having taken advantage of a gift in overtime of Game 7 in the 2008 first round playoff series against the Flyers). Lupul was standing on the doorstep when the puck found its way onto his stick, and he had only to bunt the biscuit through goalie Semyon Varlamov’s legs as Varlamov was trying to position himself to make a save.

Anaheim would win the game on the kind of goal that one wishes the Caps would find a way to score more often. At 4-on-4 in the extra session the Ducks were having success keeping the puck in the Caps’ end. Moving the puck around the perimeter, the biscuit found its way onto the stick of Ryan Getzlaf in the left wing corner. And here was a classic veteran-versus-prospect play. John Carlson tried to mark Getzlaf, but the Duck forward shook himself loose circling through the left wing circle. It was just enough room for Getzlaf to unleash a wrist shot through a screen and over the right arm of Varlamov for the win.

And so six became seven.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin can’t buy a goal. He had the best looks he’s had in quite a while, but either hit iron (a breakaway) or caught just enough of Jonas Hiller’s equipment to be denied the flashing red light.

-- Lost in all this losing at the moment is a sliver of hope; the Caps have allowed three or fewer goals in five of the seven losses. Four of the losses have been by one goal. Only the loss to the Rangers was a blowout. If this is the price the Caps have to play to learn how to play defense, it will have been worth it four months from now.

-- Brooks Laich had his best game in perhaps weeks. Seven shots on goal, with a goal to go with them, and six faceoff wins in six tries. But it was a shot that didn’t go in that might have been the turning point. Having a point blank opportunity from the right wing circle, Laich squeezed a shot through Hiller’s pads, the puck trickling to the goal line. Just as it was getting to the goal line Getzlaf darted behind Hiller and swept the puck out of the crease to prevent the Caps from taking a 2-0 lead.

-- The fourth line of Matt Hendricks, Jay Beagle, and Andrew Gordon skated fewer combined minutes (17:37) than ten of the other 15 individual Capitals. They had a combined two shot attempts (both by Hendricks).

-- Odd that on a night when the Caps had 25 hits among 12 players that Alex Ovechkin would be one of the six skaters without one.

-- The third period of this game was painful to watch. There was no flow and, at least from the Caps, a lack of energy. Anaheim was not playing especially suffocating defense; it was a case of the Caps just looking slow.

-- The Caps did something tonight fans in Verizon Center might not have seen ever in Bruce Boudreau’s tenure as head coach – line matching. The David Steckel-Matt Bradley-Brooks Laich line was matched to the Getzlaf-Perry-Ryan line all night. It worked rather well. That line had only 13 shot attempts for the game, and the goal Getzlaf scored for the win was done so with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin at forward.

-- I realize folks love Mathieu Perreault, but tonight really wasn’t a very good game for 85. Skittering across the ice like a waterbug across a pond isn’t the same as being effective. He was all over the place to little discernable purpose. And losing nine of ten draws was not the sort of result you want from a center (the rest of the team was 28-14 in the circle).

-- Mike Green had one shot on goal. He also had five blocked shots. Finding a way to contribute in more ways that just a shot from the edge of the right wing circle is part of the continuing evolution of a defenseman. Not bad considering he might be playing on a gimpy leg.

-- Eric Fehr might be headed to the dog house again. One shot attempt, a penalty (although it struck us as cheesy), and nothing else on the score sheet in 12:52 of ice time.

In the end, it was a case of the Caps doing a lot of good things. If the hockey gods were just a little kinder, it could have been a 3-0 game at the first intermission. But they weren’t. One gets the feeling – or at least harbors the hope – that all the iron the Caps are hitting, all the shots that are going just wide, all the pucks that lack enough oomph to crawl across a goal line are being banked to be cashed in later. Say, in the spring. We feel a lot better about this loss than any on this streak. It is coming to an end.

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