Sunday, December 04, 2011

A TWO-point night -- Game 25: Capitals 3 - Senators 2 (OT)

It did not come easy, but the Washington Capitals ended a four-game losing streak in sudden and dramatic fashion last night with a 3-2 overtime win over the Ottawa Senators. The end came 12 seconds into the extra session, and the official play-by-play is, as one might expect, sparse…

0:00 Faceoff WSH won Neutral Zone – Ottawa (Spezza) vs Washington (Laich)
0:12 GOAL WSH #21 Laich (5), Wrist, Offensive Zone, 12 ft. Assists: #25 Chimera (6); #27 Alzner (7)

But how it unfolded was how you draw it up…sort of. Laich won the draw to start the overtime cleanly back to Kark Alzner. The defenseman retreated behind his own blue line, drawing Ottawa’s Milan Michalek with him and creating space ahead. Alzner fed the puck up to Jason Chimera at the Caps’ line. Chimera eased it ahead to Brooks Laich to his right into the neutral zone. As he approached the Ottawa blue line, Laich feinted left, and the move caught Senator defenseman Erik Karlsson backing up and trying to change direction. That proved to be a fatal combination on the notoriously poor Verizon Center ice. Karlsson tumbled to the ice at his own blue line as Laich fed the puck to Jason Chimera on his left. It was now a 2-on-1 with only Jared Cowan back for Ottawa. Chimera used speed to pusch Cowen back, and as he curled around the faceoff dot in the Ottawa zone, he fed the puck behind Cowen to Laich darting to the net. Goalie Craig Anderson looked to be anticipating a one-timer, as he went to the ice to defend the shot. But Laich pulled the puck to his right and flipped it over Anderson to send the fans home happy and Dale Hunter off with his first win as Caps head coach.

The play that ended things was one big cluster%$#@; for Ottawa. So much went wrong for the Senators, most of it of their own doing. First, there was losing the faceoff to open overtime. Spezza had been 10-for-16 before that and 4-of-6 against Laich. But that was the only neutral zone draw he took against Laich for the evening, and he lost it. Then there was Michalek chasing Alzner. It wasn’t really much of a forecheck, if in fact that was what Michalek was doing. All it did was allow Alzner to create space to pass, and with the teams playing 4-on-4, there was more space to maneuver.

Karlsson and his partner Cowan were next up. Chimera and Laich were moving up ice, both on the left side of center. But Karlsson was edging toward the middle to follow Laich. When Laich made a move to cut left, and Karlsson tumbled to the ice trying to change direction, Chimera had an umimpeded path to the net after taking the puck from Laich. Cowan had to scramble into position to try to defend the 2-on-1, but he never got into a position to be able to defend Chimera, who had a passing lane to Laich on his right.

With the teams at 4-on-4, there were not numbers to come back for Ottawa. Karlsson was scrambling to his feet, Michalek had been drawn in by Alzner. One might ask, “where was Spezza?” Well, he took an odd path through the play. After losing the faceoff, he circled to the Caps’ line as Alzner was luring Michalek deeper. When the puck was moved forward, Spezza curled out, trailing Laich rather leisurely. But when Karlsson went down, he did so right in Spezza’s path. Even if he could, or was inclined to do so, Spezza did not have an easy path to backcheck. On balance, though, Laich simply outhustled Spezza into the zone.

Last was Anderson. He was locked on Chimera as the Cap forward was bearing down through the Ottawa zone. He eased back toward his right post expecting shot. When the puck was sent across to Laich, Anderson did not – or perhaps could not, given his position and expectation – push hard across to defend against Laich. He more or less slid across on his pads, and it left him unable to defend against anything but a one-timer. When Laich collected the puck and pulled it back, the top of the net was something Anderson had not the means to defend. Laich flipped it in…game.

Other stuff…

-- Despite what he did on the first part of the final play, Milan Michalek should get some credit for trying to get back into the play. He made it back into the frame when Laich scored, despite having been pulled into the Caps’ zone by Alzner when the play started. That he beat Spezza back says something about Spezza’s hustle on the play.

-- On the goal that tied the game with under four minutes left in regulation, consider the following image…

…the goal scorer – Milan Michalek – is circled in red. Two things to note. First, there is all that space for Michalek to jump up. Second, look at the five Caps. All of them are looking toward the net, none of them with a clue where or just how open Michalek is. Sometimes, in the battle of instincts – to follow the puck or to keep in contact with your man and defensive responsibilities – the wrong one wins. It did here, and Ottawa tied the game (image from Comcast SportsNet/

-- But for that lapse in collective judgment, the Caps kept the Senators’ leading goal scorer in check. Michalek (15 goals coming in) had only three shot attempts (one on goal) over 56 minutes before he cashed in.

-- An odd game when it is Brooks Laich (six) and Jason Chimera (five) who have almost a third of the Caps’ shots on goal (35).

-- Alex Ovechkin skated 20:55 last night. It was only the sixth time this season (in 25 games) that he topped 20 minutes and the first time since he skated 20:14 in a 3-2 Gimmick loss to New Jersey on November 12th. Of the six games in which Ovechkin has topped 20 minutes, four of them went to extra time.

-- Two guys playing in their 500th game, two guys getting a point – Laich the game-winning goal, Ovechkin getting an assist on the Troy Brouwer goal in the third period.

-- Speaking of the Brouwer goal, more visual aids. Here we have the Caps on a mini-3-on-2 entry into the Ottawa zone, Jared Cowan and Sergei Gonchar back, Colin Greening providing support. We see “The Ovechkin Rules” in force. Gonchar is denying Ovechkin space, easing him outside and using stick to try to interrupt his ability to handle the puck. Greening is providing support from the back and inside, denying Ovechkin the ol’ “cut-across”…

…what that means is that Cowan is on an island defending Dennis Wideman in the middle and Troy Brouwer on the right side. Note the clear passing lane afforded Ovechkin by Ottawa applying the Ovechkin Rules and Wideman occupying Cowan. All that is left for Brouwer to do is finish (image from Comcast SportsNet/

-- One shorthanded situation faced. That was the third time the Caps held an opponent to a single power play opportunity, the second time in two tries against Ottawa. The Caps are 3-0 in such games, all of them one-goal decisions and two of them going to overtime.

-- Desperate times call for desperate measures. The Caps were 2-for-41 on the power play over their last 11 games going into this game. So, let’s give Jason Chimera a shot. Chimera recorded 4:11 in four power plays and had three of the eight shots on the power play to lead the team. In the end, though, the Caps finished 0-for-4 on the man advantage.

-- The win was Michal Neuvirth’s first since November 4th in a 5-1 win over Carolina. It was his first win at home since opening night, a 4-3 overtime win over Carolina. This being his third win of the year, it was his first over a team that was not “Carolina.” Now we can work on winning a game against a team that does not feature red in its team colors. Maybe it’s the pads…

-- Territory favored the Caps a bit more in this game than it did against Pittsburgh on Thursday. There were 28 draws in the Ottawa zone for the evening, 20 in the Caps’ end, and the Caps one the attempts battle with 61 shot attempts to Ottawa’s 57.

In the end, you can see the faint glimmer of a plan coming together. The Caps did a much better job tonight than they did in either of their first two games under Dale Hunter of establishing the semblance of offensive structure. All three goals were scored off rushes, using motion and numbers to create havoc on the defense. And it should not escape notice that at the other end the Caps have allowed opponents only two goals in each of their three games under their new head coach.

If this is the style the Caps are to adopt, it will not be as much the high-flying sort that characterized the earlier days of the Bruce Boudreau era as much as it will be opportunistic. It will take advantage of teams when they are short on numbers or on hustle. It will use pressure, either from entering the offensive zone with momentum and numbers, or by using a hard forecheck to create turnovers.

Defensively, it is merely a case of getting back to basics and being faithful to one’s responsibilities. If offensive is skill, then defense is will, and that was a commodity that seemed to be in scarce supply in the last days of Boudreau’s tenure in Washington. Perhaps the players are finding it again. If they are, then the Caps will return to the position to which fans have become accustomed – at the top of the standings.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope the faint glimmer of hope starts to shine brighter. But this was the Ottawa Senators the Caps beat, not an elite team. Right now the way this team has been playing and the way it's constructed, they won't survive past the second round of the playoffs. There are too many good teams in the Eastern Conference who would carve this team up and leave them for dead. Call me after the New Year after about 20 more games and maybe I'll be impressed. Maybe.