Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A ONE-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 38: Rangers 1 - Capitals 0 (OT/Gimmick)

The Washington Capitals wrapped up their four-game road trip on Wednesday night with a 1-0 Gimmick loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.  It was hardly an advertisement for the NHL, but worse, it dropped the Caps two points behind the New Jersey Devils for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

First Period

...was…blah. 

There was no scoring and, frankly, even less action.  The Rangers had a 10-8 edge in shots on goal, but the Caps had a 17-13 edge in shot attempts.  There were no power plays.  Matt Niskanen led the good guys with two shots on goal.  If there was an odd statistic, it was that the Caps had as many shots blocked (eight) as shots on goal.  Lars Eller won four of five draws, which was the difference between a bad period (6-for-16) and a ghastly one (2-for-11 without Eller) in the circle.  More odd stuff…Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Chiasson led the Caps in credited hits (two apiece).  It was the sort of period one might expect as the first one after a holiday break, the hockey equivalent of getting up from the dinner table, waddling over to the recliner, sitting back, and unbuttoning one’s pants before dozing off.  Someone has to win this game, because that’s what the rules require, but it isn’t too early in this one to think neither team deserves it.

Second Period

It was a lot more of the same over the first half of the period, but then the Caps were awarded a power play, so there was the promise of some excitement.  Shots from Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson yielded nothing, and then it was the Rangers’ turn to enjoy a power play.  Even less to be had there, as the Caps held the Blueshirts without a shot on goal for the two minutes.  And then the Caps got another power play late in the period.  Alex Ovechkin had a shot on goal…not “in” goal.  And so, the teams went to the second intermission without a red light having been lit.  The Caps did have a 21-18 edge in shots on goal and a 36-28 advantage in shot attempts.  Jakub Vrana led the team with three shots on goal, while Nicklas Backstrom had four shot attempts to top the roster.  Vrana was the only Capital with a better than 50 percent mark in the faceoff circle through 40 minutes…he won his only draw.

Third Period

The Rangers started the period with an all-out assault on the Caps’ net, outshooting the Caps 8-1 before the period was four minutes old.  Philipp Grubauer was up to that challenge, though.  And another…and another…and, well, you get the picture.  By the time the period was over, Grubauer made a case to be the Vezina Trophy winner on the basis of one game…one period, in fact…stopping all 18 shots he faced in the period, many of them of the “best saves of the night” variety.

Overtime

The Caps had their chance.  John Carlson had a glorious opportunity on a wrap around, but a Jedi force field apparently kept the puck from going in as it crawled the entire length of the goal line before deflecting off the far post and out.  And then, Alex Ovechkin took a tripping penalty with less than 30 seconds left.  The Rangers could not convert, though, and the game went to the freestyle competition.

The Gimmick

Rangers had two guys with the initials “MZ” (Mats Zuccarello, Mika Zibanejad) score; the Caps had two guys whose last names end in “O” (T.J. Oshie, Alex Ovechkin) stopped…Rangers win.

Other stuff…
  • That was Ondrej Pavelec’ first shutout since he beat the Vancouver Canucks, 2-0, on March 22, 2016, as a member of the Winnipeg Jets.
  • Philipp Grubauer stopped all 37 shots he faced, the most shots faced by a Caps goalie on the road without allowing a goal since Michal Neuvirth stopped 39 shots in a 1-0 win in Pittsburgh over the Penguins on February 21, 2011.
  • It figures that the first time this season a Capitals goalie allows no goals in a game, the team loses.
  • The Caps have now gone 145:01 without a goal.
  • After suffering a four game streak in allowing at least one power play goal, the Caps had their second consecutive game denying the opponent a power play strike.
  • The Caps went 1-1-2 on their four-game road trip around the holiday, but on the other hand, this is their third loss in a row, their longest losing streak of the season.
  • Jakub Vrana and Alex Ovechkin led the team with four shots on goal apiece; Dmitry Orlov and Madison Bowey were the only skaters without a shot on goal.
  • Back to Grubauer… In his last nine appearances he has a .936 save percentage, yet his record is just 2-3-2 (two no-decisions).
  • Based on our quick research, this was the first 0-0 game to be settled in the Gimmick since the Edmonton Oilers beat the Montreal Canadiens in Montreal, 1-0, on February 5, 2017.
  • The Rangers had a 64-54 edge in shot attempts.  Rick Nash led the Rangers with eight attempts (six on goal); Ovechkin led the Caps with eight as well (four on goal).

In the end…

You could say it was the ice, which seemed to have the quality of a snow cone, or you could say it was the first game after a holiday, or you could say it was just one of those games in an 82-game season.  Whatever, the Caps looked equal parts sluggish and clueless over long stretches of this game.  That they escaped with a standings point it first, last, and entirely a product of the superb play of Philipp Grubauer in goal in what would qualify as one of the best games by a goalie anywhere in the NHL this season.

A 1-1-2 road trip is not the worst of outcomes, but how one gets there matters.  The Caps started with an encouraging win in a difficult city, winning in overtime in Dallas.  But losing to the woeful Arizona Coyotes in overtime, having their lunch eaten in front of them in the first 15 minutes in a 3-0 loss to Vegas, and then this sleep-inducting spectacle made for what ended up being a disappointing trip.  The Caps will wrap up the 2017 portion of their season at home against Boston and New Jersey.  One hopes the familiar surroundings will give them a boost of energy that seemed lacking on this trip.


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