Awful Opening Period Dooms Caps in Loss to Flames

March 28, 2010 | Ed Frankovic

It was a bad Sunday for the Washington Capitals. First, they failed to show up in the first 20 minutes against the Calgary Flames and trailed 4-0 at the first intermission, before eventually losing, 5-3. Second, both of their goalies, who had been near the top of their games recently (especially Jose Theodore) decided to give up a combined three soft goals. Third, after Alexander Ovechkin scored his 46th goal of the season in the second period to reclaim first place in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy, Sidney Crosby tallied twice in his contest versus Toronto to take the lead back at 47. Finally, the loss didn’t allow them to widen their seven point lead on the San Jose Sharks in the battle for the President’s Trophy with just seven games remaining. San Jose, if they defeat the Avalanche on Sunday night, would cut the deficit to just five points, although the Capitals have a game in hand (Colorado leads, 2-1, late in the second period at the time of this post). [UPDATE: Sharks win over Avs, 4-3. Caps lead is only 5 points over San Jose now].

Washington dropped only its fifth game in regulation at home all season (27-5-4) and their overall record is now 49-15-11. The only sliver of good news was the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the New Jersey Devils allowing the Caps to clinch their first ever Eastern Conference regular season title (but that race had been over, unofficially, for weeks).

Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, and analysis of a pretty awful performance by the Caps:

The Calgary Flames came into this contest with their backs against the wall after losing at the Islanders on Thursday (3-2) and gettting shutout in Boston (5-0) on Saturday. In between the 2nd and 3rd periods of the loss to the Bruins, Calgary GM Darryl Sutter went on television and blasted his top forwards and top two defenseman for a lack of effort. So given that the Flames were six points out of a playoff spot with only 7 contests remaining, which means they were a serious longshot to make the postseason already, one would figure that Calgary would either come out with guns ablazing or they would go through the motions. In addition, the Flames are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league (29th) so when they get behind they often do not come back to win.

Well instead of the Caps taking advantage of a team that was down and nearly out, they didn’t show up, as if they forgot to set their clocks ahead. But the time change was two weekends ago so Washington couldn’t use that excuse like they could have in Chicago on March 14th. Calgary came out strong by throwing the body around and finishing nearly every check. The Caps looked disinterested and out of it but then what really gave the Flames some serious life was Theodore. #60 badly misplayed a clear, bad angled Rene Bourque shot and Ales Kotalik, who is softer than butter and is flat out terrible, was allowed to skate right in and put the biscuit by Theo for an awful goal. Then after Mike Green was called for closing his hand on the puck Theodore gave up a rebound and that allowed defenseman Ian White to bank the puck off of him into the net from a very bad angle. Just over two minutes later Jay Bouwmeester, who has stunk for Calgary this season and is a big reason why they will be golfing come April 12th, beat Dave Steckel down the slot and he put home a Bourque pass for just his third tally in 2009-10. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau gave Theodore the hook at that point and brought on Semyon Varlamov, but he allowed a late goal by Nicklas Hagman with traffic in front of him (Jeff Schultz did not move his man out) and it was 4-0 after one. Calgary also outshot Washington, 13-4, in that period.

To be blunt and borrow from Dr. Seuss, I can sum up the Capitals first period in three words: Stink. Stank. Stunk.

“We didn’t have any energy – it looked like we were skating in quicksand. Their [the Flames] sense of urgency was so tremendous,” said Boudreau on his teams first period debacle.

 

Last week I wrote that if Theodore continues to play the way he had been playing than the Caps had a super chance to win the Stanley Cup. Well if #60 plays like he did Sunday a time or two more than he may end up being bench door opener again in the playoffs. Boudreau talked about what he saw from his starting goaltender, why he gave him the hook, and what his plan is going forward.

 

“I just thought he was fighting the puck – every shot was fighting the puck. I didn’t think he had it today. He will be back in on Tuesday. He has played an awful lot of good games that have kept us in during the first period. We just weren’t ready to play in the first period. It was indicative of four shots on goal that you are not ready,” said the head coach on his team and Theodore, who managed to not get the loss today because Varlamov gave up the 4th goal, which was deemed to be the game loser since Washington tallied three times.

 

As for Varlamov, he wasn’t too good either and he cannot allow Bourque’s backhander to hit his stick and carry over him and into the net in the second period after Washington cut the lead to 4-1. Before Varly let in the softy, Joe Corvo, who was pinching down on the play, was dumped with no call in the offensive zone slot and then Nicklas Backstrom, who was covering #77′s point, did an “Ole” defensive move on #17 that allowed him to cut right into the slot all alone on that play. So you can chalk a portion of that goal up to the zebras and a little bit more to #19.

 

Steckel would pay back Bouwmeester, who the Flames are stuck with overpaying at $6.6M per season for four more years, late in the second period by knocking home a Quintin Laing pass by Mikka Kiprusoff (31 saves) to make it 5-2.

 

In the third period the Capitals fired 20 shots on Kipper but only Mathieu Perreault, who was on emergency recall with Brendan Morrison (lower body), Brooks Laich (face), Boyd Gordon (back), and Scott Walker (knee) out with injuries, tallied nicely stuffing home an Ovechkin power play point blast to make it 5-3 with 15 minutes to go. From there the Caps turned up the heat and fired alot of shots towards Kiprusoff, hitting him on some and missing high and wide on numerous others. On paper it looks like with all of those shots that Washington “stormed the castle” but, in reality, most of those came from the perimeter and there was a lack of traffic in front of Kipper. To be honest, the comeback reminded me of a few of the games we saw in the second half of 2008-09 (the near comeback appeared better on paper than it really was). Clearly the team missed Laich’s ability to go to the net and his grit. Still with guys like Mike Knuble, Jason Chimera, and Eric Fehr in the line-up the Capitals should have had more pressure directly in front of the Flames netminder. Boudreau basically confirmed that the 3rd period seemed to be strong but may have been a bit of a mirage.

 

“It is easy to look like you are coming back when the other team is sitting with a three-goal lead … We didn’t have that step. I don’t know how to describe it … We were on four cylinders instead of eight today,” finished Boudreau.

 

We’ll give Theodore and the team a pass today but this type of performance is unacceptable and if we see this type of effort again then there is cause for concern. Collectively, the Caps players afterwards talked like this game was just a blip on the radar.

 

“In the course of many games it’s {a loss or two} going to happen. They had some funny goals. They got some bounces. You just put that one behind you and live for the next day. It’s no indication of anything. It’s just one of those games you’re probably due for. It’s probably good for us at this point,” said Knuble.

 

“We didn’t start the game well. We knew they would come at us hard. Still, we didn’t give up. In the second and third period we had more chances. It was kind of a tough situation. They’re a team that needs points for the playoffs. We knew they’d come at us hard and we were not ready,” added the Great #8, who with the two points he gained on Sunday now has 100 on the season.

 

“We talked about it before the game. We’ve had slow starts before. That was the difference tonight. Otherwise, we would’ve been right there in the running. We shot ourselves in the foot in the first period. [Day games are] different {from} our usual routine. Usually we have a skate in the morning and we’re able to get some rest and come back. That’s no excuse. We need to be ready and focused and for whatever reason, we weren’t. We’ve been in this position before where we’ve been a desperate hockey team. Three years ago when we needed to make a push and win every game to get into the playoffs we were in the same situation that they’re in. When you play desperate hockey, you’re usually successful,” finished Green, who along with partner Schultz were the only Caps defenseman who were not minus players for the day (both even).

 

Notes: Calgary captain Jarome Iginla (1 assist) took exception to a hit from behind from Backstrom in the third period…Kotalik was +3 on the day, which is indicative of how bad the Caps were on Sunday…In my 30 thoughts blog on Saturday I warned Caps fans about Bourque (1 goal, 2 assists) and he was +3 as well, that guy is good…the Flames only had 9 shots after the first period (22 total for the contest)…the face-off battle was knotted at 33 all…next up for the Caps are the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center.

 

 

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