Sunday, February 27, 2011

A TWO-point night -- Game 63: Caps 3 - Islanders 2

If you are a Washington Capitals fan, you might have looked at tonight’s game against the New York Islanders and thought… I hope it’s like their season.

What do we mean by that? Well, the Caps didn’t show up early…like their season to date. They didn’t play well for long stretches in the middle… like their season to date. Then they rallied and came through in the end with a win… like Caps fans hope they will in their last game of the season (in the playoffs, if that isn't clear).

The Caps spotted the New York Islanders a pair of goals, then scored three in the last 30 minutes to get a 3-2 win over the Islanders in Uniondale, NY.

They say fights don’t change momentum. Well, maybe for the most part that is true. The Islanders scored a goal 33 seconds into the second period – an unassisted goal by Travis Hamonic that floated past goalie Michal Neuvirth, making it eight straight goals scored by opponents over barely 80 minutes of hockey (all of them coming at the expense of Neuvirth). That apparently was enough for Matt Hendricks, who dropped the gloves with Zenon Konopka 19 seconds into his first shift of the period, not two minutes after the Hamonic goal. Hendricks might not have won the fight (his 13th of the season), but it would be hard to argue against effect. Until that point, the Islanders had outshot the Caps 15-7 and outscored them 2-0. After Hendricks’ bout the Caps would almost match the Islanders in shots (15 to New York’s 16) and would outscore them 3-0. Hendricks might not have received a star for the game, but he might have been the player most responsible for changing the game’s momentum.

Other stuff…

-- It was a difficult game for the John Carlson/Karl Alzner duo. Alzner was victimized on Kyle Okposo’s goal when he backed in too far as Okposo was pushing the puck into the Caps’ zone, waved at the puck with his stick just as Okposo started to cut to the middle, then looked to screen his goalie as Okposo wristed the puck at the net. On the Hamonic goal Alzner tried to sweep the puck off the stick of Frans Nielsen and missed, then John Carlson could only clear the puck to the Caps’ blue line, where Hamonic stopped it, firing the puck at Neuvirth for the Islanders’ second goal.

-- With Nicklas Backstrom moved to the wing to accommodate his injured thumb, Brooks Laich took turns in the middle, and it seemed to rejuvenate his game. A goal, an assist (both the product of driving to the net with the puck), five shot attempts, eight wins in 15 draws taken. The two points were his first since also netting a goal and an assist against Anaheim ten days ago; they broke a four game streak without a point for Laich.

-- Of the 22 shots on goal for the Caps, one came from a defenseman (Alzner).

-- Two power plays…no shots on goal. Not enough, and not enough.

-- Go – to – the – net. Write it down in big letters on the white board. That’s now Laich scored, that’s how Knuble scored (sit down, Kanoobie). Even Alexander Semin sort of went to the net on his game-winner, backing Hamonic off enough to get room in the high slot for a wrist shot. If anything, the lack of offense has been a result of not enough of this behavior.

-- Hendricks had 13 shifts and only 6:38 of ice time. He had four shifts of under 20 seconds apiece. He does get his money’s worth.

-- Scott Hannan might not get a point for the rest of the year, and we won’t care a bit if he keeps playing like this. In more than 24 minutes he did not have a shot on goal, but he did have a hit, a takeaway, and six blocked shots to lead both teams. Most important, plus-2 and no goals scored by the Islanders when he was on the ice.

-- Not to pick on Jason Chimera, but he is somewhat indicative of the problem the Caps are having. He had no points tonight (two shots on goal in 11 minutes and change). He hasn’t had a goal in ten games and has only one point over that span. The Caps need more out of the third and fourth lines.

-- Semin had the game-winner, but less than 14 minutes of ice time? The lowest amount he has had (not counting a game in which he sustained an injury) since the Winter Classic, when he had only 12:54.

-- Marcus Johansson skated 6:24 in the first period, but didn’t do much with it, considering it was spent mostly on the top line between Alex Ovechkin and Mike Knuble. He did draw a tripping penalty on Islander goalie Al Montoya, but other than that he was silent. He is not ready for that role, but perhaps better to test drive the idea against this team than against a team fighting for the playoffs.

In the end, the Caps finished the month 6-5-1, scoring more than three goals twice in the 12 games. They gave up 31 goals in the 12 games (2.58 goals/game), but 12 of those goals came in two games (a 7-6 win over Anaheim and a 6-0 loss to the Rangers). If there is a bright side, the Caps extended a rather impressive run on defense in which they have allowed only 38 goals in their last 18 games, including those two six-goal games.

On the other hand, the Caps scored only 28 goals in 12 games for the month, a quarter of them in a 7-6 win in Anaheim. Only five of the goals came on the power play, and the Caps still have not had a multi-power play goal game since November 26th (39 games).

The Caps have been stuck in neutral now for three months, going 15-14-8 since December 1st, and this game was more of the same – an adequate effort (it was, after all, a win) against a team destined for a lottery draft pick. Fortunately, most of the East is marking time, too, with only one team (Boston) currently on a winning streak of more than two games (pending tonight’s game in Vancouver). One can take comfort in putting this one in the win column, but there is no comfort to be had watching this team and thinking about its chances in April. It is a team without an identity and without a sense of purpose about it. They look lost, which is what their season will be in another eight weeks or so if they don’t find both.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You nailed it again, as usual Peerless. You wrote exactly what I'm thinking and feeling.

Sometimes a W isn't enough. I don't have a warm and fuzzy feeling despite the Caps' comeback. Sure, they fell behind early and rallied for a win. My reaction is So what? They are stuck in neutral, without an identity or sense of purpose just as they have shown this entire season. They seem content now to give half-hearted effort after several days off. When the wolves start howling in their fan base and in the media, they show up and still stink early, doing only the minimum necessary to get the W and temporarily silence the critics.

Sorry, but this last win does little to erase my sense of dread about how this team will perform in the playoffs, when the margin for error is lower and the intensity is magnified. I just don't have enough faith that these Caps will be able to flick a magic switch and find the identity and sense of purpose that will be required of them to be successful. It's going to take more than deadline trades at this point, it's going to take an infusion of heart, will, character, leadership, and a commitment to pay the price to turn this team around. Do they have what it takes, do they have the ability to dig down deep within themselves to do this? These are the key questions that will have answers.