Caps Lose Lead, Game to Flyers
The Washington Capitals, who were winners of 13 straight home games against Eastern Conference opponents, raced to an early 2-0 second period lead over the visiting Philadelphia Flyers before a third period collapse resulted in three Flyer goals in 3:19 and allowed their hated rivals to win another game at sold out Verizon Center. The Caps took nine penalties on Tuesday night, many of them of the lazy variety, and those infractions allowed the Flyers to get back in the game on a five on three power play in the second period on Claude Giroux’s fourth goal of the season, after the Caps dominated most of the first 30 minutes
Paul Devorski, who horribly refereed that Game 7 playoff loss last April with Don Koharski, was one of the officials again on Tuesday and he wasn’t very good as usual (the roughing call on Jose Theodore was absolutely horrible), but he wasn’t the primary reason Washington lost. The Caps can blame their inability to finish numerous scoring chances (I can’t count how many quality shots were fired high or wide) and a porous defenese that allowed the line of Joffrey Lupul, Jeff Carter, and Scott Hartnell to take over the game in the third period for this bitter loss. That line made the Caps defense look slow and soft at times and Jeff Schultz had one of his worst games of the season. If Washington meets Philadelphia in the playoffs there is no doubt that the Flyers will continue their tactic of crashing the net and hitting the Caps defense. Clearly this game has to be an indication that Caps GM George McPhee has to upgrade his defense at the trade deadline (March 4th) because it seems that every time Washington plays the Flyers they lay out a blueprint of how to beat the Caps with speed and power up front. Rookie Karl Alzner could help because he is a better skater but I have been unimpressed with recent acquisition Staffan Kronwall, who couldn’t even crack a poor Toronto Maple Leafs defense before being claimed by Washington.
As for the Washington offense, Alexander Ovechkin was once again the key guy setting up Nicklas Backstrom’s opening goal on the power play and then snapped home a bad clearing pass by Carter past Antero Niittymaki, who seems to own the Caps, to make it 2-0 Washington less than five minutes into the second period. But from there on out every time Washington got a quality scoring chance, and there were many of them at even strength, on the power play, and shorthanded (the Caps had several shorthanded breakaways), either Niittymaki (33 saves) came up big or Washington misfired (and it was mostly the latter case – Caps shots that didn’t even hit the net).
“The theme of the whole night is not cashing in on chances. You get five or six breakaways and you don’t hit the net on any of them, Brooks Laich might have hit the net on his, but everyone else missed the net. If you don’t get a score when you have the opportunity, eventually those opportunities dry up and the other team gets opportunities. That was pretty evident, I thought. They don’t hit the net in this game, goalies get confidence and when that happens and the other team picks it up because there are ebbs and flows in each game, the second goal [Scott] Hartnell scored and we came unglued a little bit,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the loss.
Caps goalie Jose Theodore made 33 saves and played pretty well but his defense let him down big time in the third period.
“I didn’t think anything was going to get by him until the second goal. The first goal, there was nothing he could do. He was left stranded in a five-on-three, but I thought he was outstanding the first two periods. If he doesn’t get any help, he’s not going to stop the puck,” finished Boudreau on his goalie.
The loss drops the Caps to 38-18-5 but Washington maintained its 13 point lead in the Southeast Division over the Florida Panthers who were drummed, 6-1, by the Boston Bruins on Tuesday. After the Caps play Atlanta at home on Thursday they go to Boston on Saturday afternoon and then return home on Sunday to play the Panthers at 3pm.
Notes: The Caps play 13 of their remaining 21 games against Southeast Division foes. Defenseman Milan Jurcina only had 9:32 of ice time and continues to struggle to get his shot on net as they either get blocked or they miss the net. Ovechkin had 9 shots on goal. Forward Matt Bradley’s neutral zone breakdown allowed the Flyers to get started on their three goal outburst that won the game. In addition to Laich’s shorthanded chances, Backstrom hit the post on another shorthanded breakaway and Philadelphia remains the only team in the NHL to not allow a shorthanded goal. Philadelphia was without defenseman Kimmo Timonen (flu) and forward Danny Briere (groin) while the Caps were without forward Viktor Kozlov (groin). The Flyers were lucky tonight to keep the no shorthanded goals streak going and got the breaks to win the game (but the Caps needed to be stronger in their own zone).
With only one game on the NHL docket on Monday night I got the chance to catch up with an NHL scout to get his thoughts on things as the trade deadline approaches on March 4th. Here are some of the highlights:
– Florida GM Jacques Martin, who the scout says doesn’t really know the players in the league very well, will likely ask for too much for free agent Jay Bouwmeester, who has turned down a contract extension in the Sunshine State. The scout sees Edmonton as a very logical fit for #4 but thinks Martin will want at least young forward Sam Gagner in return and he doesn’t see Oiler GM Steve Tambellini as being willing to part with #89.
– Ottawa will definitely move free agent defensemen Filip Kuba.
– Calgary will be making some moves because they recently lost forward Rene Bourque and defensemen Mark Giordano for the season due to injuries.
– When discussing Washington’s backup goalie situation the scout pointed out that many teams in the league are in the same boat as the Caps (i.e, if their number one goalie gets hurt they are in big trouble) but he also says that McPhee is playing that situation low key so as not to drive up the price for another goalie.
– The coaching change in New York will only have short term effects because the Rangers have their hands tied up with bad contracts in defenseman Wade Redden and forwards Chris Drury and Scott Gomez. The scout said that he sees Ottawa turning things around quicker than the Rangers can strictly because of the contracts and the salary cap.
– We discussed the Michael Nylander situation. The scout says noone will likely trade for him because of the high amount remaining on his contract so that leaves McPhee with two options after the season – send him to the minors or buy him out. The buy out seems to be the likely option and the terms on that are 2/3 of the remaining money can be spread out over double the remaining time on the contract. Since Nylander is due $9M over the next two years the Caps can buy #92 out at $6M spread over four years. That doesn’t seem too bad but it means that the GM basically will have to admit that he made a mistake signing him, although McPhee could use Nylander’s shoulder injury as an excuse for the drop off in the Swede’s play. I can’t see Nylander back with Washington next season.
FINAL NOTE: In case you missed my Tuesday 730am on-air session with Drew on the Comcast Morning Show you can hear it via WNST’s audio vault.