Saturday, October 16, 2010

A TWO-point night -- Game 5: Caps 3 - Predators 2 (OT)

Hockey is a 60 minute game. Well, sometimes a little bit more, but the point is that as bad as a club can look for 40 minutes, things can change. That is what happened tonight as the Caps took advantage of a weary Nashville Predators club in overtime, skating off with a 3-2 win. The winner was scored by Brooks Laich, tipping in a point shot from Alex Ovechkin on a power play in the extra session, but the winning performance was authored by Michal Neuvrith. The goalie kept the Caps in it for the first 20 minutes, facing 18 shots – stopping 17 of them (the lone goal a pretty wrister to the long side by J.P. Dumont) – to keep the Predators from running away with the contest early on.

The Predators did get out to a 2-0 lead early in the second when Jordin Tootoo knocked one off defenseman Brian Fahey's skate and behind Neuvirth. But that would be it. Neuvirth would slam the door shut after that, stopping the last 15 shots he would face. Neuvirth’s steady play allowed the Caps to get their feet under them and take advantage of Nashville in the midst of its third game in four nights.

The first goal for the Caps was a bit of an odd score. John Carlson fed Alexander Semin in the left wing circle. Semin fired the puck at Nashville goalie Anders Lindback, who appeared to have the puck squeezed under his pads. But in twisting back toward the net, he nudged the puck over the goal line, and the Caps finally showed signs of life. From that point on, they applied the sort of pressure on the tiring Nashville defense that the Predators were putting on the Caps over the first 20 minutes.

The pressure paid off when some good old fashioned (and rarely seen in the first 40 minutes) hard work. Brooks Laich outfought Cal O’Reilly and Shane O’Brien to work the puck out from behind the net. It squirted to Tomas O’Fleischmann…. uh, Tomas Fleischmann, who popped the puck past Lindback before he could locate it. From being down 0-2 and looking like a team that had a club date at a blues parlor after the game, the Caps worked their way into a tie. Over the last eight minutes of regulation it was Nashville hanging on for dear life, their legs just not having the jump they had earlier in the contest.

In the ovi-time…uh, overtime, Alex Ovechkin worked the puck into the Predator zone on a 1-on-3 rush. Cutting to the middle and chipping the puck over a lunging Ryan Suter's stick, Ovechkin looked to have position to take the puck wide. But Suter got his stick in front of Ovechkin’s legs and took him down to earn a penalty for tripping. Just 57 seconds later, Ovechkin was there one more time, firing the puck at the net that Brooks Laich managed to deflect for the winner, a result no one could have expected watching those grisly first 20 minutes.

Other stuff…

-- Nashville pumped 18 shots at Michal Neuvirth in the first period. They were all over the Caps, playing a smart strategy to be aggressive against a make-shift defense. It came at a price, though. The Predators had 12 shots in the second period, eight in the third, and one in the overtime. But here’s the thing – only one shot in the third period came from inside of 30 feet. Nashville was getting no pressure on the Caps’ net as the game wore on.

-- Another reason the Caps’ legs might have been fresher at the end… they took four first period penalties, keeping their big guns on the bench. What that meant was that Ovechkin skated only 5:02 in the first period, Fleischmann only 3:29, Fehr only 2:53, Backstrom only 6:09 (and one minute of that was on the PK), Knuble only 5:55 (again, one minute of that on the PK).

-- That’s 21-for-21 on the penalty kill through five games. The six they killed off tonight is the season high.

-- And if your best penalty killer had to be your goalie, well, Neuvirth stopped 12 Predator power play shots.

-- Don’t look now, but the Caps are now three for their last six on the power play, including going 2-for-5 tonight.

-- In his last 12 periods plus tonight’s overtime, Neuvirth has stopped 120 of the last 127 shots he faced, a .945 save percentage. He has allowed two or fewer goals in nine of his last 11 appearances, dating back to last season.

-- One of the things centers have to do at least passably well is take draws. Tomas Fleischmann was 1-for-12 tonight. He took only one defensive zone draw, which he lost. Lost all of his offensive zone draws, too (four).

-- The second line of Alexander Semin, Tomas Fleischmann, and Brooks Laich had two shot attempts in the second period (at that point, five for the game). It was that second line (Semin getting his on the first power play unit) that got the goals to tie. A big deal considering the attention the Predators were paying to the top line.

-- Not that the top line played very well. Right, Ovechkin and Backstrom got assists on the game-winner in overtime, but the play of the whole line in regulation left something to be desired. Ovechkin took a needless slashing penalty, Backstrom a needless boarding call, Knuble was pretty much silent. All were a minus-1. For long stretches they had the look of a line that was thinking, “oh, Suter and Weber are out there, what’s the point?”

--For as beat up the Caps’ defense was coming into this game, kudos to the defensemen. They had their occasional moments (usually in trying – and failing – to clear the puck from the defensive zone), but they played a pretty good game over all under the circumstances. More than 24 minutes for John Carlson (and taking a shot off the boot that had Caps Nation take a collective gasp), more than 24 for Jeff Schultz, almost 23 for Karl Alzner, almost 22 for John Erskine. Those four did well for themselves.

-- Speaking of minutes and defensemen, that’s more than 110 minutes for Jeff Schultz and no goals scored against when he’s on the ice.

-- Anyone have Jordin Tootoo leading all players in shots on goal? Anyone? Bueller?

-- It cannot go without being said that although the Caps escaped with the two points, the first 30 minutes might have been the worst collective play by Caps forwards in the last three years or more. “Awful” in this case doesn’t do justice to the quality of play. They could not keep pucks in, could not get pucks out, were not up to the challenge of the Nashville defensemen, and created no traffic in front of Anders Lindback.

-- Speaking of Lindback, he certainly has skill in keeping the puck out of the net, but he allows entirely too many rebounds in bad places (or at least he did tonight). And his glove was betraying him late; shots he should have snared were popping out of his glove.

-- Sweden won 14 of 26 draws for the Caps. Marcus Johansson had one of those 14 wins, Nicklas Backstrom the other 13.

In the end, we are reminded of the old proverb that you win 25 percent of your games, no matter what, and you lose 25 percent, no matter what. It’s what you do with those other 50 percent that make or break your season. We’re not sure if this one goes into the 25 percent you win category or in the 50 percent you have to earn category. Whatever, this was a game the Caps really weren’t in for 40 minutes and had little business winning. That’s why the games are 60 minutes long… or sometimes a little bit more.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads-up. When I watch it tonight, I'll fast forward to the middle of the 2nd and watch from there.

Anonymous said...

I must say, you (Peerless and Co) Washington Caps Bloggers as a collective group are fantastic. This was a fun and informative article that provided detailed analysis to a hockey novice. All of you provide insight into the game and players that makes the whole Washington hockey experience even better. Football? Baseball? Basketball? Yawn.

I have seen nothing like the Caps Blog group for any team in any sport and I am still looking. Props to you all. Keep up the great work! Ed from Richmond