Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Washington Capitals: The Cousins Sittin' On The Porch Looking Back at Game 3

The Washington Capitals dropped their first round playoff series to the Toronto Blue Jays last night in a 4-3 overtime loss.  It was the…

Cheerless!... Step away from the keyboard.  It’s the Toronto Maple Leafs, not the “Blue Jays” – allegedly a baseball team – and the Caps only lost their second game of the series, not the clincher.

Now, what have we here?  Oh yeah… the Caps lost last night.  Tough one.  Gagged on a two-goal lead.  Another overtime.  What happened?  Where does the series go from here?  On what is “National Animal Cracker Day” in the United States, it’s all we can do to keep from going “animal crackers” with the way this team can confound its fans.  Let’s bring the cousins in for some insight…

Cheerless… Say what you want, but this series has the stink of my boots after cleaning fish on a July day.  In the “did you know” department, did you know that the Caps have yet to beat Blue Ja… uh, Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen in regulation time in his career?  Two wins and an overtime loss in three regular season decisions, and now two wins and an overtime loss in three postseason decisions.  The Caps better find a way to solve this guy in something less than 60 minutes, or we’re going to be breaking out the golf clubs a lot quicker than we thought.

Fearless… Solving Andersen has not been their problem.  His even strength save percentage is middle-of-the-pack in the playoffs so far (.942 – ninth among 17 goalies to dress so far), and only four goalies have allowed more even strength goals than he has (six).  The trouble is, the only goalie he has to outplay is the one at the other end of the ice.  In that sense, this is a two goalie ranking.  You’re either first or last.  And at the moment, Andersen is first, because Braden Holtby’s even strength save percentage is just .918, and he’s one of those four goalies to have allowed more even strength goals than Andersen (eight).  On the one hand, he has a respectable .925 save percentage in the even-strength portion of games.  On the other, he is .800 in three overtimes, and he now has a 7-11 win-loss record in overtime in his career.


Fearless… Alex Ovechkin is rested.  He finished the regular season with nine straight games playing less than 20 minutes, and he’s been under 20 minutes in two of three games in this series.  The 15:08 he played on Monday night was the second-lowest ice time in the postseason of his career, surpassed only by the 13:36 he played in a 3-2 Caps win over the New York Rangers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2012.  He had the game-winning goal in that game.  Last night, the problem was penalties.  The Caps took four in the third period and faced three Toronto power plays (one carried over into overtime, the one on which they scored the game-winning goal).  So, Ovechkin skated only 4:13 in the third period.

Cheerless… Cuz, I’m not the best at arithmetic, but if I take 4:13 from 15:08 in total ice time, he still skated less than 11 minutes over the first two periods.  Can anyone explain that one?  Six forwards had more even strength ice time than Ovechkin (12:40), and Brett Connolly had almost as much (12:13).  At this time of year, you can’t say for certain that he’s not hurt.  Players hide injuries as best they can.  But if he’s not hurt, what’s with the ice time?


Cheerless… The Caps have had their second period troubles this season, so scoring four goals and allowing four goals in the middle period over three games is not surprising.  But this is a team that owned the first and third periods this season.  But they have a minus-1 goal differential in the first period and a plus-1 in the third.  What’s worse, they struggle to get and maintain separation from this team.  They allowed the first goal in Games 1 and 2.  They seemed to get past that bugaboo last night with two early goals, but then they let Toronto back into the game.  They seem to treat the matter like it was one of those small-plate dinners…. “oh, two goals, that’s enough…we’re full.”  Guys, it’s a buffet!  Eat up! 

Fearless… The silver lining in those goals by period is that the Caps have not allowed a third period goal in any of the three games and outshooting the Leafs, 30-21 in the third periods of games.  That turned around a bit last night, when the Caps went the first 13:26 of the period in a tie game without a shot on goal, but on the other side they did hold the Leafs to nine shots in the period in a tie game, too.


Fearless… If the Caps ever piece together more pieces of a complete effort, they can end this series successfully.  In Game 1, the Caps got a power play goal, a goal from a second-liner (both by Justin Williams), and an overtime winner from a fourth-liner (Tom Wilson).  Game 2 it was two power play goals (Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson) and one from a top-liner (Nicklas Backstrom).  In Game 3, it was the top line getting a pair (Backstrom, Ovechkin), and the second line getting one (Evgeny Kuznetsov).  What they haven’t done is piece more of it together in a game.  It’s been either this or that, not both this and that.

Cheerless… And it’s been “where the #@$% is the third line” in all three games.  No points in three games (Andre Burakovsky has a power play assist).  The off season solved this problem, or so we thought, because these guys – Burakovsky, Lars Eller, and Brett Connolly – have had a pretty good year together.  But the same things that killed the Caps against the Penguins last season – getting outdone in the bottom-six matchup, especially on the third line – is coming back again.  Hey, Corsi is nice.  Goals are better.


Cheerless… Weird fact…Toronto is the 12th different franchise that the Caps have met in the postseason.  In the first meetings against the other 11 franchises, the Caps have a series record of 3-8.  Except for beating the Philadelphia Flyers in a best-of-five series back in 1984, a three-game sweep (to date the only Caps sweep in franchise playoff history), the only other series the Caps won against teams they faced for the first time in the playoffs were in 1998, when they beat the Ottawa Senators and the Buffalo Sabres on their way to their first and only Stanley Cup final.  Trouble is, the Caps were 2-1 after three games of both of those series, not 1-2.

Fearless… Except for that godforsaken west coast trip in March (and the Dallas Stars game that preceded it), the Caps haven’t lost three in a row since November.  If you are thinking they don’t have it in them to win three more games, this is a team that had nine winning streaks of three or more games this season.  Taking back control of this series is not some flight of fancy, of hoping they can do things heretofore unheard of this season. 


Peerless… The Caps are perched on a knife blade.  You get the feeling that they haven’t yet put together a complete 60-minute game and/or have not had more than one element of their game working for any length of time.  When another gets going, the first one shuts down.  If they can consolidate their efforts and get more than one forward line working over 60 minutes and/or get their defense playing responsibly more consistently, they can still make the Leafs pay.

On the other hand, there will be all sort of happy talk about this team being different, that history doesn’t matter, that worry is something for the fans.  But this is also a team that in this era – since 2008, not going back to the dim past of Rod Langway and Mike Gartner – has advanced to the second round five times in nine seasons, but no farther.  That wall of history ahead between them and the next round is one they’ve spent time laying bricks to build, too.  The trick is going to be finding the sledgehammer to knock it down.  The only “must-win” game at this time of year is an elimination game, but Game 4 takes on the character of “seriously…if you want a decent chance to advance…”  Better find that sledgehammer quick.