Sunday, December 18, 2011
A NO-point night -- Game 31: Avalanche 2 - Capitals 1
The Washington Capitals had a chance to win consecutive road games for the first time in almost two months, but they came up short against the Colorado Avalanche, dropping a 2-1 decision at Pepsi Center in Denver.
The Avalanche got a couple of long range goals from unexpected sources. The first came in the game’s third minute – a 66-footer from Cody MacLeod (his first of the season) that Michal Neuvirth appeared to lose in the background as it fluttered toward him. He never flinched until the puck was sailing over his shoulder.
The other came on a 63-footer from Erik Johnson (his first of the year and first in 38 games dating back to last season) that skittered through a maze of bodies and might have been tipped by Brooks Laich’s stick on the way through. Those two goals sandwiched a goal by Alexander Semin, who scored his first goal in nine games and his first on the road in a city in the States since last March 7th against Tampa Bay.
Other than that, it was a lot of skating back and forth. It looked like one of those electronic football games where the players skitter over the playing surface as it vibrates beneath them. If the 1-0 game against Winnipeg on Thursday featured a lot of up-and-down play, this one featured a lot of go-back-and-get-the-puck out of their own end by the Caps, either from leaving it behind or losing it to the Avs and having them shoot it back into the Caps’ end.
-- The Caps finished the game with 47 shot attempts. Eleven of them came from Alex Ovechkin. He had seven of the 26 shots on goal. Brooks Laich had five shots and seven attempts. Jason Chimera had four and six. The other 15 skaters had 10 shots and 23 shot attempts. It might have been the worst offensive game for the Caps this season.
-- This was the sixth time in the last eight road games the Caps were held to a single goal. For the record, the other teams turning the trick were (in order): Nashville, Winnipeg, Toronto, Buffalo, and Winnipeg (again). See any defensive giants in there? True, they did fall to the Predators and Pekka Rinne, but even against Buffalo, it was Jhonas Enroth in goal, not Ryan Miller.
-- The Caps were 0-for-4 on the power play tonight. That makes 1-for-33 on the power play in their last nine road games. They managed three shots on goal in 6:14 of power play time (the fourth power play came with 14 seconds left in the game). Colorado had four shots on goal while shorthanded, three of them from their 19-year old rookie, Gabriel Landeskog.
-- Neuvirth was a bit scrambly tonight, but it was one of those efforts like when a pitcher in baseball doesn’t have his fastball and gets batters out with other stuff. Neuvirth did what he had to do to keep 26 of 28 shots out of the net. And truth be told, this is not a team that should be losing so many games when they give up two or fewer goals (they have four 2-1 losses this year and a 3-2 loss in a Gimmick).
-- The Caps were 3-for-18 on draws in the first period. They came back to make a game of that in the last two periods (16-for-34), but they were brutal in their own end. The Caps were 4-for-16 in the offensive zone, all of the wins (on eight draws) from Nicklas Backstrom. The record will say that Brooks Laich was 7-for-20 overall, but it wasn’t even that good. In the offensive and defensive ends he was a combined 2-for-11. And Jeff Halpern lost all four draws he had against Paul Stastny (on the way to a 2-for-9 night), three of them in the offensive zone late when the Caps were trying to get the equalizer.
-- Rewards?… Alexander Semin had not been getting much in the way of power play time lately. He jumped onto the ice late in a power play in the second period and scored on that shift after the penalty expired. On the next power play, he was out there for the majority of the next power play, which straddled the second and third periods.
-- You would think that the Caps, down 2-1 to open the third period, would try to come out and put pressure on the Avalanche early in the period. In the first ten minutes they registered three shot attempts – a miss by Dennis Wideman at 45 seconds, a shot by Jeff Halpern that was blocked at 2:09, and a shot on goal by Karl Alzner at 2:15. The Caps would not attempt another shot for the next 8:11, when Ovechkin had a shot blocked at 10:26.
-- Gabriel Landeskog had a nice game for the Avs – an assist, plus-1, seven shots on goal (more shots than 16 Caps skaters had attempts), three hits, and four takeaways (led the team) in 19 minutes.
-- Right place, right time… Evan Brophey skated 3:40 for Colorado and finished a plus-1.
-- John Carlson had an odd game. He was on the ice for both Colorado goals, finishing a minus-2. His score sheet was otherwise white as snow – no shots, no hits, no blocked shots…nothing, in more than 24 minutes.
In the end, we are almost at the point where we have to accept the fact that this is not a very good offensive team. Alex Ovechkin hasn’t been “Alex Ovechkin” in quite some time. Nicklas Backstrom is more a creator than a finisher, which leaves his skills a’wasting. Alexander Semin is on another planet, tonight’s goal notwithstanding. The second line is producing nothing. The third line plays decently in the defensive end, but its offense is drying up (Jason Chimera – no goals in five games; Brooks Laich – one in his last five, but that was a power play goal; Joel Ward – no goals in his last 18 games). The fourth line is not expected to provide a lot of offense, and they are not. Jeff Halpern has two goals in his last five games, but Mike Knuble has one in his last 22 games, Cody Eakin had one in his last ten, Mathieu Perreault has one in his last 15 games, and Matt Hendricks has yet to light the lamp this season.
An underperforming top line, a gaping hole that is the second line, and not enough on the undercard of the forward lines to make up for it (not that they should be expected to do so). The defense is not bad – Dennis Wideman and John Carlson have provided some offense, but not even Mike Green’s absence from the lineup explains the anemic offense displayed by the Caps these days.
Worse, this does not look like an aberration. Patterns are settling in for this team, as if they expect to ho-hum their way to a seventh or eighth seed in the spring and then “turn it on.” That road record is a warning – 6-9-0. The 12 points earned is better than only Carolina and the Islanders, each with 11 points. Seven times in 15 road games the Caps have been held to one goal. If that does not turn around, this is not a playoff team.