Tuesday, January 10, 2012
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self Reliance”
Well, the Washington Capitals have the “consistent” part down. Last night, the Caps lost their second consecutive game, their second consecutive game in California, and their second consecutive game in California by a 5-2 score. That was the margin of victory for the Los Angeles Kings, who skated around, over, and through the Caps often, giving neither Tomas Vokoun nor Michal Neuvirth much of a chance in goal to keep the Caps in the game.
It was another case of the ice being tilted too much to the Caps end for too much of the game. Not even scoring the first goal – the best indicator of who would win a game since Dale Hunter took over as Caps head coach – could save the Caps from another sorry night. Marcus Johansson got that goal 94 seconds into the game, and given the fact that the Kings came into the game with the worst offense in the league, scoring fewer than two goals per game at home, and scorers of only eight goals combined in their previous six games, one might have thought that it would be a good end to the California road trip for the Caps.
Fifty minutes later, the Kings had a 5-1 lead, had chased Vokoun, and were cruising to an easy win. Not even Johansson’s second goal – his first multi-goal game since March 15th last season – could fan the smell of this loss away.
-- Let’s get it out of the way up front. There is nothing much to say about Jack Johnson’s “Tebow” celebration other than to wonder what a player who plays in a different city, who played collegiately at a different school, who plays a different sport, and who is not generally thought of as an overtly evangelical player of the sort Tim Tebow is would think this was a good idea. On the other hand, if there are any Caps taking offense at what he did, then DON’T LET HIM SCORE.
-- Allowing five goals is one thing, but to play as utterly meekly as the Caps did had to have the men in suits seething. There were guys who showed up, at least in part. Alex Ovechkin, Matt Hendricks, Roman Hamrlik, Marcus Johansson among them, at least for moments. And we will get to why shortly. But that great middle of the lineup was, to be charitable, not good. If this team is to have a prayer of making the playoffs, let alone going deep, the second and third lines, and the defense generally is going to have to show some more spine and contribute more – especially on the road – than they have done either under Bruce Boudreau or Dale Hunter.
-- We get that the Kings have a good penalty kill, but the Caps' power play looked as much as if they conceded the point as they tried to make a battle of it.
-- It was another one of those “shots vs. attempts” road game. The Caps had 37 shot attempts; the Kings had 35 shots on goal. Talk about chances all you want, but if that is going to be the road profile for the Caps, then with save percentages clumped where they are in this league, generally between .910 and .930, then the Caps goalies are simply going to face too many shots relative to what their teammates are effecting at the other end to win many road games.
-- It has now been a month since the Caps had as many as five power play opportunities in a game, almost two months since they had that many in a road game (November 19th, at Toronto). They had three last night, making it 10 games out of 12 that they have had three or fewer.
-- There were moments…Mike Knuble creating a distraction by charging the net as Marcus Johansson rifled a wrist shot past Kings’ goalie Jonathan Bernier for the first goal of the game…Alex Ovechkin playing a very energetic game early with hits and skating to try to set a tone…Roman Hamrlik blocking six shots and finishing even on a night when not many Caps did…Matt Hendricks trying to inject some life into the Caps late in the first period by taking on Colin Fraser (ill advised as it might have turned out)…Johansson eschewing the pass on the first goal when on too many other occasions a Cap would have tried something fancy.
-- And there were other moments…the brutal giveaway by Brooks Laich as he was trying to send the puck up ice (it was credited as a takeaway by Dustin Brown) that led to the second Kings goal that was the critical goal of the game coming only 24 seconds before the end of the first period and giving the Kings the lead they would not give up…the weak play down low generally, but especially on the Kings’ fifth goal when Justin Williams and Dustin Penner both got inside and below defensemen Karl Alzner and John Carlson allowing both to whack at the puck in front of Michal Neuvirth (it was an especially difficult game for the Alzner/Carlson pair, which was on the ice for three goals against).
In the end, the Kings looked like a team out of the mold of their head coach, Darryl Sutter – tough, rugged, willing to get their noses dirty down low. The Caps looked like anything but being cut from the mold of their head coach, Dale Hunter. They floated, let the Kings dictate play, failed to match the King’s hard play down low, and wilted in the wake of the Kings’ defense.
You have probably figured out that if this is the way the Caps are going to play, especially on the road, there will be no need to check calendars for schedule conflicts in April, May or June. The difference between teams like the Kings – who were hard to play against, opportunistic, and sturdy on defense – and teams like the Caps, who were none of those things, was on clear display. Teams such as the former play hockey in the spring. Teams such as the latter play golf.
It might behoove the Caps to think upon another quote by Emerson in the same essay…
“Power and speed be hands and feet.”