Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A ONE-point night -- Game 50: Rangers 2 - Caps 1 (OT/Gimmick)

When the kid goalie stops 28 of 29 shots, the only one getting past him the product of a fluke deflection, his team is supposed to win the game. Well, that’s not the way things worked out for the Washington Capitals last night as the effort in goal by rookie call-up Braden Holtby was wasted in a 2-1 Gimmick loss to the New York Rangers last night at Verizon Center.

Aesthetically, the game was like watching a performance art depiction of a root canal, a game that was played just the way the Rangers wanted it – zone to zone, not much flow, and few in the way of real scoring chances. If the Caps could take anything away from this game it was that it was a whole lot better performance against the Rangers than the last time the teams met, a 7-0 blowout in Madison Square Garden captured in living HD color for HBO’s 24/7 series on the Winter Classic.

The Caps had the better of the chances, even in the quicksand environment the Rangers chose to provide on defense. Cross-ice feeds to players heading to the net were the featured menu item for the Caps, and it clicked once, when Marcus Johansson found Matt Hendricks streaking to the Ranger net, Hendricks poking the puck behind Ranger goalie Martin Biron, who was giving Henrik Lundqvist the night off.

That goal, coming in the second minute of the second period, might have held up for the Caps. However, an odd bounce put an end to those hopes late in the third period. Brian Boyle sent a harmless enough looking shot toward the Capitals’ net, where Marian Gaborik was circling to get into scoring position. The puck pinballed around, hit Gaborik in the shoulder (or so the referee would tell Caps Coach Bruce Broudreau later) and over Holtby’s shoulder into the net. Caps fans might say that Gaborik found inside position on Caps defenseman Karl Alzner, but Alzner did a fairly good job of keeping Gaborik from getting his body into anything resembling a position to convert a rebound. It just happened to be one of those hockey plays that happen once in a while that defy analysis.

It was then left to an overtime that went scoreless and the skills competition, where goals by Wotek Wolski and Mats Zuccarello for the Rangers were offset by goals from Matt Hendricks and Nicklas Backstrom. After the teams traded misses, it was left to Artem Anisimov, who backhanded the puck past Holtby for his first career shootout goal and the game-winner for the Rangers.

Other stuff…

-- The power play continues to, well…stink. Two opportunities, one shot on goal. The Caps are now 3-for-26 in the 2011 portion of the season (11.5 percent) and are 9-for-85 (10.6 percent) since recording two power play goals against Carolina on the day after Thanksgiving.

-- Alex Ovechkin did everything right last night in terms of creating space for his shot…except putting it in the net. He had several good look going against the grain, which is a move most teams have been taking away from him. He did not, however, have a shot on goal in the third period, in fact had only one attempt.

-- Generally, Ovechkin is going to get his shots – six last night. But that total was more than a quarter of all the shots on goal for the Caps last night. And if Matt Hendricks is second in shots (four), leaving 13 shots on goal for the other 16 skaters, it doesn’t bode well for an offensive breakout. Alexander Semin…come back!

-- OK, the defensive responsibility thing we get. We are a proponent of “defense wins championships.” And there is a glimmer of hope here. Since the Caps lost to the Rangers 7-0 on December 12th they have allowed only 34 goals in 18 games (1.89/game). In decisions in regulation over that time they are 9-3. But they also have played in six extra session games, losing them all – four in overtime, two in the skills portion. They are 4-1-6 in one-goal decisions over that time, those six extra time losses in six tries being the problem. But…

-- Had the Caps’ power play been working at, say, 20 percent instead of ten percent (not unreasonable given that the Caps worked their power play to 25.2 percent efficiency last season), they would have eight more goals over these last 18 games. Given that the Caps lost six games in extra time over that stretch and lost another game by one goal in regulation, that 9-3-6 record might be 12-3-3 or better, had the Caps done anything consistently on the power play. And those extra three points would have them at the top of the Southeast, three points behind Eastern Conference leader Philadelphia. You cannot say that improved defense has come at the expense of offense when it is the power play that is underperforming.

In the end, the Caps had their chances and simply did not convert them. You would like to see them get more power play opportunities than the two they had last night, but we’re not sure if it matters when they are getting one shot in four minutes of extra-man time. Last night’s game was one more of will than skill, and in that regard the Rangers willed the style of the game more to their liking. But if the Caps could have mounted any more pressure on their own power play – even with only two opportunities presenting themselves – it might not have come down to an odd bounce and a Gimmick.

A quick programming note...we'll be away from this space until after the All-Star Game, but you have no shortage of coverage of the Caps. Check out that list on the right for some of the best Caps reportage around.