The Washington Capitals clearly have a motivation and confidence problem right now. Against the Florida Panthers, a team that Washington defeated all six times last season, the Caps came out strong in period one drawing five power plays and fired 18 shots on Cats goalie Tomas Vokoun but they couldn’t get the puck by him. As a result the team got frustrated and started doing too many individual things and when Florida scored with one second left in the second period to snatch a 1-0 lead, the currently mentally fragile Capitals crumbled in the final stanza en route to a 3-0 defeat. The loss drops the Caps to 18-9-3 overall and they still have a six point lead over both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Atlanta Thrashers in the Southeast Division, but both teams now have two games in hand.
Here is tonight’s recap including quotes and analysis from a tilt that was played in front of the quietest Verizon Center crowd in recent memory:
- The biggest problem on Thursday night was Washington’s power play. For the evening it went 0 for 8, including not converting on two 5 on 3 opportunities, one of which was for 1:53 midway through the first period. Early on the Caps were trying to swing the puck down low in an attempt to beat Vokoun in close. Eric Fehr, who had 6 shots on goal in 11:43 of ice time, had numerous chances to get one by #29 but couldn’t convert. After the first few power plays the Caps then started getting too cute and pass happy instead of firing the puck from the top of the slot with traffic in front. By the 7th and 8th iterations the man advantage units had totally deteriorated into an individual event where one Capital after another tried to skate through the Panthers defense on his own, without any success. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau discussed the problems on the power play after the game.
“The intentions were good at the beginning, then when you don’t score on the power play when you have the opportunity, you could see at the end of the first period that we started to do things as individuals instead of collectively. When that happens, it’s tough, it’s no excuse,” started Boudreau on his usually potent power play crew, “Just stand in front of the net and shoot the puck was the message and then we still get too cute. There were so many times we had good opportunities to shoot with guys in front of the net and we are trying to make the play and the play’s not there,” finished the 2007-08 Jack Adams trophy winning coach on why things went bad with the manpower advantage.
- As bad as Washington’s power play was, their penalty killing was super in period two when the Caps had to kill off three infractions, including a 1:18 five on three against. Brooks Laich, Boyd Gordon, and Tom Poti did outstanding work and it appeared that the effort on the PK might spur the team to the first goal. However, with one second left in period two the Cats scored after Karl Alzner and Nicklas Backstrom were beaten badly down low on the right wing boards. A wild goal mouth scramble ensued and Steve Reinprecht buried one from the slot with four Caps around him. That type of goal just can’t happen. First #27 and #19 need to be smarter that late in the period and not over commit going for the steal. At that point in time, they should have been focusing on keeping the Panthers on the perimeter, because a takeaway wouldn’t have given them any time to go the other way to score. This was simply a case of two young players not paying attention to the game situation and then a collective lack of effort in front of Semyon Varlamov (29 saves) on the rebounds.
“It was obviously a huge goal because it gave them light. After the first period we were talking about how often a team outshoots one 18-6 and it is five power plays to none, the other team comes out and they are going to get power plays in the second period and it usually turns. I thought we did a really good job of holding them off on the 5 on 3 and the penalty, but you’ve got four guys down there and nobody touching anybody, they are going to score. Once they believe that, at the start of the third period, they dug in their heels pretty good and they hadn’t beaten us in awhile and they were a determined group. We were looking like we were feeling sorry for ourselves,” added Boudreau on the Caps solid penalty killing and then how the late second period tally impacted his team’s mindset.
- Washington, after blowing a three goal third period lead in their shootout loss to Toronto on Monday, came out strong in period one but as the game wore on they seemed to lack interest and lose confidence. For those of you who follow my blogs or my tweets on Twitter (@Emfrank123), you are aware that in the notes section of the Leafs summary blog I wrote that this team needed a challenge game against the Pittsburgh Penguins to get themselves dialed in for 60 minutes. Then on Thursday morning I predicted that the Caps would not be 100% focused against Florida. The result of this tilt furthers my case, but what is now happening is that the loss of confidence is causing the players to mope and feel sorry for themselves instead of getting them to fight back strong.
“We could call it snake bitten, we could call it you’re facing adversity and not being able to handle the adversity, not fighting through it. Feeling sorry for yourself. I came in between periods, 2nd and 3rd, everybody was hanging their head and we were down 1-0. My job at that time was not to give them crap but to let them know they’re good and don’t feel sorry for yourself. Dig your heels in and come back and it’s one shot…once it was 2-0 you could see the shoulders sagging on the bench and they just didn’t believe they were going to come back tonight,” said Boudreau on his team’s frail mental state during this recent four game slide.
“I liked the beginning of the game, I liked our energy, the way we played. We were going to the net hard, we were working hard. You don’t get that many power plays without working and effort but the puck is not going in the net right now and we’re gripping the sticks tight. We are getting down on ourselves. It is just part of the game. It is almost like a slump in some sort of way, not scoring on the opportunities we are getting,” said forward Matt Hendricks on what transpired on Thursday night and why the team is not converting.
- Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green all had one of their worst games of the season on Thursday and the Caps simply can’t win when those guys aren’t going. Boudreau tried moving Alexander Ovechkin around and he switched up his lines in the third period to try and jump start the offense, to no avail.
“Our top six forwards weren’t very good. But our bottom six forwards were working their hardest and getting opportunities so I wanted to get at least one of those guys on with the other guys and maybe it would rub off and the energy would rub off. But quite frankly if your best players aren’t your best players, we’ve been shut out three times in the last 11 games, which has never happened, you are not going to have success. We have one goal or less in five of the last 11 games. You have to get production out of your best players and it is not happening right now,” stated Boudreau on the reason for lack of offensive production.
- As I alluded to above, I think a big part of the problem is a motivational one that is out of Boudreau’s control. All season long the Caps players have been hearing that it doesn’t matter what they do in the regular season, because they will only be judged by their success, or lack of it, in the post season. As a result, I believe that the Capitals are not focused, except when they feel challenged. Some of their best games this season were the two battles with the Flyers and the 6-0 white washing of Tampa when the Bolts came in on fire with a five game winning streak. Honestly, tilts against the Thrashers, Leafs, and Panthers aren’t going to get the blood of the Capitals players boiling. However, with each lackadaisical effort, the opportunity for a Lightning or Atlanta squad to hang around in the division race becomes greater, something the Caps bench boss is keenly aware of.
“We are in a dogfight in the conference and the division. It is not going to be a cakewalk and every team that plays us in the division is ready for us. Every team knows that they’ve got to check this guy and check that guy and we have to as individuals change a little bit of the way we play. That is why I was putting Alex from left wing to right wing because they had [Mike] Weaver out there every time against him. We have to find a way to get around that,” commented on Boudreau on what his club needs to do to defend their Southeast title for the fourth straight season.
- Going forward I am not sure a tilt against the Avalanche on Saturday will be the silver bullet this club needs and the Penguins aren’t on the slate until December 23rd. However the Caps are reminded of that by the fact that HBO cameras are currently following them everywhere, so next week’s first episode of 24/7 ought to be akin to a Washington funeral the way Boudreau’s squad is playing. But the former Slap Shot extra has a plan to try and turns things around and it starts with Friday’s practice.
“I gave them crap after the Leafs game. So you can’t just keep going and beating a dead horse. Tomorrow, I think obvioulsy we’ll practice the power play and penalty killing. Other than that we’ll have our individual meetings, maybe there is something there that I am missing right now and we’ll get to the bottom of it and we’ll get out of it. When we get out of it hopefully we’ll have learned by it,” finished Boudreau on his plan going forward for the Capitals.
Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 34-27, on Thursday night…Matt Bradley and DJ King were the forward scratches while Jeff Schultz and Tyler Sloan are on injured reserve…John Erskine and Fehr were my choices for top Caps of the evening as both worked extremely hard despite the loss…Washington outshot Florida 36-32 but the Panthers had a 26-18 advantage after the opening frame.