Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A ONE-Point Night: Flyers 6 - Caps 5 (OT)

Did we miss six months? Did a whole regular season get played while we weren’t looking, and we went right to the playoffs?

Because that’s what it looked like this evening as the Caps and Flyers traded Rocky-Apollo haymakers for 60-plus minutes in South Philly. The Flyers emerged with the overtime win, 6-5. It was a wacky game that one could evaluate very differently depending on from what direction you were looking at it...

On the one hand, five goals against what is supposed to be one of, if not the best defensive team in the East should make Caps fans very happy. On the other hand, giving up three power play goals will not make Caps fans very happy.

On the one hand, getting eight points from the top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin will make Caps fans happy. On the other hand, giving up a hat trick to Mike Richards and four assists to Matt Carle will not make Caps fans very happy.

On the one hand, Mike Green getting an assist, eight shot attempts, and a plus-1 will make Caps fans happy. On the other hand, Tom Poti and John Erskine – the defensive pair that was on the ice for the tying and winning goals for the Flyers (they were on for five of the six goals for the home team – a brutal night) – will not make Caps fans very happy.

On the one hand, coming back three times from deficits in a tough building will make Caps fans happy. On the other hand, giving up the tying goal with less than five minutes to go in regulation will not make Caps fans very happy.

On the one hand, watching Alex Ovechkin become only the third player in NHL history to open the season with at least three points in each of his first three games (Guy LaFleur and Peter Stastny being the others) will make Caps fans very happy. On the other hand, watching Danny Briere net the game winner – on his birthday, no less – will not make Caps fans very happy.

On the one hand, Jose Theodore played pretty well in a relief role. Both of the goals he surrendered might have been avoided with a little sturdier defensive play right in front of him (both goals were scored from the doorstep). On the other hand, Semyon Varlamov gave no indication that he is ready to assume the duties of a number one goaltender. He was a victim of some bad luck (the Kimmo Timonen goal that looked as if it changed direction on Varlamov). On the other hand, he butchered an attempt to glove the puck on another shot, gift wrapping a chance for Mike Richards that he buried. The first Richards goal was no goalie highlight either, as Richards scored from a severe angle from Varlamov’s glove side after Varlamov was lured out of position by a fake Matt Carle slap shot.

But in the end, this game came down to one number… nine. As in “the Caps had to endure nine shorthanded situations.” That the Flyers scored on three of them – two of them by Richards – was the difference in the game. That the Caps could score five goals with the sort of disruption to rhythm and playing time that having to kill nine penalties causes is just short of amazing.

But taking nine penalties – seven of them of the “obstruction” sort (three holding, two hooking, two interference) – just isn’t the sort of thing that the Caps can deal with on a nightly basis. It was more than the Caps faced in the first two games combined (eight). Add to that the fact that the Flyers were the league’s sixth best power play team last year, and taking so many penalties was a recipe for disaster.

If there is the picky complaint from this quarter, it was that the Caps got another night of sublime production from the top line – those eight points – but only one goal from a player not named “Alex.”

The Caps enjoyed only a 34-31 edge in faceoffs, but did even better where it counted – going 11-7 in the offensive zone and 12-6 in the defensive zone. The margin was made closer mostly as a product of Nicklas Backstrom going 1-for-8 in the neutral zone (he was 0-for-8 overall against Mike Richards).

Speaking of Backstrom, that’s eight assists in three games. Last year, he didn’t get his eighth assist until his 15th game (on November 12th), and the year before didn’t get his eighth assist until his 19th game (November 19th). Somehow, though, we’re thinking that 219-assist pace won’t last.

And while we’re making those sorts of comparisons, Alex Ovechkin has five goals in three games. Last year, he tallied his fifth goal in his 14th game (November 14th), and in his 65-goal season he tallied his fifth goal in his eighth game (October 24th).

It was a rough night of sorts for Mike Knuble in his return to Philly. He was on the ice for three Flyer goals, although he was plugging away out there with four shots (five attempts), a takeaway, and a blocked shot.

Jeff Schultz got to see his first action of the year, and not in an easy place to play. Still, he was a plus-1 with four blocked shots and no turnovers in 15 minutes and change.

And despite Wachovia Center being a hard place to play, the sort of place that can cause some to panic a bit when they have the puck, it was Braydon Coburn and Chris Pronger for the Flyers among the defense who had four giveaways apiece. Mike Green, who logs a lot of minutes and has the puck on his stick a lot, had no turnovers… again.

In the spirit of naming hat tricks, is a “Matt Bradley Hat Trick” an assist (he had two), a fight, and a faceoff win?

What to make of Ray Emery. In his first two games he shutout a decent Carolina team and allowed a pair of goals to a somewhat offense-challenged Devils team. Tonight he was torched for five goals on 36 shots by an offensively gifted team and looked late in responding to just about all of them. Is there a happy medium for him? It will be interesting to see how he fares against Pittsburgh on Thursday.

OK, so 82-0-0 is out. But seriously, there were encouraging things about this game, most notably the fast-out-of-the-gate start for the top line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin that has to be regarded in the early going as the most dangerous line in the game. On the other hand, there were concerns – the nine shorthanded situations faced, the inability to clear the crease late when it mattered, the eight goals on 56 shots allowed so far by Semyon Varlamov.

All in all, it was an extremely entertaining game that was unusual in its intensity for an early October contest. It doesn’t get much easier as the Caps host the Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist, then head to Detroit on Saturday to take on the Red Wings. If the Caps can get out of this seven-game start that includes games against four division winners from last season on the north side of ten points (they have five in three games), it would be quite an achievement.


Shaggy said...

On the one hand, I am extremely encouraged that they emerged with one point and removed 3 deficits. I honestly thought for a moment Philly might run away with it in the second.
Varly has disappointed, for sure - but he kid has to play. And get smacked around in the press sometimes by his coach. And emerge a better goalie, we hope.

I was happy with last night's game - the discipline problems continue and are maddening, sure, but this team will be in it every night.

Anonymous said...

This game is kind of a yard stick that the Caps need to measure themselves by. Philly and Boston are teams they'll have to beat to go anywhere. The Caps worked over the Bruins and went toe-to-toe with the Flyers and those are encouraging signs. The offense is clicking early and that's trouble for the rest of the league. The discouraging signs are that Varly is struggling and will need some extra work to screw his head on, and against a physical team, the Caps were pretty much manhandled in their own end. The team is asking a lot of Varlamov, and maybe he and Neuvirth need to shuttle back and forth to Hershey so that each guy can fine tune his game. That's not so bad, as long as one guy emerges as the guy who can play consistantly. As far as the defense goes, the Caps may have 11 NHL caliber defensemen, but that's cold comfort when all 11 are 2nd or 3rd unit defensemen. There is no shutdown guy, who has the complete skills package, in the bunch. Eventually, that's going to take it's toll.