Sunday, January 05, 2014

Washington Capitals: A NO point night -- Game 42: Wild 5 - Capitals 3

The Washington Capitals played what might have been their best opening 20 minutes of the season at Xcel Energy Center in Minneapolis tonight, but there being 60 minutes in a hockey game, they still lost, 5-3, to the Minnesota Wild.

It sure looked good early.  Marcus Johansson got the Caps off to a good start with a power play goal eight minutes into the game as he put back a rebound of an Alex Ovechkin shot attempt.  Just 13 seconds later, Mike Green put the Caps up, 2-0, when he took a pass in stride from Jason Chimera just inside the blue line, left Matt Cooke standing by the side of the road as he curled and dragged the puck around him, then wristed the puck over the left pad of goalie Niklas Backstrom.

Then, this happened…

Nino Niederreiter halved the Caps lead on just the second shot of the game for the Wild 2:16 into the second period when he jumped into the slot as the trailer, taking a pass from Charlie Coyle, and snapping the puck over the glove of goalie Braden Holtby. 

Less than five minutes (and just two shots) later, the Wild tied it on a 5-on-3 power play, Ryan Suter flinging a shot from high in the zone through a screen and past Holtby.  On the back half of that power play, it was Suter again, sending a hope and a prayer from the same spot on the ice through the legs of defenseman John Carlson, past Holtby’s left pad, and into the back of the net to give the Wild the lead, 3-2

Six minutes later Mike Green got his second of the game on the oddest of plays.  Mike Green sent a floater into the air and off the end boards behind and to the left of Backstrom.  The puck rebounded back, hit Backstrom’s glove, made a right turn, his Backstrom’s right pad, and caromed in to make it 3-3.

Barely three minutes later, though, Minnesota took the lead for good on another power play.  Jonas Brodin sent a soft shot toward the net from the left point that hit a skate, popped up into the air, and dropped behind Holtby where Jason Zucker swatted it in from the last 12 inches.

That ended a bizarre nightmare of a period for the Caps, who allowed four goals on eight shots.  The third period didn’t go any worse for the Caps, but it hardly went better.  With Ryan Suter off on a tripping call 5:30 into the period, the Caps had a chance to get back into it.  The Caps managed just one shot on goal, and as Suter left the penalty box after the Wild killed the penalty he jumped up with Clayton Stoner to press a 2-on-1 rush with Mike Green back.  Green defended neither the pass nor a shot, and Stoner found Suter for a one timer for the hat trick and the final 5-3 margin.

Other stuff…

-- The first period:
  • Score: Caps 2 – Wild 0
  • Shots: Caps 11 – Wild 1
  • Shot Attempts:Caps 18 – Wild 6
  • Faceoffs: Caps 14 – Wild 6

-- Second period
  • Score: Wild 4 – Caps 1
  • Shots: Wild 8 – Caps 10
  • Shot Attempts: Wild 12 – Caps 21
  • Faceoffs: Wild 18 – Caps 5

-- Since 1995, when the Caps lost a 3-2 decision to the Florida Panthers, 11 teams allowed 11 shots or fewer in a game and lost.  Five of the losing teams were shutout, another four scored just one goal.  The Caps are the 12th team since then to allow 11 shots in a game and lose, the first to allow more than three goals in doing it. 

-- There will be a lot of talk about Braden Holtby allowing five goals on 11 shots.  That goes with the territory.  But really, this team plays entirely too dainty a game on the penalty kill.  Defensemen are little more than maĆ®tre d’s showing forwards to the top of the crease… ah, your table is waiting, Monsieur.  Watch Braden Holtby trying to get a sight line around Dany Heatley to his left and Ryan Suter shooting the puck through the other side. 

-- The Caps were 2-for-5 on penalty kills.  That makes 23-for-33 over their last nine games (69.7 percent).  Remember when they killed 34 in a row earlier this season?  Yeah, me neither.

-- The Caps had two even strength goals on 24 shots, the Wild two even strength goals on eight shots.  Yeah, that means the Wild took three power play shots…and scored on all of them.  The Wild did not get their tenth shot of the game until the 47:38 mark of the contest.  They scored on it (Suter’s hat trick goal).

-- Mikhail Grabovski had a jersey malfunction, his name plate spelling “GRABOVSKY.”  We’re thinking it was not a mistake, but an omen… “’Y’,’ oh ‘Y’ are you playing like this?”

-- The loss makes the Caps 0-6-1 in franchise history in games played in Minnesota against the Wild.  The last time the Caps won a game against any NHL team in Minnesota?  February 9, 1993, against the North Stars.  Dale Hunter had a pair of goals, Dmitri Khristich potted another, and Don Beaupre stopped 19 of 21 shots in a 3-2 win.

-- Passive hockey… In six of their last nine games the Caps have had two or fewer power plays.  They had two against the Wild, converting one of them.

-- You could almost see the writing on the wall early on in this, despite what looked like a hot start.  Their first six shots came from 50, 57, 38, 25, 62, and 41 feet out (according to the play-by-play summary at  The Caps offense was a rebound on a power play, a sick individual piece of skating, and a weird bounce.  Nowhere in there do you see sustained pressure.

-- Ryan Suter had a hat trick, his first in the NHL.  He didn’t have so much as a two-goal game since October 22, 2009, 315 games ago.  It was the first time in his career he recorded two power play goals in a game.  They were his first power play goals of the season.

-- For the Wild it was the first time they recorded three power play goals in a game since December 10, 2011, 144 games ago.

-- Equal opportunity defense… 14 of the 18 skaters for the Caps were on ice for at least one Minnesota goal.  Eric Fehr, Karl Alzner, Marcus Johansson, and Tom Wilson were the four to escape that ignominy.

-- Speaking of Wilson… 3:46 in ice time.  How little is that?  Technically, Alex Ovechkin had a shift of 3:09 in this game.

-- Not one, but two delay-of-game penalties, shooting the puck over the glass.  Karl Alzner’s was especially egregious, as he had time and space to do something – anything – else with the puck than lifting it over the glass.  That put the Caps two men down, and the rest was history.

-- Three Wild players scored goals on all the shots they took.  There was Suter’s three-for-three, of course, but Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter scored on their only respective shots of the game.

-- Maybe it was just coincidence, but after Matt Cooke and Alex Ovechkin had a staredown in front of the players bench with 31 seconds left in the first period, the Wild outscored the Caps, 5-1.  Yeah, the penalty killing had something to do with it, too.

-- Weird stat… Nicklas Backstrom was 5-for-15 on draws for the game, but he was 5-for-7 in the ends.

-- Speaking of Backstrom, this was just the third time in the last 16 games Backstrom and Ovechkin each registered a point that the Caps lost (13-2-1).  It is the second loss in a row and third in four games (1-2-1).

-- Braden Holtby’s save percentage over his last six appearances… .840. 

In the end…

Here is the scary part.  Let’s compare two teams in a slump…

They look similar don’t they?  Team B is the current Caps on their 1-3-3 slide over their last seven games.  Team A is the Caps of 2011-2012, the last seven games before Bruce Boudreau was relieved of his duties as head coach.

And the optics look just as bad. It is a team that has played listlessly, without any sense of urgency.  They have been soft, letting teams largely work without much resistance in the Capitals’ zone and letting teams push them around in the Capitals’ attack zone.  Frankly, as hockey teams go, they're soft, entirely too easy to play against.  The coaching staff seems not to have any answers.  It is almost as if things are the way Karl Alzner described them…

"For whatever reason, as a team we weren't really responding well enough or as good as we should have been.  And it's kind of, 'Where do you go from there?'"

The trouble is, Alzner said that in the wake of Boudreau’s firing in 2011.    At the moment we are left to wonder where the Caps are going from here.  Other than sliding into third place in the Metropolitan Division with tonight's loss, that is.  They have four days off to figure it out before taking on a Tampa Bay team that is, at the moment, everything the Caps are not -- overachieving, dynamic, on their game.

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