Sometimes, it is really quite simple. Sometimes, a game is just a matter of which team imposes its will upon it, which team is able to play its style so completely that its opponent never has a chance to express its own style. You realize rather quickly in such games that it is not going to be your team’s night.
Such was the case last night as the Ottawa Senators ended the Washington Capitals’ eight game winning streak with a 3-1 victory. The Caps started slowly, taking two early penalties and letting Ottawa settle into a sort of game that would be deliberate, defensive, and dull (at least in the Ottawa end of the ice). It made for a frustrating period for the Caps, who didn’t record their first shot on goal until 5:25 had expired and who would put only four shots on goalie Craig Anderson in the period.
Putting the first period in the deep freeze suited the home team just fine, and it seemed to lull Caps goalie Braden Holtby into something of a stupor. When Kyle Turris scored 75 seconds into the second period on a shot the Holtby whiffed on with his blocker, it looked as if perhaps Holtby had not quite come all the way back from the intermission.
Mike Ribeiro evened the game midway through the period when he finished an odd play. Ribeiro started the play when he fed the puck from the goal line out to Steve Oleksy at the right point. Oleksy sped it around to Jack Hillen at the other point, and Hillen relayed it to Martin Erat low in the left wing circle. Hillen’s pass was a bumpy one, and Erat could not receive it cleanly. But Erat did manage to settle it well enough take a whack at the bouncing puck, sending it on its way toward the Senators’ crease. From there, Ribiero took a swing at the jumpy puck and got enough of it to chip it past Anderson on the far side to tie the game.
The tie lasted barely two minutes. Once more, it was Holtby who was his own worst enemy. Turris started an innocent play with a backhand dump in from the Capitals’ blue line. Holtby settled the puck behind his own net, turned, and tried to feed it to defenseman Karl Alzner at the low edge of the faceoff circle to his left. His pass was off the mark though, out of Alzner’s reach and right onto the stick of Cory Conacher. Holtby could not retreat to his net fast enough, making it only to the post in time to fish the puck out of the back of the net after Conacher put it there.
After that it was merely a matter of the Senators choking what life there was left out of the Caps, holding them to ten shots on goal over the last 26:24 of the game and adding an empty net goal by Turris for the final 3-1 margin.
-- At least the penalty killers looked good. On three power plays allowed the Caps permitted the Senators only one shot on goal.
-- Only ten Capitals managed to record a shot on goal (that’s what happens when you get only 19 as a team). Only two shots on goal came from defensemen, both by Mike Green.
-- Not only were there few shots on goal by the Caps, they got almost none from defensemen other than Green. John Erskine, Karl Alzner, Jack Hillen, and Steve Oleksy combined for zero shot attempts for the contest.
-- If the game seemed to be played entirely in the Caps’ end of the ice, you would not be far wrong. The Senators enjoyed a 38-19 edge in shots and a 68-40 edge in shot attempts.
-- The Caps were smoked in the circle, too. If going 20-for-31 was not bad enough, Nicklas Backstrom was the only Cap to win an offensive zone draw (3-for-7). The rest of the team was 0-for-7 on draws in the offensive zone.
-- Alex Ovechkin had a very quiet night… four unsuccessful shots on goal, and he was on ice for all three goals against. So was Mike Green.
-- Ribeiro’s goal ended a five-game drought and makes him 2-7-9 over his last seven games.
-- Ribeiro also took two minor penalties. His 49 penalty minutes in 44 games represents the first season in his career in which he will finish the season with more penalty minutes than games played.
-- Cory Conacher is becoming quite an annoyance to the Caps in his brief career to date. He is 2-1-3 in three games against the Caps so far in his rookie season.
-- Nicklas Backstrom did not take the ice over the last 7:16 of the game after taking a Mike Green shot off his arm. That made for some juggling of lines, first with Mike Ribeiro moving to the top line, then Mathieu Perreault jumping to the top line for the last five minutes of the contest.
In the end, give the Senators credit. Here is a team with two of its key offensive cogs – Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson – out with injuries. Coach Paul MacLean has done a remarkable job retooling his club on the fly, allowing them to win with a defense/goaltending mix. But give the players credit, too. They have done what they need to do to remain competitive. The Senators are probably not a team that will be able to withstand the grind of four seven-game series in the post-season. Caps fans saw close up last year what living on the margin in the playoffs means. But the Senators are a resilient bunch. Treat them lightly at your peril.
As for the Caps, they are going to have to earn their playoff spot. Winnipeg has won five straight and has closed to within two points of the Caps with a relatively easy schedule coming up, at least easier than what faces the Caps. Washington has to go into Montreal, then face the Jets, Ottawa again, and Boston at home.
This is what the playoffs look like. Win, and you move on. Lose, and break out the sticks…
…the golf clubs, that is.