Sunday, November 13, 2011
A ONE-point night -- Game 15: Devils 3 - Caps 2 (OT/Gimmick)
-- On the one hand, the Caps’ 3-2 Gimmick loss to the New Jersey Devils means the Caps finished the weekend with three of a possible four points. On the other hand, it was the Caps’ second consecutive loss at home to drop them to 6-1-1- on Verizon Center ice.
-- On the one hand, they earned those three points out of four in back-to-back games. On the other hand, they did it against a team that was playing back-to-back games of their own.
-- On the one hand, winning both ends of a home-and-home series is never easy – the Caps had four such home-and-homes with the same team last season (including a playoff pair against Tampa Bay) and did not win both ends of any of them, and they lost the second half in all of them. On the other hand, the Caps took a 2-0 lead less than 17 minutes into the game.
-- On the one hand, the Devils play a difficult defensive system to solve. New Jersey has had different coaches over the years – they have had nine changes behind the bench since the lockout alone – but the suffocating defense has been the same. On the other hand, the Caps solved it for three goals in the last 23 minutes the previous night; they would have the benefits of last change, their own building, and their own fans in the rematch.
-- On the one hand, the Caps have been given lessons in the perils of taking things less than fully seriously this week – a bag skate after a poor performance and the benching of a critical cog for seemingly indifferent play for much of the first game against Jersey. On the other hand, the lessons haven’t seemed to stick. Alexander Semin – the object of the benching lesson – took an offensive zone stick penalty barely three minutes into the game (and did not appear to be held out of any regular shifts). For all those “battles” the Caps had in their “punishment” skate last week, Devils’ defensemen took them to school in the subject in this game, especially in the last 40 minutes.And there were the five "obstruction" penalties taken by five different players (three tripping calls, and interference, and a holding penalty).
-- On the one hand, the accumulated examples of holding players accountable serves as a clear signal to players that there are limits to what will be tolerated. On the other hand, there were Cody Eakin and Mathieu Perreault riding the pine for all but one shift apiece in the last 31 minutes and change of regulation and overtime.
-- On the one hand, there was Alex Ovechkin with goals in two of his last three games and four goals in his last six contests. On the other hand, he was shutout, leaving him with no goals on home ice in eight games. Last year, he couldn’t score on the power play; this year he can’t score in a red jersey.
-- On the one hand, there was Nicklas Backstrom coming into the game with points in his previous six games (3-7-10). On the other hand, the Caps were only 3-3-0 in those six games. Last night the streak ended, the Caps lost.
-- On the one hand, there was Jason Chimera driving to the net to redirect a drive by John Carlson for the Caps’ second goal, giving him six for the season on 39 shots on goals. On the other hand, those six goals and 39 shots might be compared to the three goals and 32 shots on goal recorded so far by Alexander Semin. He had one shot on goal for the weekend.
-- On the one hand, the Caps killed off all five New Jersey power plays last night. On the other hand, the Caps are now 2-3-1 when allowing five or more power plays.
-- On the one hand, Brooks Laich was all over the score sheet – three shots, six shot attempts, two takeaways, four blocked shots, splitting six draws in more than 23 minutes of ice time. On the other hand, he did a lot of that playing on the blue line after Roman Hamrlik went down to injury, and he was blanked where it counted – no goals, no assists. That’s circumstance, not blame.
-- On the one hand, John Carlson had an assist on the evening (continuing his personal quest to make sure Jersey fans note that he is a favorite son who will take it out on his former home) and was on the ice for both goals scored by the Caps. On the other hand, he was part of a two-on-two battle for the puck in the corner that the Devils won an instant before the puck was in the back of the net to tie the game with 1:06 left in the second period.
-- On the one hand, Alex Ovechkin was credited with 11 hits (increasing his season total by almost 50 percent). On the other hand he had eight of 11 shot attempts blocked (an equal opportunity provider – Henrik Tallinder was the only Devil defenseman not to block at least one of Ovechkin’s shots). If Ovechkin had eight shots on goal and only two hits, instead of the reverse, this game probably ends a lot differently.
-- On the one hand, the Caps scored goals on two of their first nine shots in getting out to a 2-0 lead 16:10 into the game. On the other hand the Caps would have eight more shots on goal over the next 48:50 of regulation and overtime. They had more shots in the Gimmick (four) than they had in the second period and overtime combined (three). From 5:45 of the second period to 6:36 of the third – 20:51 of playing time – the Caps did not record a shot on goal.
In the end, it should have been a win. The usual rationalizations – back-to-back games, the second of a home-and-home, injuries (Green out, Hamrlik injured during the game) requiring a lineup shakeup – don’t seem to apply. Not when the team takes a 2-0 lead in its own rink against a team that was playing its own back-to-back games, playing the second of them on the road, and has the sort of offense not geared toward making comebacks.
Maybe it was the accumulation of skating this week that did them in – the rough practice they had on Wednesday, a game against a team that makes ice seem like molasses to skate in with their defense, and then playing 65 minutes last night with what amounted to only 15 skaters with Hamrlik injured, and Eakin and Perreault stapled to the bench. Maybe you can make that concession.
What is seems to say, though, is that the old book on the Caps still applies – clog the middle of the ice, frustrate them, wear them down in battles along the wall and in the corners. The Devils did all of that and waited for the Caps to make little mistakes – a lost faceoff that turned into a goal in the blink of an eye, a lost battle in the corner that ended up with a good look at the net and a long deflection. After that it was in the hands of the hockey gods looking over what Bettman hath wrought – the Gimmick. And, perhaps fittingly, it was settled by a player – David Clarkson – who had taken only one other trick shot attempt in his career. He made it.