Sunday, March 04, 2012
A NO-point night -- Game 65: Flyers 1 - Capitals 0
The Caps came up empty against the Philadelphia Flyers tonight, losing to the orange and black by a 1-0 score. One goal, a redirection by Eric Wellwood of a Pavel Kubina drive in the eighth minute of the second period. That’s it. All the Flyers needed, because the Caps are now oh-for-their-last-six periods of hockey on their own ice. No goals on their last 57 shots, three on their last 91 shots on Verizon Center ice. This is a team that averaged 3.82 goals per three periods two seasons ago, and they cannot muster that total on their own ice in three games with their playoff hopes in the balance.
-- The coming news cycle in the NHL will not feature the Islanders’ 1-0 win over New Jersey. It will not feature Chicago’s big win in Detroit. It will not feature the New York Rangers holding off the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden to take over the league lead in points. Nope, the big story tomorrow will be the question of whether Dale Hunter was “matching lines,” or if he was benching Alex Ovechkin for his curiously uninspired play in the first half of the game.
Ovechkin skated six shifts in the first period for a total of 4:07. OK… 41 seconds a shift is far below Ovechkin’s average for the season (56 seconds), and he did not skate more than 50 seconds on any of them. “Managing lines” is a plausible reason for this. But the second period was an entirely different story. Four shifts for a total of 4:05, only one shift coming in the last 12:09. Why? Well, we are still trying to figure out what Ovechkin was doing as he was gliding toward Pavel Kubina as the latter sent his drive to the net that Eric Wellwood tipped in for the game’s only goal. “Managing lines” doesn’t pass the sniff test here. Nope, one could “sniff” a rather odoriferous effort on Ovechkin’s part, and he was benched for it. Dale Hunter being Dale Hunter, he will explain it away with that whole “matching lines” thing. Good for him; nice to see a coach not throw a player under the bus after a loss. But it had all the look of a benching.
Did it have its intended effect? Well, Ovechkin skated 8:37 in the third period, recorded five shots on goal, seven shot attempts, two hits, and had a blocked shot of his own. But if that is what it takes at this time of year with the Caps in the situation they are facing, it does not speak well of Ovechkin.
-- Lost in Ovechkin’s adventure was the fact that Dmitry Orlov had a nice game for himself. He deserved better than to get a minus-1 for being on the ice for the lone goal, but he had two shots on goal, five hits, two takeaways, and a blocked shot in 17 minutes.
-- Mike Knuble could have wiped away a lot of bad memories of this season had he scored on a break with 7:02 gone in the second period. He didn’t, his try to go five-hole smothered by Ilya Bryzgalov. Making it worse, the Flyers got their goal less than a minute later.
-- The Caps out-shot the Flyers 34-23, out-attempted them 60-41, out-hit them 37-29, won 25 of 45 draws, were plus-10 on turnovers. Some games, it just does not matter.
-- Michal Neuvirth sure deserved better. The guys the Flyers want to shoot did – Claude Giroux had three shots, Jaromir Jagr had four, Danny Briere had three. He stoned them all. He even almost squeezed off the deflection by Wellwood. He was solid from pipe to pipe in this one.
-- Troy Brouwer isn’t going to score every night, but he can bring the grit each night, and he did early. He gave Erik Gustafsson a peek into next week with a hit at the players’ benches, then scrapped with Scott Hartnell, who took offense at the hit. Brouwer made short work of Hartnell, not with his fists, but by shoving him off his feet and getting position on him when Hartnell was losing his balance.
-- The Caps had eight shots on goal from within 15 feet, 13 from 35 or more feet from the net (from official play-by-play). Trying to wire in shots from long distance isn’t going to do it.
-- It took 65 games, but it was the first time all season that the Caps did not receive a power play opportunity. Against the Philadelphia Flyers. Whodathunkit? They are still stuck on 0-for-13 on the power play, now over their past five games.
-- About that power play… 0-for-13, 1-for-22, 2-for-34, 5-for-57. The Caps have allowed as many shorthanded goals in their last 20 games (five) as they have power play goals (five). That is not a slump. That is merely bad.
-- Pavel Kubina was credited with four hits. At 17:02 of the second period, Pavel Kubina (6’4”, 258 pounds) was credited with one of them on Mathieu Perreault (5’10”, 185 pounds…maybe). He was credited with another on Perreault at 18:04 of the third period. They should be deducted on principle alone.
In the end, you can now see the end from here. Oh yes, the Caps are still one point behind Winnipeg for eighth place, but they are down to one game in hand, too. And now, Tampa Bay and Buffalo lurk only one point behind the Caps for ninth place. All three teams have 18 games remaining. Even the Maple Leafs are only two points back and the Islanders four back. Rather than use this five-game home stand to jump back into the top eight and put some distance between them and their closest pursuers, it is looking more like a “last stand.”