After three straight losses the Washington Capitals came out a determined bunch and played arguably their best period of the season in jumping to a 2-0 lead on Martin Brodeur and the Devils after one period on Monday only to see New Jersey storm back and win the game in a shootout, 3-2, at a sold out Verizon Center. The loss drops the Caps record to 2-2-2 on the season.
There were lots of positives tonight and of course any time you lose there are some negatives so let’s get right to it.
First the positives:
- Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau juggled his top two lines and put forwards Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble together for the first time since pre-season and the line had instant chemistry and each player was +2 on the evening. The Great #8 had two assists including a beautiful cross ice pass to Knuble that he shot quickly past a sliding Brodeur. The three forwards created scoring chances all evening and had 13 of Washington’s 33 shots on goal.
- “Mike’s [Knuble] a professional, a real pro, and he’s started out really good. I thought that he played a solid game,” added Boudreau.
- Mike Green, who turned 24 on Columbus Day, scored his first goal of the season thanks to a rebound of an Ovechkin shot and a Knuble screen. #52 was very noticeable, in a good way, against the Devils rushing the puck with speed and authority plus making the outstanding breakout passes we have come to expect from the 2008-09 Norris Trophy finalist. Boudreau has to be very encouraged by the bounce back Green displayed after taking a critical penalty in Detroit on Saturday night.
- Jose Theodore (27 saves) was absolutely phenomenal before the shootout, especially in overtime when the Caps had to kill off a 4 on 3 Devils power play (Brendan Morrison was called for tripping). Theodore made several big saves in regulation as well and neither goal could be labeled as totally his fault. #60 seems to have seized the #1 goaltending job with authority as evidenced by the following stats: Theodore has a .930 save percentage in his four starts this season (107 saves, 8 GA).
- Penalty Killing: The Caps killed off all five Devils power plays including one late in regulation and the aforementioned one in overtime. Your best penalty killer typically has to be your goalie and Theodore was definitely it on Monday.
- Playing the system: Washington held the Devils to only 14 shots through two periods and did a good job of not giving New Jersey time and space. Even in the third period the Caps played the system well except for the one shift in which the Devils tied the game at two.
- “We had one bad shift in the third period, I thought. And they scored on it; we couldn’t get the puck [out]. We were getting it deep, we were doing all the right things and that one shift where they kept it in their zone for about a minute… everybody on the bench and in the building knew that something bad was going to happen here, but I was actually quite pleased with the resilience after that because it has happened four times in a row now and it’s easy to drop your head and say ‘woe is me, here we go again.’ But they fought through a penalty and a four on three in the overtime, so I thought the resilience was pretty good,” said Boudreau.
- Despite the loss, overall there was an improvement in the play of the team from the previous three losses to Philadelphia, the New York Rangers, and Detroit.
- “[For two periods] I thought we shut them down pretty good and that is a really hard working team. I think it is the process of learning how to win again. You know when you’ve got it Instead of thinking “uh oh what is going to happen, what can go wrong?” you are sitting their “no problem, it is tied and we are going to win it” and I think that is sort of the mindset a little bit right now so it will be good eventually to win a game again,” finished Boudreau.
Now the negatives,
- While the juggling of the lines worked well for the first line, the second unit of Brooks Laich, Morrison, and Alexander Semin did not have a good game.
- “I thought that the other line struggled a little bit with the switch with [Alexander] Semin, [Brendan] Morrison and [Brooks] Laich, I think they were on for both of their [New Jersey Devils] goals, so we’ve got to find a switch that works for everybody,” commented the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winning coach.
- John Erskine left the game early in the second period and did not return.
- “He blocked a shot and it is an upper body injury, he is day to day right now. Nothing is broken..he is just sore,” said Boudreau.
- The Caps power play had a 5 on 3 advantage for 53 seconds and failed to score. Washington was 0 for 5 on the evening with the man advantage
- “We had a five-on-three…those are the ones that you have to have the killer instinct and put it away [score a goal]. For whatever reason we had the same trouble at the beginning of last year with five-on-threes, and everybody wants to be the scorer and nobody wants to be the guy that is doing the grunt work in front of the net,” added Boudreau.
- Theodore gave up two goals on two attempts in the shootout and only Backstrom, with a beautiful top corner shot, tallied for the Caps against the future hall of famer in Brodeur. The Capitals fell to 16-27 all-time in games decided by a shootout (0-1 this season). Last season, two of the four games in the series between the Caps and Devils were decided by a shootout. The Devils won both contests, on Oct. 18 at Verizon Center (with Martin Brodeur in net), and on Nov. 15 in New Jersey (with Scott Clemmensen in net).
- Semin was the primary culprit on the first Devils goal since he was caught out of position in the offensive zone when he should have been the “third forward high” and that gave the Devils a 3 on 2 break the other way. Semin had 19:45 of ice time, including 4:23 on the power play, yet he only had 1 shot on goal compared to 3 giveaways. In my opinion, #28 expended the worst effort of any Capital on Monday showing up positively only in small spurts. The guy has incredible talent but some nights he just looks like he wants to be elsewhere. I had asked a Western Conference scout over the summer if he thought Semin, who is only 25 years old, is capable of maturing and becoming more consistent. The reply I received: “No, what you see is the way he has always been and played since he was 16 years old.” Given that Semin is an unrestricted free agent after this season one would think he would be focused night in and night out to get the big contract, however, the scouts comments seem to be accurate based on what I’ve seen from #28 in the first six games
Other Notes and Tidbits:
The Caps were 30-20 on face-offs with Dave Steckel leading the way going 11-2.
Outstanding Hershey Bears radio play by play man, John Walton, was in the building tonight and I got a chance to first listen in on his interview with John Keeley over at On Frozen Blog and then talk with him myself. Walton says that Goalie Braden Holtby has been superb but Michal Neuvirth is due back this weekend which will make figuring out the net minder rotation in Hershey difficult since veteran Jason Bacashihua is also in the mix. The Caps would like for both Holtby and Neuvirth to play over 50 games this season so sending Holtby to South Carolina to play for the Stingrays could be an option. Hershey is 3-1 and suffered their first loss, 2-1, to Manchester on Sunday primarily because of the play of Monarchs (and LA Kings property) goalie Jonathan Bernier.
Walton also mentioned that Caps first round draft picks Karl Alzner and John Carlson have been playing together on defense, have been dominant, are the best defensive pairing for the Bears, and are getting the most ice time. Walton is convinced that the two will be playing as a Washington Capitals defensive pairing in 2010-11. By the way, the Caps only have 3 of their current 8 NHL defenseman (Green, Tom Poti, and Erskine) under contract next season. Milan Jurcina, Shaone Morrisonn, Brian Pothier, and Tyler Sloan are all unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2010 while Jeff Schultz is a restricted free agent.
Next up for the Caps are the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night at the Verizon Center so the difficult early part of the schedule just gets harder.