Hoping to snap out of their post trade funk and end a two game slide, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau worked his team very hard in practice for a couple of days in Los Angeles with the idea that his squad would come out with a better first period effort on Saturday afternoon. They did not and despite playing much better the last two periods, Washington lost 2-1 to the Kings primarily due to a bad power play that went 1 for 5 and gave up a shorthanded game winner. Thus the Caps, who just last week were on top of the NHL standings with 54 points, are stuck at that number after losing three straight in regulation for the first time in 2009-10 to fall to 24-11-6 at the season’s midpoint.
Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, and analysis:
There is no need for Caps fans to panic, as I am hearing many of them do after Monday’s trade and subsequent slide. The trade is NOT the problem. The Caps primary issue right now is their offense. Chris Clark only had 4 goals in 38 games so getting rid of a guy who played between 10 and 15 minutes a night on the third line is not the reason the team’s firepower has stalled (more on that later). Also, don’t overestimate the importance of locker room speeches either, the game is played on the ice. Say it with me fans, “The Trade is a Good Thing.” Why? Because it cleared an annual pro-rated $2M+ against the salary cap and combining that with the portion of Michael Nylander’s $4.875M off of the books since December, GM George McPhee has lots of flexibility to add whatever he thinks this team needs for the stretch and playoff runs. The Caps are going to win the Southeast Division so the final 41 games are about staying healthy and putting together the right squad for April and beyond.
Scoring is definitely the problem to be the master of the obvious. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick (26 saves) played well but Washington did not shoot enough or get the necessary traffic on him. That brings us to the Caps power play. Once again, too much passing and not enough blasting from the top, especially on the 53 second 5 on 3 they had in the 3rd period. Mike Green (1 goal in 30:33 of ice time), when on the right point, needs to take a stride to the center of the ice and just let the puck go with a slapper and the guys down low need to storm the crease. Brendan Morrison, on the left side, did this near the end of that two man advantage and the Caps almost scored. It is very simple hockey but good things happen when you shoot and go to the net (see Kings 1st goal). Boudreau confirmed that he wanted more attempts from the point afterwards.
“We got one shot and almost scored. So I would think the answer would be, ‘Let’s shoot some more,’” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner afterwards (quote courtesy of Tarik El-Bashir’s twitter account).
Not only was the power play bad in the offensive zone, it went to sleep early in their own end in the third period and the Kings scored the game winner as a result. Ovechkin, Green, and Alexander Semin all went behind the net after the puck along with LA’s Brad Richardson. #15 shed a Great #8 hit and the puck bounced off of #52′s skate right back to him, meanwhile Semin skated away and Michael Handzus did a nice circle back back to the slot while Morrison and Jason Chimera both floated to the left wing boards. That collective Washington mental lapse allowed Richardson to hit the former Flyer all alone in front and he got goalie Michal Neuvirth to commit, go down, and Handzus snapped it quickly by him short side before Green could get in position behind the rookie goalie. That play also caught Boudreau’s attention.
“I think everybody just turned away but it looked way too easy. Alex [Ovechkin] let up on the hit and everyone else thought there was a whistle and everybody just gave up on that play,” said the coach on his analysis of the sequence, prior to reviewing it again on tape.
Neuvirth (17 saves) played well, especially with his rebound control. He was really “Velcro-like” again on a blast by Jack Johnson in the third period with the Caps trailing by a goal and a King directly in front of him. There were several other screened shots, especially in the first period, but #30 did not give up second chances. The first LA goal was a Ryan Smyth power play tally on a bounce off of Tom Poti’s skate with Smyth and Dustin Brown in front (the Caps should try more power plays with two guys in front, like they did at times earlier in the year with Eric Fehr and Brooks Laich). On the second, all five guys hung him out to dry but I think if there is one criticism of the young goaltender right now it is his play when he is one on one with the shooter. I think that will improve with time, more confidence, and practice work with goalie coach Arturs Irbe.
I thought the officiating was terribly inconsistent with Mike Leggo and Justin St. Pierre calling stick infractions on the Caps in the first period but letting the Kings get away with them against Ovechkin late in the first period and then early in the second period. They also overlooked an LA holding the stick infraction against Semin. There were several quick whistles that initially appeared to help LA but on the one where Tomas Fleischmann scored it would have likely been overturned as Flash directed the puck in with a turning skate and on another one in the 3rd period a King had the puck in his control when the play was blown dead. However, the zebras weren’t the reason the Caps lost, when you have five powerplays, including a lengthy two man advantage, you can’t end the night trading goals on all of those opportunities.
Fehr, who has struggled since a 10 points in seven game stretch from 11/23-12/7, was the forward scratch tonight while Tyler Sloan sat on defense. The D played well but Karl Alzner, John Erskine, and Shaone Morrisonn only saw 13-14 minutes of action each because of all of the power plays plus Boudreau put Ovie out on defense late to try and tie the game up.
The first period was bad again for the third straight game. Washington, after outscoring opponents 49-19 in the first 38 games (thanks Caps Media Relations staff), has been shut out 6-0 and outshot 34-11 in the opening stanza in those three contests. Time to change the tunes in the locker room prior to the game, eh?
Mike Knuble started his Caps career very strong with 15 points in 19 games but since missing 12 games due to a fractured finger, he has just two goals and two assists in 10 games upon his return. Washington needs #22 to get more involved in order to get the offense going again. He also made a bad play in the neutral zone that led to Chimera’s late 3rd period penalty. Richardson did a great job of skating the puck up the ice at Poti and then he alertly cycled back at the blue line while both teams were changing. Knuble, instead of realizing #3 had the King neutralized, mistakenly chased the puck and that allowed Richardson to hit a wide open and streaking Smyth. The newest Cap, who was coming off the bench on the line change, had no choice but to skate hard and hold #94 to prevent a great scoring chance. #25′s penalty, which was due to the Knuble error, cost Washington two minutes of potential comeback time.
Nicklas Backstrom was hit hard into the boards twice by the Kings Matt Greene early in the second period and did not return. After the game Boudreau said it was due to a “migraine.”
In final analysis, the Caps played better tonight but they need to work smarter to go with the more concerted effort. They need to shoot more, surge to the net, and avoid mental lapses. As former Capitals Coach Jim Schoenfeld once accurately said about activity without results in describing a bad stretch by his Washington club, “No matter how hard you work, you will never open a can of beans with a banana!”
Next Caps game is Tuesday night at the Verizon Center against the Montreal Canadiens.