Friday, February 10, 2012

A ONE-point night -- Game 54: Jets 3 - Capitals 2 (OT/Gimmick)

You can rationalize it away by saying that there are just some games you are going to win, and there are just some games you are going to lose. You cannot explain it. It happens.

Last night the Washington Capitals lost in a Gimmick to the Winnipeg Jets, 3-2, in a game that had enough hijinks in the last 11 minutes of regulation to make up for the relatively uninteresting 49 minutes that preceded it. Not that the Caps lacked chances to put the game away in those first 49 minutes. They outshot the visitors by 26-20 in those first 49 minutes and carried play. The Caps just could not direct any of those shots past Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. Then again, Winnipeg could not solve Caps goaltender Tomas Vokoun, either.

Alex Ovechkin broke the scoreless tie on a power play by converting a shot that Alexander Semin fired wide to Pavelec’ right and off the end boards. The puck rebounded onto Ovechkin’s stick on the other side of the Jet’s net, and Ovechkin snapped it into the open net from a severe angle. Less than three minutes later, Ovechkin returned the favor on another power play when he surveyed the ice from the left wing boards and found Semin pinching in behind defenseman Mark Stuart. Ovechkin threaded a pass through traffic to set up Semin from the doorstep for the goal that seemed to give the Caps an insurmountable 2-0 lead.

Then things went all weird. With 4:05 left, Roman Hamrlik took a slashing penalty. With more than three minutes left and the Jets on a power play Jets’ coach Claude Noel pulled Pavelec for an extra skater to make things 6-on-4. Then, Brooks Laich was called for playing the puck with a broken stick to create a 5-on-3 that became a 6-on-3 when Noel left Pavelec on the bench. With the Jets skating to what amounted to a three-man advantage, they scored 41 seconds after the Laich penalty on a Evander Kane goal through a pile up in front of Vokoun.

Then there was the play that fairly shouted, “there are just some games you are going to lose.” Dustin Byfuglien was skating through the neutral zone, wound up, and fired a shot from 90 feet that had all the look of just getting the puck deep into the Caps’ zone to give the Jets a chance to get Pavelec off the ice one last time. The shot ticked off the shaft of defenseman Karl Alzner’s stick, changed direction, bounced 20 feet from the Caps’ net, and sailed past Vokoun’s blocker into the net to tie the game.

The Caps would have one last chance, this coming in overtime when Byfuglien handed them the opportunity in the form of taking a tripping penalty with 18 seconds left. But this being a game the Caps by now seemed destined to lose, they could managed only one shot attempt, that coming from Ovechkin in the last second as he was being slashed by Tanner Glass. The shot was blocked by Mark Stuart, and the game went to the Gimmick. At that point it was just record-keeping. Bryan Little had the winning trick shot, and the Jets came all the way back from 0-2 down with 7:30 left in the game to get two points.

Other stuff…

-- One could say this was one of those games the Caps were just going to lose, but at the end of the season, the extra point they did not get in this one might haunt them all off-season. They had their chances to put this one away early. Actually, Ovechkin had the chances to put this one away early. He was on the business end of a 2-on-1 break that Pavelec trapped against his leg in the second period. Only minutes later Ovechkin rang a shot off the crossbar on a power play.

-- Having said that, this game was as “Ovechkin-like” as any he has played this season. A goal, an assist, several good chances, ten shot attempts, two hits, three blocked shots, all in 20 minutes of ice time. He is 6-4-10, plus-3 in his last ten games.

-- Allowing multiple power play goals is not conducive to winning. The Caps gave up two, and it resulted in their ninth straight loss this season when giving up more than one such goal. The only win in such situations came on opening night when the Caps allowed two to Carolina in a 4-3 overtime win.

-- The Caps did a lot of things right in this game that they haven’t done lately. Take shots, for instance. The Caps outshot Winnipeg, 34-27. Five of those shots for the Jets came on the two late power plays in a span of 28 seconds (and they scored their two goals). It doesn’t take long in this game to work 55 minutes at doing things right and having it blow up in your face in an instant.

-- Doing things right, part two. Faceoffs…the Caps have spent a lot of games taking a significantly higher number of draws in their own end than in the offensive zone. Last night the Caps took 24 faceoffs in the offensive zone (winning 17 of them) and only 16 in the defensive zone (winning eight). It is worth noting that on both power play goals the Caps scored, they took place after faceoff wins in the offensive zone. And who was it leading the way on draws? Well, probably the unlikeliest pair – Mathieu Perreault (7-of-9) and Marcus Johansson (8-of-13, including both of the wins that got the Caps started on their power play goals).

-- On the other hand, Marcus Johansson did not attempt any shots in almost 20 minutes of ice time. He is a playmaker first, but with so much offense sitting on the bench, the Caps need other players to step up and try to create something.

-- Just one…if just one of the six shots Dmitry Orlov put on net had gone in. His six shots led the team. On top of that he had three hits, three blocked shots, and he skated almost 24 minutes (behind only John Carlson and Karl Alzner).

-- One player seems to have put concussion symptoms behind him, at least for one game. In addition to his goal, Evander Kane had four hits – tied for the lead among all skaters for both teams.

-- For what it is worth (and it would be worth nothing, other that water cooler trivia), the Caps have not allowed a Winnipeg even strength goal in the last 134:16. And yet for that all they have to show for it is an overtime win (after keeping the Jets off the scoreboard for the last 9:16 of the Caps’ 4-3 overtime win on November 23rd), a 1-0 win, and a Gimmick loss.

-- And for what this is worth (not even trivia), Tomas Vokoun went from a save percentage of 1.000 in shootouts to .500. OK, so he is now 2-for-4.

-- Should the “playing with broken stick” have been called on Brooks Laich? That’s a tough one. It is hard for a player, in the rush of the moment, to check to see if his stick is legal. On the other hand, it was broken, and Rule 10.3 states, “A player whose stick is broken may participate in the game provided he drops the broken stick.” Like we said, that’s a tough one. Let’s at least hope the referees are consistent in applying the rule.

-- Injuries don't explain all the less-than-inspiring play of the Caps for the last month, but they can explain this one. The stars still in uniform -- Ovechkin and Semin -- got the goals. But the support players didn't. They are not going to every night, much as we wish it was so. And last night was one of those nights they didn't. Folks, they are support players, they are not stars. This was a game in which Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green were missed.

In the end, that second point that the Caps did not get in this game is the one that will haunt them if they fail to make the playoffs by one point. And it is how they let it get away. With what looked like a safe lead – Winnipeg was not making life difficult for the Caps in the offensive end much all night – the Caps took bang-bang penalties, and then allowed bang-bang goals 12 seconds apart, the game-tying goal coming on the kind of fluke play that can only have one think that fate already put this in the loss column.

It goes to show how fast a team can go from “shutout” to “shootout,” the difference of just a few letters… from a win “U” can count on to “oh-oh.”