Well, this was one of those games you can chalk up as being a game you would lose, no matter what. At least it makes what happened at Pepsi Center in Denver a little more palatable. The Washington Capitals did just that – lose – to the Colorado Avalanche, 4-1. It was a game that was daunting enough, given the record the Avalanche assembled to date. It was downright disheartening when heaped on top of that was the anvil chorus of Capital shots hitting pipes and some iffy officiating of both the omission and commission sort.
The Caps started slowly, and they paid for it, helped along by some of that iffy officiating. It started when the Avalanche tried to execute a long cross-ice clearing pass out of their own zone. The puck skittered through Mike Green and Cody MacLeod, who were tangled up at the Capitals’ blue line. Goalie Braden Holtby played the puck off the boards behind his own net, but Nate Schmidt could not get his stick on the ricocheting puck. It slid out to the high slot where MacLeod backhanded a shot toward the Capitals’ net. Patrick Bordeleau… the six-foot-six-inch before you consider the skates Patrick Bordeleau… deflected the puck down and past Holtby for an apparent goal. The goal was allowed by the on-ice official and confirmed by video review, but it did not seem to pass either the smell or the sight test…
The Caps regrouped and competed harder, holding the Avs off the scoreboard for the rest of the period despite the ice titled steeply toward the Caps’ end. Colorado outshot the Caps, 12-4, in the first period. The second period was a much more evenly played affair, and the Caps evened things up when Joel Ward took advantage of the same springy end boards that victimized Braden Holtby on the Avalanche goal. Off a faceoff to goalie Semyon Varlamov’s left the puck came back hard off the end wall and angled back toward the low slot where no Colorado player was occupied. Ward slid in and with time and space deposited a backhand shot past Varlamov’s right pad to tie the game.
Then the Caps went all…Caps. On the ensuing shift Colorado regained the lead when Gabriel Landeskog mesmerized the Caps into looking his way as he was handling the puck behind the Caps net. It gave Nick Holden a chance to step into a seem where Landeskog found him. One snap shot later, from the left wing faceoff circle, and Holden had his first NHL goal that gave the Avs the lead they would not relinquish.
The third period turned into a home town affair, the Avs getting an insurance goal in the ninth minute when PA Parenteau snuck one through Holtby’s pads after the Avs controlled the puck in the Caps’ end for a long shift. Gabriel Landeskog added some cosmetic touches late when he collected a loose puck in his own end, sped up the right wing boards, stepped around Alex Ovechkin at the Capitals’ blue line and ripped a shot past Holby for the final indignity. Avalanche 4 – Caps 1.
-- Ovechkin gets high-sticked…no call. Martin Erat was boarded…no call. Ovechkin was helped into the end boards head and shoulders first…no call. Jason Chimera offends the delicate sensibilities of an official…two minutes. It might not have made any difference in the end, given the Caps’ struggles on their own power play this evening, but it still had a foul smell to it.
-- Speaking of the power play… 56 seconds of 5-on-3 time, one shot on goal, and that one was a long range try by Mike Green. The Caps had only three shot attempts, two of them by Green. It was the 11th consecutive dry well for the Caps at 5-on-3.
-- Not that the conventional power plays were any more effective. In 6:03 at 5-on-4 the Caps had seven shots, only one of them by Alex Ovechkin. You might remember that when these two teams met last month, Ovechkin was held without a power play shot in 3:48 of power play ice time.
-- The Caps are 7-2-1 in games in which they score at least one power play goal. They are 2-6-0 in games in which they do not. Tonight, they did not.
-- Coming into this evening’s play, only Dustin Byfuglien and Duncan Keith had more shots on goal than Mike Green without having lit the lamp. Both Keith and Byfuglien scored tonight. Green has the top spot to himself.
-- One of the things getting a bit lost in the noise…the new top line of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Erat is making no noise of their own at even strength. Ovechkin has not had an even strength point in more than six games, dating back to the third period of the Caps’ 4-1 win over Edmonton on October 24th. Backstrom doesn’t have an even strength point in his last four games. Erat doesn’t have a point of any flavor in his last five contests.
-- There was no fun in Fenwick tonight. The Caps’ Fenwick-For percentage at 5-on-5 close was 44 percent. In 11 games this year when they were on the wrong side of that statistic in that situation the Caps have only two wins in regulation (source: extraskater.com).
-- At least they seemed to get the zone starts down. Of 27 offensive zone faceoffs for the Caps, Nicklas Backstrom took 15 of them, winning nine.
-- In fact, if you looked at faceoffs only, you would think the Caps dominated possession. There were those 27 faceoffs in the Caps’ offensive zone. There were only 14 draws taken in the Caps’ end of the ice. But here is what that tells us. Given the shot volumes, the Avs were able to put together combinations or otherwise keep the puck moving without play stopping on a Holtby save. At the other end, Varlamov was either stopping pucks or they were going out of play. The Caps were not able to put together combinations or flurries.
-- Colorado has been an equal opportunity abuser of Capitals goaltending. Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth each have lost to the Avalanche and have a combined line of 0-2-0, 4.50, .862 against them. Against everyone else they are 9-6-1, 2.52, .926, with one shutout. The Caps are done with the Avs this season, unless…
In the end… Maybe the Avs will rediscover their 2012-2013 spirit in which they had the second worst record in the league. But at the moment they look like another club that has passed the Caps by in the development of a contending team. Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles. They were once young and awful, or more precisely, awful, then young, then champions. Colorado looks like the most recent incarnation of such a club.
Yes, this was the back half of a back-to-back, played at altitude. And, there is a lot of time left in the season. However, if the two games against the Avs serve as any sort of benchmark to compare where these teams stand, Caps fans are not going to like the view unless they like craning their necks to look up at the Avalanche.