Saturday, February 09, 2008

A no point night: Hurricanes 2 - Caps 1

There is a proverb that dates to the 14th century that says, “the pitcher that goes to often the well is broken at last.” It is the origin of the phrase “go to the well too often,” and it refers to repeated behaviors eventually having unpleasant conclusions.

Last night, the Caps spotted the Carolina Hurricanes a 2-0 lead in the first period. No sweat, you say? The Caps have come back from such deficits before?

Well, we’re getting into a different time of year, and a different kind of game…games characterized by tight checking, conservative play, and the ability to play with a lead. In other words, the kind of game the Hurricanes played to hold on for a 2-1 win at Verizon Center.

Cam Ward stopped 33 of 34 shots to make first period goals by Erik Cole and Andrew Ladd stand up in what was a penalty-filled game (12 minors and four fighting majors were doled out by Dennis Larue and Mike Leggo).

The story of the game was told in quotes, some of which might be thought of as the sort that should get some guys to thinking about their games…

“If you can shut (Ovechkin) down or contain him a little bit, you're going to be successful against these guys."

-- Carolina’s Erik Cole

That might be true, but it is something that the other guys might use to motivate their games a bit more (as if that should be needed at this point).


"0-for-7 on the power play defines what this game is about. You have to make teams pay if they're going to take that many penalties against us. It's been a recurring problem the last few games."

-- Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau

Last night was the sixth time the Caps received as many as seven power play opportunities. It was the first such time that they were shutout on the man advantage.


"You'd like to see the wins come more consistently. Win one, lose one, win two, lose two. That's not going to be good enough."

-- Carolina head coach Peter Laviolette

He was speaking of his Hurricanes, but he could have been speaking of any of the Southeast teams. If a team can reel off a streak, that team will be tough to catch.


"It was a great individual effort. (Alexander Semin) did a good job there. But he also took a selfish penalty at the end of the game. Does one offset the other?"

-- Boudreau, speaking of Semin’s goal mid-way through the third period and the penalty he took with 28 seconds left to effectively snuff out what chance the Caps had to mount any further attack.

It is the enigma that is Alexander Semin – a player of amazing skill who can make the most boneheaded decisions at the most inopportune times. If it was earlier in the season, or the Caps had a margin of error, one might think Semin is a candidate to catch a game from the press box. But the Caps might not be able to afford that luxury, either, given the late hour of the schedule and the tight grouping of clubs in the Southeast.

"We haven't played a game of this magnitude for a long time. We understand ... how important these games are. Next time we're in this situation, we'll be ready."

-- Caps defenseman Mike Green

One would have hoped that the Caps were ready last night – they weren’t. Too many penalties, too little energy generated in the offensive end, too many odd-man breaks. The response to this quote might be, “you’d better be…it won’t get easier from here.”


If you looked only at the raw numbers, you wonder, “how did the Caps lose?...they outshot Carolina 34-23…they out-attempted them 72-37 (total shots taken, including misses and those blocked)…had there been a time-of-possession clock, it would have been weighted heavily in the Caps’ favor.

But the game looked like a 60-minute lack of attention to detail. The little things all went in the Hurricanes’ favor, because the Hurricanes worked hard to assure that they would go in their favor. And that was the difference over 60 minutes. They outhit the Caps (23-20), protected the puck better (7 giveaways to 12 for the Caps), paid a higher price (20 blocked shots to 10 for the Caps), and owned the faceoff circle…or more to the point, Rod Brind’Amour owned it (he won 18 of 23 draws). The difference between the teams was encapsulated by the Hurricanes’ ability to kill (or the Caps’ inability to convert, depending on your point of view) a 70-second 5-on-3 situation early in the second period.

It is Carolina that can stretch their lead to three points when they visit New Jersey this evening. If they should fail, the Caps can reclaim the top spot tomorrow against the Rangers. That’s the back-and-forth way it could be for the next eight weeks as we head to the finish, unless a team can reel off a streak…

… or they go to the well too often by getting behind early in games.