Sunday, November 16, 2014

A NO-point night -- Game 17: Blues 4 - Capitals 1

The Washington Capitals got off on the wrong foot on their three-game road trip with a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.  It was a game in which the Caps were not so much dominated as they were running in a lower gear than the one in which the Blues were playing.

The Blues took advantage of the Caps’ heavy legs at the start, Washington having played the previous night in a 1-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils.  St. Louis out-shot the Caps, 7-1, and out-attempted them, 12-4, in the first eight minutes. The pressure paid off for the home team when they took advantage of a passive to the point of (literally) prone Caps defense.  It started with a player heading off the ice.  From just inside his own blue line, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk shot the puck up the left wing wall and headed to the bench.  The puck skittered past Jori Lehtera, who was tangled up with Mike Green in front of the players bench, to Jaden Schwartz crossing the Caps’ blue line.  As he skated in he backed Nate Schmidt off, Schmidt eventually leaving his feet and trying from his stomach to sweep the puck off Schwartz’ stick.  It did prevent Schwartz from getting a free shot at Caps goalie Justin Peters, but Schmidt’s momentum carried him out of the play.  Schwartz dropped the puck for Lehtera, who snuck into the middle as Green was trying to come to Schmidt’s rescue, and his shot beat Peters on the glove side to give St. Louis a lead at the 9:11 mark.

That would do it for the first period, which could have ended much worse than it did for the Caps but for some respectable goaltending from Peters.  The Caps, who have made a habit of letting teams hang around in recent games, were just that team as the sides skated into the middle of the second period.  Joel Ward then got the Caps even with a soft goal on goalie Brian Elliott’s part.  Taking a cross-ice feed from Mike Green in the neutral zone, Ward skated the puck down the left wing wall into the Blues’ end.  From the top of the faceoff circle he fired a wrist shot that Elliott tried to trap against his blocker.  He thought he had the puck squeezed tightly, but it dropped behind him and rolled over the line to tie the game 6:38 into the period.

After that it was just a slow leak for the Caps.  St. Louis regained the lead in the 13th minute of the second period when Schwartz finished off a play that started with a clean offensive zone faceoff win by Lehtera against Eric Fehr.  The Blues worked the puck around the perimeter, and when Peters’ save of a Shattenkirk drive from the point was left lying in front, Schwartz fought off Karl Alzner and batted the puck in.

The Caps were still in it, though, after 40 minutes with the score remaining 2-1.  Then, for the second straight game, a Caps goalie giftwrapped a goal from behind their own net.  This time, Peters stopped the puck behind his own net and looked to send it back out to his right.  He heard footsteps, though, those being of Patrik Berglund charging in from Peters’ left.  It was enough for Peters to fan on his passing attempt.  Berglund circled around the back of the cage, slid the puck out to David Backes, and Backes snapped it into the back of the net before Peters could scramble back.

That pretty much ended the competitive portion of the evening as St. Louis clamped down and clogged things up for the Caps.  Berglund got one of his own off a pass from Backes with less than four minutes left for the final 4-1 margin, and the Caps had their second loss in as many nights.

Other stuff…

-- One goal in their last 125:21 for the Caps.  It happens, but the Caps do not seem to be getting anything in terms of second chance shots.  And that brings us to…

-- Power plays.  The Caps came into this game having been awarded the fewest power plays on the road in the league, 14 in six games.  Now, it is 14 in seven games.  They have had two or fewer in each of their last four games on the road.  What made the outcome so strange was that St. Louis came into this game tied for the fourth-most number of power plays allowed at home (34).  And, without an opportunity tonight against the Blues, the Caps suffered their second straight game without a power play goal, the first time this season they went consecutive games without one.

-- Alex Ovechkin had one shot on goal in the first 47:22 of the game. It would have been one thing if the Caps were spreading the shot volumes around (Ovechkin finished with three in the game), and to an extent they did – seven players had two or more shots.  But they had only 25 shots for the game, 11 of those in the third period.  Part of that is not having any power play opportunities, but the Caps spent too much of this game not exerting much pressure in the St. Louis end of the ice.

-- Has the clock struck midnight?  Has the coach turned back into a pumpkin?  Has Marcus Johansson turned back into, well… Marcus Johansson?  He recorded no shots on goal in this game and has not had a shot on goal in the Caps’ last 99:52 of clock time (29:43 of personal ice time).  He was part of a second line that had two shots on goal for the night, Andre Burakovsky and Troy Brouwer recording one apiece.

-- The third line was almost a mirror image of the second line.  Eric Fehr had no shots on goal, while Jason Chimera and Joel Ward had one apiece.  The difference was, of course, Ward scoring on his lone shot.

-- The fourth line of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jay Beagle, and Michael Latta had a combined total of one shot on goal (Kuznetsov).  See a theme here?  Fifteen of the Caps’ 25 shots came from defensemen.  Hard to generate much offense if the shots are coming from outside, and there are no second-chance opportunities.

-- The Caps were consistently short on faceoffs – 42 percent in the offensive zone, 42 percent in the defensive zone, and 41 percent in the neutral zone.  Burakovsky was the only Capital over 50 percent (4-for-7).

-- Tom Wilson… six hits, seven minutes in penalties, a Blues player in each hand.  If his offensive game ever even approximates his physical game, what’s this kid going to be like in five years? 

-- This makes four straight games (in six appearances) that Justin Peters allowed three or more goals.  He is 1-3-0, 3.98, .871.  He doesn’t have to be a stone wall back there, but he has to be able to provide credible relief when called upon.  Right now, he is just leaky enough to be one of the (but certainly not the only) problems this team has.

-- After averaging 3.29 goals a game over a 14 game span starting with their 4-0 shutout of the Boston Bruins on October 11th, the Caps have scored only one goal in their last two games.

In the end…

With this loss the Caps dropped 7-7-3, fifth in the Metropolitan Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference.  By the time the Caps played 17 games last season they were 9-7-1, second in the Metro Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference.  The Caps might be giving their maximum effort, but in the last two games especially they looked very passive in their approach, letting the Devils and Blues dictate pace and dominate position.  Maybe that is a lack of urgency, maybe it is having played four back-to-back sets of games already (the loss to the Blues was the back end of their fourth such set).  Whatever, the Caps need to stop the bleeding and establish some momentum.  They have three days to lick their wounds and figure out how to tighten up in both ends of the rink before the slow leak turns into something they can’t stop.

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