The Washington Capitals will head to the Olympic Break with a three game losing streak after falling to the St. Louis Blues, 4-3, in the shootout on Saturday night. All three losses have come on the road this week and two were after regulation time had ended. The good news is the Capitals have a 13 point lead in the Eastern Conference with 20 games remaining. The Caps overall record is now 41-13-8 (90 points) and they have a one point margin over the San Jose Sharks in the race for the President’s Trophy. Washington is next in action on Wednesday, March 3rd at Buffalo.
Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis:
On the Caps recent 14 game winning streak they were relatively healthy but now the injuries are adding up. Tom Poti (groin), Jason Chimera (groin), and John Erskine (upper body) were not available for this contest and things got worse when Blues stiff, Cam Janssen, elbowed Matt Bradley to the head along the boards at least a second after the puck was gone early in the first period. It was an absolute cheap shot and Janssen, who has yet to register a point this season, should get a big suspension. “The Professor” apparently is woozy but not seriously hurt so it looks like the Caps just lost him for the last 54 minutes in St. Louis. Guys like Janssen really don’t belong in the NHL but some GM’s and coaches still sign and play those type of guys. In addition, the officials, who were wildly inconsistent all evening, called Quintin Laing for an instigator and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when it appeared that he dropped his gloves almost at the same time as Janssen. The unsportsmanlike conduct call was a result of Laing wearing a visor (another rule that doesn’t really work well). Don Van Massenhoven likes to be visible and his partner Ian Walsh was just as bad in this contest. The quality of officiating and some of the ridiculous rules are the biggest problems in the NHL now.
“The rule has got to change. You’ve got to watch the game and know the game and make the right call. I don’t even think it was an instigator, quite frankly. In my opinion he turned around and the guy is ready to fight and you have to know that we’re their standing up for our guy but at the same time that was a pretty dirty hit. [The hit] was the instigation but the rules aren’t there yet so you can’t make them up, but it was a bad hit,” said Caps Coach Boudreau on the play that cost him Bradley for the game plus Laing for 19 minutes.
This game featured some outstanding goaltending from both Jose Theodore (33 saves) and Chris Mason (31 saves). Theodore thwarted at least three clean breakaways and Mason made a super stop on Mike Knuble (2 goals) in the third period and several great saves in overtime. It is easy to see why Team Canada has made Mason as their alternate goalie for the Olympic games in Vancouver. As for Theo and the Caps, they lost when David Perron scored the only shootout goal, in the fourth round, after he hit the post and then the puck banked into the net off of Jose, similiar to how #60 lost a shootout in New York last season. The Caps had a tough week as far as getting bounces and Saturday was no exception. The third Blues goal was going to be an easy clear but the puck somehow caromed away from Shaone Morrisonn before he could dump it out of the zone and a couple of passes later an Erik Johnson shot deflected off of Laing and by Theodore. #60 continues to play well and if he keeps up this level of performance he could very well be the guy who opens the playoffs for Washington in goal.
“I thought we had some chances but their goalie was really good tonight, he had to make some tough saves in overtime. The save he made on Ovie off the face-off, I don’t think he saw it, but when goalies are in the zone they make those saves and Jose was great, I thought Jose was great tonight,”" said Boudreau on the goaltending.
After giving up six goals in each of the last two contests, the Caps did a better job in their own end, although in addition to the three breakaways there were several other two on one rushes for St. Louis. USA World Junior hero, John Carlson, was called up from Hershey with Erskine ailing and Boudreau went with defensive pairs of Mike Green-Jeff Schultz, Brian Pothier-Karl Alzner, and Carlson-Morrisonn. Tyler Sloan was scratched. Carlson got burned by Paul Kariya at neutral ice and it led to an odd man rush goal by T.J. Oshie. The first Blues goal came in close by Patrick Berglund. Alzner was whistled for two minors while #74 received one. It appeared the zebras were picking on the younger guys because some of those calls, especially the last one on King Karl, were pathetic. Did I say the officiating was awful again?
“Yeah, I thought the power play goal there wasn’t much you could do. I thought Carly [Carlson] had played a really good game but he got caught on the 2 on 1 and Schultzie on the first one might have had the back door but he didn’t block out, but other than that I thought we played pretty good, they got a lot of shots on the power play,” commented Boudreau when asked if his team’s defensive play was better than the previous few contests.
Offensively, Knuble notched two power play goals (Caps went 2 for 6) from in front of the cage sandwiched around Alexander Semin’s wicked top shelf wrister. Semin added an assist and had a super game. Alexander Ovechkin was held without a point for the first time in 10 games (January 26 versus the Islanders) in just over 25 minutes of ice time. Green added two assists and now has 14 goals and 46 assists in 57 games to lead the NHL in scoring by defenseman. With Chimeara out and Chris Bourque sent back to Hershey, Boudreau switched up his second and third lines, putting Tomas Fleischamnn on the left wing, but after Bradley was injured and Laing given all of those PIMs the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winner had to go most of the way with just 10 forwards.
Notes: The Caps won the face-off battle 43-28 and Dave Steckel was his usual dominant self going 7-2. Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post reported today that he heard Caps GM George McPhee is interested in another defenseman and a forward, likely a center (no surprise there). No trades can be made until March 1 due to the Olympic roster freeze and the final deadline is March 3rd at 3pm. Semin, Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Brendan Morrison, in that order, were all stopped by Mason in the shootout.