Despite outshooting the Phoenix Coyotes, 31-18, on Valentine’s Day, the Washington Capitals dropped their third straight game, 3-2, in the first of a tough five game road trip. The Caps, who have just three goals in their last three games, played without defenseman Mike Green who was a late scratch due to an inner ear issue that no doubt is from the puck he took to the head against the Penguins just eight days ago. Washington is now 29-18-10 and falls to 6th place in the Eastern Conference playoff race and are just eight points ahead of the 9th place Atlanta Thrashers.
Here are the highlights and analysis of a game that seemed to follow the usual Caps script these days: No Offense!
– To me this game was “A Tale of Two Alexes.” Much may be made of the fact that both Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin took their option this morning and did not participate in the pre-game skate. There will be criticism of both for doing that and some will argue that the Great #8 is the team captain so he should be out there every time the club hits the ice just to set an example. But Ovechkin plays more minutes than any other forward and he needs his rest, especially when the Capitals are about to play three games in four nights. If he hadn’t played hard tonight, the detractors might have a case, but despite scoring no goals in 25:52 of ice time he was by far the Capitals best player. Ovie had six shots on net, five blocked, and four that missed the cage. He also set up the snakebit and struggling Nicklas Backstrom for several golden chances. The Great #8 was skating hard and hustling, he made several takeaways in his own zone (despite the fact that it appears that noone was really keeping those stats in Phoenix). He didn’t dilly dally with the puck on the power play like he has done a little too much of this season, instead he was cranking up the slapper and letting the biscuit go. Simply put, if more guys gave the effort he put out on Monday night the Capitals likely win. But several did not, especially Ovechkin’s best buddy on the team, Semin. #28 will show up on the ledger with an assist, although it was a garbage one on Marcus Johansson’s fluke goal, and at +1. But Semin only had two shots on net and he had numerous giveaways (again, forget looking at the official stats on NHL.com from Phoenix). In fact, he worked so little that Caps assistant equipment manager, Craig “Woody” Ledyig, probably doesn’t even need to wash his jersey for Wednesday night’s tilt in Anaheim.
– The Caps had five power plays in this contest and believe it or not, they were pretty good except for one big detail, which we’ll get to in a minute. The team moved the puck well on the ice setting up 14 shots on net! Many of those blasts came from the point and that is something they haven’t been doing enough of lately. However, the point shots were rarely followed up with rebound attempts and I’ll put the blame on that on the aforementioned right winger who logged 6:45 of man advantage time and the struggling #19 (6:34 of power play time). Both guys are positioned on the half wall and when the puck gets to the point and is shot, they need to go to the cage for a rebound attempt, that is how you score on a good goalie like the game’s number one star, Ilya Bryzgalov (29 saves). I get that Semin probably isn’t happy with the lack of a real second line center to play with but on the power play he needs to work harder. Most of the other Caps did grind with the man advantage and they were outnumbering the Coyotes in the zone, which led to so many shots, but sooner or later some of the skill guys need to show some grit and go to the high traffic areas and score. I just don’t see Semin doing that and for that reason alone, he should have his ice time reduced on the power play.
– It is hard to totally fault Michal Neuvirth (15 saves) on the three goals he allowed as you can point to blatant mistakes made by the players in front of him on each goal, but #30 needed to stop one of the first two markers given the Caps offensive struggles. On the first Phoenix tally the Coyotes used their excellent speed and a slow Caps d-man to tie up this tilt just 49 seconds after Johansson’s goal from behind the Yotes cage. Winger Radim Vrbata flew down the left wing and the ultra slow Jeff Schultz gave him way too much room while backing up. That allowed #17 to slide the puck into the slot where Ray Whitney deflected it to Martin Hanzal. #11 then took advantage of poor coverage from Dave Steckel to score in tight and even the game up. Goal number two was the result of bad forward positioning while shorthanded but I thought Neuvy could have had Whitney’s shot. On the third goal, Neuvirth had no chance as John Erskine pinched at the offensive blue line leaving Tyler Sloan back on a two on one break and when #89 failed to cut off the pass, Vernon Fiddler had an easy goal.
– In summary, this game was typical of so many we’ve seen from Washington this year following the playoff loss to Montreal last spring. The club fires a ton of shots at the cage and incorrectly blame a hot goalie afterwards. The truth of the matter is goals are mostly scored in close in the NHL and this team just doesn’t have enough guys who want to get there and pay the price. Then, with two of their better skaters and puck handlers out on D in Green and Tom Poti, they have some lower level blue liners get exposed and it costs them the game.
Notes: Matt Bradley had the Caps other goal on a Coyotes turnover. That tally came just 40 seconds after Phoenix made it 3-1…Washington won the faceoff battle, 40-35, and Backstrom was 16-10, if only he could bury some of his numerous chances…Ovechkin also had three hits…disappointed to see Schultz get two and a half more minutes of ice time than Karl Alzner. #27 is a much better skater than #55 and the Coyotes are a fast team. Perhaps it was a function of Alzner’s d-partner (John Carlson) getting so much power play time making it hard for Coach Bruce Boudreau to put Alzner back on with #74 immediately following the five unsuccessful power plays?…Wednesday night’s contest from Anaheim is on CSN at 10pm.