For 40 minutes on Monday the Washington Capitals looked a lot like the team that dominated the NHL en route to the 2009-10 Presidents’ Trophy as they raced out to a 4-1 lead sparked by the recall of Mathieu Perreault (2 goals, +2) from Hershey and Alexander Ovechkin’s second goal in two games. But then the Caps forgot that they had to come out and play the third period and resembled the team that started flat in the first 10 minutes of game five in last season’s playoffs versus Montreal and allowed three goals to let the Toronto Maple Leafs tie the game and send it to ovetime. After a scoreless extra five minute frame, the teams went into a shootout and Mikhail Grabovski scored the only gimmick goal on a spinorama to give the Leafs an amazing come from behind 5-4 victory. The loss drops the Caps to 18-8-3 but they did register a point. However, the streaking Atlanta Thrashers won again on Monday knocking off the Nashville Predators in overtime and trail Washington by only six points in the Southeast Division and they have a game in hand. The Tampa Bay Lightning are also the same number of points behind but have played two less games than the Capitals.
Let’s get to the highlights, quotes and analysis of Washington’s second straight loss on home ice:
– The glass half full people will point out that the Caps should be excused for the third period collapse because they weren’t motivated against a Toronto team that is among the worst in the league in the standings and lack talent. They will be optimistic about the play of Perreault, who centered the second line with Alexander Semin (assist, +1) and Brooks Laich (assist, +1), for bringing energy and giving Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau some balanced scoring. In addition, they will talk about how the team took Boudeau’s message from Saturday about going to the net and potted four goals, the first three of which came because of traffic in front of Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson (32 saves). Laich did the screen job on the first two tallies while Semin went hard to the paint on Perreault’s second marker of the night and paid for it with a hit to the head from Leafs d-man Mike Komisarek. Finally, they will be happy because the Great #8 scored on a laser to make it 4-1 and immediately went by the penalty box and thanked tough guy DJ King for standing up to heavyweight Colton Orr in a fight. Orr had cheap shotted Ovechkin on an earlier second period shift and King, as he should do, took exception and motivated his club with the bout, which was pretty much a draw.
– The glass half empty crew, though, are likely to have as much to say. They will point out the Capitals poor defensive zone coverage in the third period and state that Washington didn’t really take Boudreau’s message about working hard to heart because after the first period they failed to draw a Toronto penalty, despite earning three in the first 20 minutes. The detractors will mention the numerous defensive zone giveaways, including Karl Alzner’s that led to the Leafs first tally. In addition, they will criticize the team’s inability to compose themselves in the last three minutes of this tilt, a stretch that saw Toronto score twice to tie the game up. Finally, they will preach about the Capitals lack of killer instinct and point out that a team that is this inconsistent in the regular season simply can’t turn it on and be strong enough throughout two months of the post season to capture a Stanley Cup.
– The bottom line is there is some truth to both arguments and Boudreau and GM George McPhee need to figure out where they need to address issues and areas where they shouldn’t over-react. After all, McPhee did tell many of us on media day that he doesn’t care a lot about the Presidents’ Trophy, and is only focused on a long playoff run so, in a way, those words give his players an out when they “mail it in” for portions of contests. It is only December but sometimes a little adversity is not a bad thing for a hockey club, in the long run. Last season the Capitals rarely faced it, although they did have a couple of three game losing streaks similar to this one. The team did go harder to the net for most of the first 40 minutes and that is when they were nearly impossible to deny, but the problem becomes how do they keep that desire and compete level up for a full 60 minutes? Much of the defensive breakdowns were not being out of position or caught up ice, in fact, on most Leafs goals Capitals players were all back in the general vicinity of where they needed to be, however, they quit skating.
– Now that you’ve heard my take on the loss, let’s hear what the coaches and some of the players had to say on a commendable effort by Ron Wilson’s club.
“Washington got a little sloppy towards the end. I think they thought the game was over but kept on playing and [we] took advantage of some of their miscues in their end. It’s great for our team,” said the Leafs coach and former Capitals bench boss on his teams comeback.
“We quit playing in our zone. We just wanted to play safe. You can’t just allow a team to come into our zone all night long. When they were in our zone, our positioning, by both defensemen and forwards, was really bad,” commented Boudreau on how his team imploded in the third period.
”I don’t know what happened [in] the last 10 minutes. It started with our line when [Mikhail] Grabovski scored. 4-to-1 lead after two periods is pretty big. Losing a game like this is pretty bad for us. It’s a lesson and it’s good we have another game soon,” added team captain Ovechkin.
“When we do what he tells us to do, we succeed. When we don’t, that’s what happens in the third. We set out a game plan. We did it really well in the first two periods. The third period – shame on us,” said d-man Tom Poti, who had three assists but was on the ice for the game tying goal by Clarke MacArthur, which came with “The Monster” on the bench for the sixth attacker.
“He brought great energy tonight, like we thought. He made plays, like we thought. If some of the other forwards had played with as much energy as him, we wouldn’t have been in the situation we were in,” finished Boudreau when asked about Perreault and why his club lost in the shootout, despite a three goal lead after two periods.
“Every time I get called up it seems like the first game I’m flying. Now it’s just a matter of doing it every night. I felt good tonight. It’s just unfortunate that we came out with a loss here. I thought we played good for the first two periods and in the third we got away from our game and it cost us,” said #85, who was easily the star of the night for Washington.
Notes: Perreault was recalled today from Chocolatetown…Eric Fehr was scratched, supposedly a healthy one according to Mike Vogel of WashingtonCaps.com, along with Dave Steckel and d-man John Erskine. Tyler Sloan went on injured reserve to free up a roster spot for #85…however, Jeff Schultz took a shot off of his hand in the second period and fractured his thumb and will miss 4 to 6 weeks. Sarge played 10:32 before the injury ended his evening…Michal Neuvirth (24 saves) started and was a mixed bag, just like his teammates. He was really good early in the second period when the Leafs pressed for the tying tally, but in the third period he probably should have had Grabovski’s goal that started the rally…Washington won the face-off battle, 33-25, with Boyd Gordon going 12-3 and Nicklas Backstrom (2 assists, -2) winning 12 of 18 draws…next up for the Capitals are the Florida Panthers at 7pm on Thursday night. It is not the type of opponent the Caps will get up for and they could really use a game against someone like the Pittsburgh Penguins to get their blood flowing and focus back. Unfortunately the hated Pens are not on the schedule until December 23rd.