If you attended Tuesday night’s tilt between the Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators at the Verizon Center then you certainly were entertained. Unfortunately for those fans that came to “Rock The Red” the Caps once again struggled in the first period to fall behind, 3-1, then rallied to take a brief 4-3 third period lead, before losing in overtime to the Sens, 5-4. Jason Spezza pumped in two goals and added two assists while Daniel Alfredsson notched three assists to pace an Ottawa power play that scored three times in just four attempts. The loss drops the Caps overall record to 49-15-12 (110 points) and their magic number for clinching the President’s Trophy is seven points. Any combination of Capitals points gained and San Jose Sharks points missed out on will give the Washington franchise it’s first ever regular season title.
Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, stats, and analysis of a game that had everyone on the edge of their seats on numerous occassions:
You’ve often heard me quote Caps great Rod Langway who said “Everything starts with the goaltender on out.” Well tonight that is where the failing began. Jose Theodore (26 saves) gave up a very soft first goal on a backhander on the first Ottawa shot to Peter Regin and he allowed three others that he would probably like to have back. Theo, who was red hot up until Sunday’s loss to Calgary, struggled in the first period and he particularly had a hard time holding his posts, which resulted in several short side tallies for Ottawa. All five of the Senators goals came from near the goal line and the only one I can’t fault him on was Spezza’s first goal that was a tap in of a Matt Cullen power play point blast. On that lamp lighter Caps defenseman Shaone Morrisonn shoved Mike “Mr. Carrie Underwood” Fisher into his net minder giving #60 no chance to make a play. Theo did recover from a poor first period and make some decent stops but at the end of the game, when Washington needed the big saves to win it, he could not deliver.
“Well, I don’t like five goals against. This has happened twice in a row and we gotta get better. There were four pretty iffy goals out there tonight,” added Boudreau on Theodore, who despite the loss is now 17-0-3 in his last 20 starts. But let’s be honest here, these last two games have to give Capitals fans major cause for concern because it was around this time last season that Theodore began some uneven play that eventually led to him being yanked after game one of the Rangers series.
Special teams were a disaster on Tuesday night as the Sens went 3 for 4 with the man advantage while the Caps were only 1 for 5. Washington’s power play was just plain bad. Without Brooks Laich (face) playing there was a lack of net presence and the Caps players seemed intent on forcing the puck to Alexander Ovechkin for point blasts. The problem with that plan was Ottawa knew it and as a result they did a super job of clogging the firing lanes. The Senators blocked 28 shots total to just 8 for Washington. That, my friends, is the stat of the night. On the PK, the goaltending was bad as Theo struggled with his positioning when the puck was down low all evening. In addition, his defenseman looked lost at times. I am especially tired of seeing Capitals defenders leave their feet to try and block a pass only to watch them deflect it into their own net. Message to Tom Poti and Jeff Schultz: Falling to the ice will nine times out of ten likely leave you in a vulnerable position where bad things are probably going to happen. It is just like in basketball where leaving your feet to try and block a shot will typically give the offensive player an advantage.
Washington only had 21 shots on the evening and just four in the opening stanza plus only six in the third period. That is not enough and the highly skilled Caps lineup was a major victim of overpassing. Yes, the Senators did a good job of blocking shots but the Capitals did not do enough of shooting and driving to the cage for rebounds, instead often opting to be cute or thread the needle on a pass. Senators goalie Brian Elliott (17 saves) has had a good season but he is not one of the top goalies in the NHL. Sometimes I think the Caps forwards just out think themselves.
“I think it was more their playing good defensively than us playing bad offensively in the first period. We were a little cute once we got inside their zone. They blocked an awful lot of shots tonight. They really protected their goalie well, especially in the first period,” added Boudreau on what he saw from his club, especially in the first period.
Speaking of first periods, the Caps have now been outscored 9-1 in those during this three game losing streak (0-1-2) and for the second straight contest they were outshot 13-4 in the opening frame.
“I don’t know, actually. We played great in the second and third. It’s hard to say. Maybe we’re not ready for the first period. But we have to because I remember last year in the playoffs we weren’t ready the first two games. We have to get ready now. Maybe play a good 60 minutes. We haven’t played a good 60 minutes for a while,” said Caps forward Nicklas Backstrom, who was whistled for tripping with 32 seconds left in overtime, and that allowed the Senators to score the game winner on Alexei Kovalev’s deflection.
On the four penalties, three were in the offensive zone and are unacceptable (Backstrom’s trip, Mathieu Perreault’s interference, and Alexander Semin’s trip). The Caps need to clean that up before the post season.
The good news is despite all of the bad listed above it took OT for Ottawa to defeat the Caps. The Senators have now won three times versus Washington this season (Caps were 1-1-2 in the season series), although two have been in overtime. When the game was five on five the Capitals carried the play and showed off their skill. They made several mistakes, as mentioned previously, but they also didn’t get the bounces. Perreault, except for his penalty that allowed Ottawa to tie the game, drew two penalties and scored a super goal on a backhander off of a nice Eric Fehr feed. Semin had two tallies, his 36th and 37th of the season, and is now one goal shy of his career high (38 in 2006-07). He has goals in five of the last seven games, and points in five straight games (five goals, one assist). In three games against the Senators this season, Semin leads all Caps players with five goals. He now has 11 multiple-goal games on the season. Mike Green had another solid game and his 18th goal this year gives him 72 points (18 goals, 54 assists) on the season, leaving him one point shy of his career high (73 in 2008-09). Green leads all NHL defensemen in points, assists and goals.
The Caps struggled down the stretch last season causing some to try and link a period that left Washington ill-prepared for the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs with what is currently happening in 2010, as the post season approaches. Boudreau was quick to discount drawing any comparisons, simply based on the level of play combined with the situation facing Washington’s opponents.
“The difference between last year and this year, is last year we were playing teams that were out of the playoffs, so our level of play came way down. I think the teams we’re playing are fighting for something. That was a hard-fought game. That wasn’t a go-through-the-motions type game. Let’s get the season over with. You had two teams wanting it. I don’t think our level of play will be dropping, like it was last year,” finished Boudreau.
Notes: Defenseman John Carlson left the game in the second period after a collision in his own zone and only logged 9:06 of ice time, forcing the Caps to go with just five defenseman for the second half of the contest. I saw Carlson after the game and he didn’t appear to be in pain but he is likely day to day with an upper body injury…The Caps fell to 10-12 in games decided by overtime this season. Nine of Washington’s last 17 games and seven of the last 11 have gone to overtime. From Dec. 12 to Feb. 5 only one of 26 Capitals games went to overtime…Blame Canada? The Capitals finished the season 6-5-4 (.533) against Canadian teams this season. They are 43-10-8 against U.S.-based teams this season. (.770)…Laich, Brendan Morrison (lower body), Scott Walker (knee) and Boyd Gordon (back) all missed the game due to injury..John Erskine and Tyler Sloan were the defensive scratches…Next up for the Caps are the Atlanta Thrashers on Thursday night at the VC.
Note: The Caps and the NHL recently released a DVD collection of the Capitals 10 greatest games. Unfortunately, due to lack of video archives, the list is heavily weighted towards more recent games. As a result of this, On Frozen Blog’s (www.onfrozenblog.com) John Keeley and I, just this week, have compiled a list of what we think the 10 greatest games in Caps history are based on a combination of importance and excitement. We will bring that to you via this blog and OFB, likely on Thursday. John and I also had a chance to do a dual interview with former Capitals Coach and now Senators GM, Bryan Murray, after the contest to get his take on the five games from OUR list that were from his coaching era. So please check back over the next couple of days for that story as well as video and quotes from our session with one of the classiest and most accomodating people in the NHL.