For two periods of hockey tonight anyone who watched the Caps game and was not a Kings fan had to wonder why they were wasting their time because this was the worst two periods of hockey I have seen Washington play all season long. The defensemen, who played so great in New Jersey in Tuesday’s win, were absolutely atrocious giving up breakaway after breakaway and if not for some decent goaltending from Jose Theodore this game would have been long over before the 3rd period. After two periods it was 4-2 Kings and Los Angeles had outshot the Caps 30-23.
In typical fashion, the Caps rallied in the third period firing 22 shots on Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, who was great tonight, to LA’s five but the Kings left town with a narrow 5-4 victory.
There wasn’t much good tonight, except for Alexander Ovechkin’s 200th career goal and the fact that I got a chance to talk with former Skipjacks and Caps coach, and now LA Kings coach, Terry Murray for about 10 minutes after the game. Terry is loving life coaching a young Kings team and even though Washington stunk for most of the game he did have some nice things to say about this Caps team.
“They are very explosive and [Ovechkin] is one of the best goal scorers in the game. They are a young team and getting better every time I see them and that is the process that teams go through,” said Murray on this year’s Washington team.
Murray coached what I thought was the best Caps team ever back in 1991-92 and he is having fun with this very young Kings team that he hopes will follow in the footsteps of the current Washington team (right now the Kings are only four points out of a playoff spot in a year they were expected to finish last in the Western Conference).
“We have some good young players and we hope they will develop like they are developing here with the Washington Capitals, so it is pretty exciting for me to see these players on our hockey club come in here tonight, playing against one of the premier teams in the league, and giving a big focus, a big push, and getting two points,” finished Murray.
Focus and push were two words that could not be used to describe the Caps effort tonight and Coach Bruce Boudreau confirmed that in his postgame quotes.
“The first two periods were as bad as we’ve played all year. They’ve got good speed, and they were coming up the middle well. Our guys were all over the place. We weren’t playing anywhere near what we’re supposed to be doing. That’s the frustrating part of the game. The game plan was to get it deep and play it deep in their corners. And how many times did we lose the puck by trying to be too cute at the blue line. That part is unacceptable. We go over this stuff, but when you don’t follow the game plan, you’re not doing stuff that’s good for the team. The first period wasn’t pretty, but the second period was downright ugly. After big games, you have a letdown, and hopefully, it’s a one-time thing and we’ll get back to where we’re supposed to be. We certainly didn’t play like the team that’s played the three or four previous games. We didn’t match their energy because we didn’t play good. In the third period, I thought we had a little more energy than them,” said Boudreau on tonight’s loss.
Washington continues to play poorly against the Western Conference (7-9) and does not seem to get up for some of the teams below them in the standings. They do seem to play well when challenged so the tough part for Boudreau and Caps GM George McPhee is to decide what they should do going forward with this team. Do they stay the course or do they make some moves at the trade deadline (March 4th)?
My opinion is, this team is soft on the back end and in places up front so they need to get a big defensemen to clear their own net and a power forward who can go to the net. All you have to do is look at the 3rd period to see that because as hard as Washington played in that final period they only got two goals on 22 shots yet gave up a goal on only five opposing shots and that was another case of the opposing team going hard to the net and outworking the Washington defense down low. Teams will continue to do this until the Caps play more physical on defense and I just don’t see this set of defensemen being able to do that. On offense, the Caps are often too focused on passing the puck around the perimeter and not going to the net hard for rebounds, outside of Brooks Laich. Therefore I think a guy like Keith Tkachuk, who would cost about $1M for the last month, would be a very good fit.
Next up for the Caps are the Florida Panthers who were the first team this year to beat Washington at the Verizon Center back on December 2nd. The Caps are 12 points up on Florida heading into Saturday’s game at the Verizon Center but the Panthers have two games in hand. It will be interesting to see which Washington team shows up on Saturday night. 16 of the Caps last 29 games are against the Southeast Division so Washington needs to take these games seriously if they want to be a high seed in the playoffs.
Notes: Mike Green notched his 17th goal of the season, which leads all NHL defensemen. The Caps gave up a power play goal for the 13th straight game. They also gave up a shorthanded goal for the second straight game. The Caps were 28-39 on faceoffs and that is an indication of a serious lack of effort on Washington’s part. If Washington’s defense plays that poorly again you can bet that Karl Alzner will be recalled from Hershey very soon. Goalie Brent Johnson will have surgery and miss two months of action so the Caps will likely need to do something goaltender wise. Michael Neuvirth was the backup tonight. Simeon Varlamov, who is Hershey’s number one netminder is injured but according to Hershey Bears Director of Communications, John Walton, who was at the Caps game tonight, the young goalie is very close to returning. The question for McPhee is do you bring up Varlamov for basically one game a week or do you leave him to play multiple games a week in Hershey to develop properly and bring in a different goalie to back up and occassionally spell Theodore until Johnson comes back?