Saturday, January 31, 2009

A TWO-point afternoon: Caps 4 -- Red Wings 2

And that’s how they do that.

It was red, it was loud, and even for a chilly weekend afternoon in January, it had the whiff of a game played on a warm night in June. The Caps scored late and held off the Red Wings in March of the Penguins Penalized over the last 98 seconds to beat Detroit, 4-2. But Peerless, what did all mean?...

Figuring out a way to win. It’s one thing to come from a couple of goals down to beat a bottom dweller. It is another thing to take a game away from a team you’re tied with at the second intermission when that team is the defending Stanley Cup champion skating on your ice with the third highest number of road standings points in the league. Figuring out a way to win close, highly charged games against quality opponents is perhaps the last lesson a team has to learn to be a credible championship contender. And what fits hand in glove with that is…

Dealing with adversity I. Folks are going to remember Alex Ovechkin’s two goals to win, but what they might put aside (we’re betting the coaches don’t) is the fact that the Caps yet again gave up a power play goal – that’s ten games in a row and counting – and gave up seven power play opportunities (they’ve given up at least five in seven of their last eight games). You might argue that the last one is a technicality (Tom Poti took the penalty, but the Caps were already two men down from previous penalties), but the flip side of that is that the Caps took three penalties in the last 98 seconds of the game. That’s not playing with matches, it’s playing with a blowtorch. They fought through it in the end, which is a good thing (what isn’t a good thing is that these kinds of things are repeat offenses).

Dealing with adversity II. There isn’t a graceful way to say this – Alex Semin struggled (ok, that might be a bit “graceful”… you may call me a coward). We thought that if the Red Wings weren’t the opponent in this game, we would not have been surprised if Semin had been benched in the third period for his penultimate shift in the second period. From pulling up short with the puck at the Red Wing blue line when it looked as if he had a chance to press the matter – he seemed to pass up chances all afternoon – to his hooking penalty in the neutral zone (apparently, the experience in the Ottawa game had been forgotten). Detroit scored on the ensuing power play – a goal in the last minute of the period – but it didn’t cripple the Caps in terms of momentum the way it might have done with a younger, less experienced version of this team (say, two years ago, of even perhaps this time last year).

Dealing with adversity III. Detroit: 73 – Washington: 42. No, that’s not the halftime score of a Pistons/Wizards game, it is the shot attempts for the two teams today. That’s an indicator that the ice was tilted in Jose Theodore’s direction, but the Caps prevailed in spite of it. One had the feeling (well, I did at least) that the Caps would have these short bursts where they would threaten the Red Wings’ goal, but that Detroit won large blocks of time in terms of territorial play. They always seemed to have the puck. But hey, they count goals, not shot attempts.

It’s 60 minutes. That goes for players as well as teams. Alex Ovechkin took three shots in the first period. He would not so much as even attempt one for more than 35 minutes of playing time thereafter. Good thing there were still almost 13 minutes left to play when he did take his next shot. That one, and the next one he took, found the back of the net – the game winner and the insurance goal. That makes 18 third period goals (of his 33) for Ovechkin this year, a number that leads the league.

I’ve got rhythm. Well, I don’t, but Jose Theodore seems to have it. He’s gotten into a nice playing rhythm since “the yank.” He is 10-3-1, 2.03, .925 and has given up more than three goals only once in 13 games since that Ranger game when he was pulled after giving up three goals on five shots in less than 14 minutes. We’re a little surprised he didn’t get a star in this one, but it might be indicative of his being solid in goal to the point of being almost boring.

Defense, defense, defense. The Red Wings came from everywhere. 16 of 18 skaters had shots on goal; every skater except Tomas Kopecky (who did record a shot on goal) had at least two shot attempts. But, as the graphic below suggests, the Wings were pushed outside for many of those shots…

…and yes, it also shows that the Wings did miss having Tomas Holmstrom wreaking his own special havoc in front of the net. Another way to look at the job the Caps did… Pavel Datsyuk – one shot on goal. Marian Hossa – one shot on goal.

We’re thinking we need to see more from… Eric Fehr. He had five shots on goal, but he had a couple of great chances today that, frankly, he needs to bury. One shot – a slapper off a nice drop pass from Nicklas Backstrom – was the kind of shot a goal-scorer is going to nail. On another, off a great feed from Tomas Fleischmann, he just didn’t get very good wood (ok, composite) on the puck (we have a feeling the ice was not all that hot, and we cringe at the prospect of what it will be tomorrow for the Ottawa game). But it’s a good thing that Fehr is shooting the puck – five shots in less than ten minutes of ice time (we might suggest other wingers take a cue). Perhaps as in basketball, shooters need to shoot to get out of their slumps.

Nit picking. Yeah, that’s what it will be, but the Caps had what was an annoying result in faceoffs in one respect. They held Pavel Datsyuk and Valtteri Filppula even in the circle (18 up, 18 down), but went 2-for-9 against Justin Abdelkader, Tomas Kopeckey, Johan Franzen and Kris Draper.

Angels with Dirty Faces. Yup, it’s the name of a James Cagney movie. It also could describe the Caps in an important respect this afternoon. Mike Green had a nice goal on a wrister coming on a delayed penalty when Nicklas Backstrom was hooked down in front (perhaps distracting goalie Ty Conklin on the Green shot), but the other three goals were scored from in front, going to the net – Viktor Kozlov deflecting a Milan Jurcina drive… Ovechkin barreling past a defenseman, feeling the puck through his legs and charging in on the Detroit net to score… Ovechkin again after a Nicklas Backstrom shot from in close was turned away, Ovechkin chipping the puck over Conklin from the doorstep. Oh, and by the way…that play never happens if Backstrom doesn’t win the face off to start the action. The point is that three goals came from in tight – the money area that the Caps are going to have to dominate come the spring.

At the end of the day, it was a very entertaining game… “thrilling,” in fact. Why would we use that adjective? Well, it wasn’t the up and down kind of stuff that gets fans roaring and coming out of their seats. Quite the opposite – there were stretches in the game in which we were stunned by just how quiet the arena was, mostly a product of wonder over whether the Caps could hold off the Red Wings on one of their keep-the-puck-in-your-end-for-the-whole-shift kind of displays. Then when the Caps cleared the puck or started a rush of their own, there was a palpable sense of relief followed by the kind of cheering that speaks…”score one, already, and get these guys off our backs.” The Caps did just that and grabbed (“stole” would imply a certain amount of luck, and we think this one was more a product of hard work) two points in a game that serves as a measuring stick for how far the Caps have come this year.

Great job, boys.


Chris said...

Nice post Peerless.

1. Semin needs to be a healthy scratch tomorrow. Enough is enough.

2. What in God's name did Flash do to get a star over Theo. Absolutely ridiculous.

3. Is it me, or has Mike Green been playing lazy? Yes, he had the goal, but he should be buying Nick Backstrom a steak dinner for that one. Three possibilities: he is lazy, they are overplaying him, or both.

4. Mo has got to go. And we really missed Tom Poti.

5. How lucky are we to get to watch Alex Ovechkin all the time. I mean, seriously.

Chris & Sarah said...

Poti's penalty at the end was a bad call as clearly seen in the replays. The puck is deflected of a Detroit stick then heads over the glass.

Fehr and Balanced said...

Yeah Mike Green is definitely worthless. I mean, the guy leads all Dmen in the league in goals and he has played 10 fewer games than anyone else on the list. He brings absolutely nothing to the table. Our defense was clearly better when he was out of the lineup. Is it me or would everyone else rather see Juice or Schultz lugging the puck up the ice to get it to our forwards. We should trade Green while his value is high before every other GM realizes how bad his game is. Maybe we can get Brian Burke to give us Ryan Hollweg and Jeff Finger for him.

Chris said...

I don't see where I ever called Mike Green worthless. He is obviously an outstanding defenseman, and that is why I am so demanding of him and I hate to see him make lazy plays. Why do Caps fans always overreact so much?