Travel Weary Caps Lose in Minnesota Again

October 28, 2010 | Ed Frankovic

For those of us who have watched sports for a long time, there are certain games on a club’s schedule, in any sport, that you circle on the calendar and say, “You know what? That is going to be a really tough game to win.” For the Washington Capitals on Thursday night, their game in Minnesota against the Wild was one of those such tilts. The Caps, who played a splendid contest in a 3-0 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night, had to travel to the central time zone and take on a team that was 5-0 lifetime against them in the Xcel Energy Center and hadn’t played since Monday evening’s loss to Los Angeles in a shootout. So, as expected, the Capitals struggled to find their energy for much of the contest and as a result dropped a 2-1 decision and their overall record now falls to 6-4 in 2010-11.

The Caps, who didn’t score until Alexander Ovechkin buried his first tally in six games with just over 90 seconds remaining, have now only scored seven goals in six trips to the Wild’s building. Minnesota goalie, Niklas Backstrom, didn’t face a lot of rubber (only 21 shots) but he did have to make some big saves, including several on Nicklas Backstrom, one of which was the save of the game in the middle stanza with the score 1-0 Wild.

Let’s get to the quotes, highlights, and analysis of a game that, if it was the norm for NHL hockey, would put the league out of business due to boredom (and yes I pretty much blame Minnesota’s style of play for that statement):

– The Caps didn’t show up once again in the first period and got themselves behind the eight ball in a game after the first period for the sixth time in the last seven tilts. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was visibly unhappy after the contest and he let it be known that the effort was unacceptable and he wanted nothing to do with any excuses.

“I can think of  about seven guys, off the top of my mind, right now, that had a disappointing effort for the first 50 minutes. You can’t play 10 minutes in this league and hope to win a game. I don’t know what it is but it’s something that we’ve got to come out better. We can’t let the other team take the game to us. For the first half of the game we looked like we were in quick sand. We weren’t moving the puck, we couldn’t handle the puck. I think we might have had a few excuses about being tired which all it was was an excuse because 18 of those 20 guys have played in the American Hockey League at some point and that’s 3 in 3 nights with a lot of busing and they’ve got to play. So I am not buying any of this excuse about being fatigued, emotionally or physically. I’m not very happy with what happened,” stated Boudreau on why his club fell for the sixth straight time in Minnesota.

– The crew that were the heroes in Raleigh on Wednesday were a big part of the losing equation on Thursday night – the fourth line of Dave Steckel, Matt Bradley, and Matt Hendricks. Steckel had a horror show shift that led to Chuck Kobasew tapping in an Andrew Brunette pass from the left post to open the scoring. #39 had a couple of chances to gather the puck and get it out yet he failed, he also wasn’t helped by some lousy coverage in front by defenseman John Carlson. Then with the game still 1-0 late in period two, Bradley got beat to his own net by the strong skating Eric Nystrom and #10 took a holding penalty. The Wild would score on that power play to gain a 2-0 advantage heading into period three.

– It seems like ages ago that Washington had a potent power play that was ranked #1 in the league in the 2009-10 regular season. The Caps continue to struggle to score with the extra man although the puck movement was better on Thursday. The big problem is still a lack of traffic in front of the opposing goalie and few of the Washington forwards want to pay the price and go to the top of the crease for rebounds and deflections. In addition, Ovechkin continues to play the two full minutes on the point and that is leading to odd man rushes and scoring chances as, and after, the power play expires. Simply put, the Great #8 is out there too long and the opponents are taking advantage of it. I’d like to see Ovechkin moved down low, at least for half of the power play, where he can cause havoc in front with his big body and get some rebound goals. With Carlson up this year from the AHL, his shot should be used more from the point.

– Mike Green definitely makes a difference for the Caps and tonight he logged over 30 minutes of ice time. But he is clearly not 100% healthy and he can’t fire the puck the way he normally does due to his shoulder injury. #52 had a golden chance early on to score but he didn’t get the puck up high quick enough and Backstrom slid over to make the save. Green also took a cheap shot from Greg Xanon in the head that the referees missed. He also continues to take a lot of hits and given that he isn’t totally healthy it seems like it would be better if he could be rested before he gets hurt even worse. With Tom Poti out and a thin blue line corps in Hershey, however, GM George McPhee doesn’t have the luxury of being able to sit #52 out until he is healthy.

– There weren’t many guys who played well on Thursday but the Caps did get another consistent performance from Michal Neuvirth in goal. #30 made only 15 saves but a chunk of them were of the quality variety. It was his strong performance that gave Washington a chance to try and tie the game late. Other than that, there were a lot of passengers and the only guy that Boudreau identified as giving what he had was #19 for DC.

“You are looking down the bench but you couldn’t find enough guys who were going, poor Nicky had to play every second shift,” said Boudreau when asked  by Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) about trying to shuffle the deck late in the game to get his team going.

– Minnesota plays a boring, defensive game and they block a lot of shots but the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner seemed tired of hearing about that and put a good bit of that on his own troops.

“It’s determination on their part. But I know if teams were blocking shots when I played, I’d shoot at their head, they won’t block too many then. We’re allowing them to block shots. Shoot it where they are not. It’s one thing sliding and making a great block save but they are just standing there and we are hitting them in the shin pads.” finished a frustrated Boudreau on his clubs lack of offense.

Notes: The Caps next game is in Calgary at 10pm on Saturday night (CSN)…Tyler Sloan only played 7:40 after a good game on Wednesday. #89 made a turnover early in the game that led to a Mathieu Perreault penalty and after that we didn’t see much of him…Alexander Semin had a SH semi-breakaway in the third period but missed the net…Washington outshot the Wild 11-5 in period three..the Caps only had two power plays compared to five for the Wild…Backstrom was 17-7 on face-offs while Perreault went 1-5 and Brooks Laich was 0-5. Overall the Caps lost from the dot, 34-31.