The Washington Capitals lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs, 2-1, in a shootout at the Air Canada Center on Saturday night. Below is a period by period commentary followed by an end of game analysis.
End of 1st Period: Caps 1, Leafs 0. The Caps did not play very well in this period but thanks to a pretty passing play between Brooks Laich, Mike Green, and Alexander Ovechkin, Washington leads on the Great #8’s 16th and NHL league leading goal of the season just over 17 minutes in. Laich worked hard on the boards to set it up and then #52 made a phenomenal pass to Ovechkin that Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala had no chance at denying. Green is playing his best hockey of the season right now as he is controlling the puck offensively and very solid in his own zone. Washington was sloppy overall and Semyon Varlamov was very good in goal in period one stopping all 11 shots he faced, some of which were with traffic in front of him. Varly had excellent rebound control. The Leafs best chance was in front but former Bruin Phil Kessel just missed tapping in a cross ice pass that would have given Toronto the lead. No doubt Washington, who played last night, needs to step up their intensity in period two if they want to win this contest.
End of Period Two: Caps 1, Leafs 1. Well the Caps did not play well in period two and if not for Varlamov they might have been run out of the ACC. Varly stopped numerous Leafs quality chances but a fluky bounce after a Tyler Sloan offensive turnover allowed Toronto to tie it up late. Sloan, who has had to go back and forth between forward and defense all season due to injuries, was just horrible in period two and looked lost on the ice paired on D with John Carlson. The Ovechkin line had some quality chances but Backstrom missed the net on a two on one break and then Laich did not get full wood on a glorious chance on another great Backstrom feed and Toskala made the save. The Leafs had 17 shots and the only goal they scored was flat out lucky and Varly had no chance on it as it went in off of Nicklas Hagman’s arm after it hit Sloan in the slot. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau can not be happy about this terrible effort tonight, even though his roster is depleted due to injuries. Andrew Gordon, called up from Hershey for today’s tilt, is just not clicking with Tomas Fleischmann and Brendan Morrison so perhaps Boudreau will move Eric Fehr up and knock Gordon down to play with Mathieu Perreault? It is time though for Ovechkin to take over a game and get Washington a win. They have a chance thanks only to Varlamov.
End of Regulation: Caps 1, Leafs 1. Once again Toronto dominated the play but Varlamov made nine saves to send this one to overtime. Ovechkin, who had a chance or two to win this contest, was soft in his own end but #40 bailed him and his teammates out. The Great #8 has to be stronger on the boards and work harder to get the puck out. Andrew Gordon did not see the ice in the third period and Fehr was bumped up to play with Morrison and Fleischmann. #16 rang the crossbar late in the game. Each team had a power play but both goalies made the big save.
End of OT: Caps 1, Leafs 1. Toronto once again had the better chances but it was Varlamov coming up big for Washington. The Great #8 did seem to find his legs in the neutral and offensive zones in the OT and generated some chances but the Leafs D did a good job of blocking shots. At the end of OT Ovechkin continued to float in his own zone and Washington was fortunate to survive. Green was really good on the backend for Washington as was Brian Pothier.
Shootout: Leafs win, 2-1, as Kessel and Hagman score (plus John Mitchell was stopped by Varly) while Fehr and Ovechkin miss.
Here is the post game analysis:
Boy, what a stinker by Washington! Yes, the Caps played on Friday night while Toronto sat but that is no excuse. The Caps have been pretty bad in back to back games this season (1-1-2) with their lone win coming against the Florida Panthers. The lineup is missing some big time players like Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble, and Tom Poti plus role playing defensemen Milan Jurcina and Shaone Morrisonn. Washington is now 13-5-5 and they were fortunate to receive a point because of Varlamov (38 saves).
Ovechkin (1 goal) was not good again tonight, particularly in his own zone. He routinely was seen out of position with his legs straight with his stick at his hips on defense. He is soft on the defensive boards right now and is not staying with the defenseman at the right point, which is his primary defensive responsibility. The team stepped up when he was out, going 4-2, but this weekend he did not return the favor and all it would have taken was a little more from him at both ends of the ice to get Washington a win or two in back to back one goal games. Perhaps he is not 100% healthy yet?
Backstrom shot the puck more tonight like I had hoped he would but he either missed the net or took too long to let it go and had it blocked. #19 just doesn’t seem to be 100% on the ice right now either. Perhaps it is having to play with a different right wing each night and the fact that Ovie is not playing at full steam either?
The defense was not good and looked slow, particularly Sloan and Jeff Schultz. Karl Alzner has got to be a better alternative to either of these two guys at this point, don’t you think? The biggest reason #27 likely is not up has to be the salary cap because an Alzner-Carlson D pair would have been a better option than a tired Sloan tonight. Alzner can move the puck and is much better in his own end. Thus with Alzner not able to come up the real guy killing this team right now is Michael Nylander since the stubbon #92 is not allowing GM George McPhee to move him to the KHL or somewhere else to free up salary cap space.
Any doubt who the number one goalie for Washington is now? Clearly Varlamov has taken over with Jose Theodore’s issues. Varly was outstanding tonight and his save on Tomas Kaberle late allowed the Caps to get to OT. Varly did not give up many rebounds and was rarely out of position. The only goal the Leafs scored was a fluke after Sloan messed up in the offensive end to give Toronto an odd man rush. Hopefully #40 can continue to gain confidence and goalie coach Artus Irbe deserves a lot of credit for getting Varlamov to improve on rebound control. After the game, Boudreau, when asked about Varly gaining the number one job called the situation “cyclical” meaning that he sees Theodore coming back and getting hot again too. Personally, I think it is Varly’s job to seize and take over going forward given Theodore’s past history of being inconsistent.
The Caps power play was 0 for 7 this weekend (0 for 4 in Toronto) and most of the reason was Washington’s inability to go to the net and get rebounds. Both Montreal and the Leafs did a good job of keeping the Caps forwards from corraling loose pucks but Washington’s forwards need to work harder.
Green was a bright spot for Washington this weekend and he logged a lot of minutes and played exceptionally well. #52 played just under 60 minutes in the two games, more than any other Cap skater, and had three assists. He is moving the puck well and making smart decisions. I thought Pothier, playing a style similar to Green, was the next best defenseman on the ice for Washington.