Caps Lose Third Straight
The end of a road trip can’t come quick enough for a banged up and depleted Washington Capitals team that lost their third straight game of the season to the Minnesota Wild on Monday night, 4-3, despite a furious three goal rally by the Caps in the last five and half minutes of the third period. In that late comeback that fell short Alexander Ovechkin did manage to extend his point scoring streak to eight games by notching his ninth goal of the season and it was the first time Ovechkin has scored a goal against the Wild. Adding insult to injury on the evening is that the Caps lost two more players to the sidelines as defensemen Jeff Schultz left the game with a broken finger and forward Boyd Gordon was also hurt and played only 3 minutes and 41 seconds.
The Caps played a much better first period than the recent Kings and Sharks losses outworking the Wild most of the period despite once again being without Mike “one man breakout” Green (shoulder), Alexander Semin (upper body), and Sergei Fedorov (ankle). However, good goaltending by Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom and a bad defensive shift by John Erskine and Milan Jurcina allowed 2006 3rd round draft choice Cal Cutterbuck to give the Wild the lead on a point blank shot to the top shelf of the net past Jose Theodore. The goal was Cutterbuck’s first point of the season in his 17th game.
Unfortunately for Caps fans the second period was all Minnesota and if not for some spectacular saves by Theodore, including one on Pierre-Marc Bouchard on a two on none break, this would have more resembled the Sharks game. The Wild would outshoot Washington 17-6 in the period and it was Cutterbuck getting his second goal of the night and the season on a power play that put the Caps in a deep hole. Washington did also manage to kill off a 91 second five on three power play by Minnesota after the score was 2-0. The Caps defense has played poorly since Green was knocked out of the lineup by Chris Pronger last Wednesday night in Anaheim.
The third period started horribly for Washington as well and a very questionable call by referee Rob Schick on the Great #8 gave the Wild another five on three power play that they would convert for a 3-0 lead. Schick, who has never been one of my favorites, called Ovechkin for closing his hand on the puck but the replay showed that Alex batted the puck with his hands after having to drop his broken stick. Schick was horribly out of position when he made the call, in my opinion. That penalty decision seemed to almost put Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau over the edge. By the way, it was announced today that Boudreau will be inducted into the American Hockey League (AHL) Hall of Fame on January 26th in Worcester, Massachusetts.
With just under 13 minutes left the Wild seem to turn out the lights on this one when James Sheppard scored his first goal of the season, with his dad and sister in from Nova Scotia, to make it 4-0. But the Caps would make it interesting with a late rally and hopefully that momentum can be carried over into Washington’s next game at home on Wednesday night against the Atlanta Thrashers.
The problem is that the Caps likely have to make another move to field a lineup for the game if Schultz can’t go with a broken finger so GM George McPhee will have to figure something out. If the salary cap was not a factor we would likely see defensemen Karl Alzner brought up but because of his bonuses and the way they are counted this season it is unlikely that he can be summoned just yet, but only the Caps and the league know the exact math involved on that case. The other option and most likely one is that Washington will bring up defensemen Sami Lepisto.
For the Caps and their fans this is frustrating times and they had never lost three regulation games in a row under Boudreau but there is no need to panic, especially when there are 61 games left and you see that the team didn’t quit at the end of the game tonight. Teams will go through down times, especially when $14M of salary and lots of firepower is out of the lineup. McPhee, Boudreau, and the team needs to look no further than last season’s Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings who had an 11 game stretch last February where they went 1-8-2 when they had a rash of injuries, including ones to star defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. But the team cannot use the injuries as an excuse and each player needs to step up his game to snap Washington out of this three game losing streak.
Just a few weeks ago McPhee, WashingtonCaps.com writer Mike Vogel, and I were chatting and talking about injuries and George pointed out that one position teams cannot afford to lose to injury with the salary cap are defensemen. Well that is where the Caps are right now with their best one out in Green and Schultz likely on the shelf for Wednesday night. With Fedorov’s bad ankle likely to keep him out of the line-up again it will be interesting to see what McPhee does to get a sixth defensemen for the Thrashers contest. As I mentioned above, logic says it is Lepisto.
There was some other good news on the night as the Florida Panthers knocked off the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-2, so the Caps, at 11-7-3, are still in first place, one point ahead of the Canes with a game in hand.
Today the Toronto Maple Leafs traded underachieving first round draft picks forward Alex Steen and defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo to the St. Louis Blues for forward Lee Stempniak. St. Louis made the deal Monday because it has needed a center since Andy McDonald broke his left leg on Nov. 16. Steen has two goals and two assists in 20 games this season, and has 50 goals and 76 assists in 253 career games. The Leafs had extra bodies on the blue line, which made it easier to move the oft-injured Colaiacovo. The Blues have been hammered by injuries this season. Second-year defenseman Erik Johnson is out for the season, while forwards T.J. Oshie, Andy McDonald, Paul Kariya, Dan Hinote and Patrik Berglund are also injured. This trade should help both teams but I think Toronto got the best player so they win it based on that alone. But don’t start planning any parades yet Leafs fans!
Injuries have been a big story this season as Caps fans know too well but another big time goalie is out for an extended period of time (Martin Brodeur is already out three to four months) as the Canucks Roberto Luongo is likely out four to five weeks with a groin injury. Curtis Sanford and rookie Cory Schneider now must hold things together for Vancouver in net while their captain is out. The Canucks are off to a very good start and lead the Northwest Division going 13-6-2 in their first 21 games.
The San Jose Sharks are set to get goalie Evgeni Nabokov back after a seven game absence due to a lower body injury. Brian Boucher went 5-1-1 while Nabokov was recovering. As I said before Saturday’s Caps-Sharks game, San Jose is the best team in the NHL right now. But remember it is only November and this season has a LONG way to go and as one NHL scout once told me, “the season doesn’t begin until the second half.”
By the way, former Ducks GM Brian Burke, who resigned two weeks ago, is still not the Toronto Maple Leafs GM just yet, but stay tuned as just about everyone in hockey says he will end up there.
Hershey Bears Update
Hershey won its fifth game in a row Saturday night, defeating the first place Bridgeport Sound Tigers 4-1 at Giant Center. The Bears enter a busy Thanksgiving week with the second best point total in the AHL with 29, trailing only Bridgeport who starts the week with 30. Veteran Alexandre Giroux and rookie Oskar Osala are tied for the team lead in goals with 13 heading into Wednesday night’s home game with Binghamton. The pair are also tied for third in the AHL goal scoring race. Goaltender Daren Machesney leads the team in wins with seven after allowing just one goal over his last two starts.
Hershey will play four games in five nights starting with Wednesday’s home game against Binghamton. The Chocolate and White then head to Albany for a game with the River Rats Friday night at Times Union Center before returning home to face Philadelphia and Norfolk this weekend at home. The Phantoms come to town Saturday night at 7:00 p.m., with Norfolk visiting for the first time this season at 5:00 p.m. Sunday. With one-quarter of the season in the books, the Bears are on pace for an amazing 56 wins and 116 points. For more on the Bears, visit JohnWaltonHockey.com