Carolina’s Ray Whitney blasted one off of Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov from the slot in overtime to defeat Washington, 4-3, in Raleigh on Thursday night. The Capitals, who were once again without team captain and two-time defending NHL MVP Alexander Ovechkin due to his suspension, took a 2-1 lead after two periods, primarily by limiting the number of Hurricanes scoring chances. However, they came out and played a klunker of a final period and were lucky to get to overtime thanks to Eric Fehr’s career high 20th goal with just 10 seconds left in regulation. Despite the loss Washington gets a point to move to 104 (47-14-10) for the season and they lead second place Pittsburgh by 15 points in the Eastern Conference standings with just 11 games left. Can you say that race is pretty much over? As for the President’s Trophy, the Caps are eight points up on San Jose, who have just one game in hand after losing, 3-2, late Thursday night in Vancouver.
Here is the analysis and some quotes from Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau from a game that was one of the more boring contests this season, except for Fehr’s 20th:
The Caps played well defensively for two periods (only gave up 14 shots and a few scoring chances) but looked disinterested and lost at times in period three. There was definitely a win for the taking and Washington left a point on the table, according to their coach.
“I’m not saying we deserved to get two (points) but we should have gotten two…We held them to only 15 shots in the first two periods and I don’t know what happened in the third period,” said Boudreau about the uneven effort from his team.
Outside of some solid defensive zone play in the first two periods, there was not a whole lot of good for the Caps in this one. Here are some things I liked:
- Center Brendan Morrison had another good game and it was his alert play on Brandon Sutter in the slot that set up Fehr for his 20th tally of the season to send this one to the extra session. I liked the way those guys played together and you can add their left wing, Jason Chimera, to that equation. My only criticism of 9 and 16 was a long shift they took in overtime. If Morrison can perform at this level in the post season then the Caps, with Eric Belanger now in the mix, are much stronger up the center of the ice than they were heading into the 2008-09 post season.
- Joe Corvo tallied twice and logged over 25 minutes of ice time. He and Mike Green did a good job on the points on the power play. Overall the Caps moved the puck well on the man advantage (1 for 3) but couldn’t hit the net on some good chances. Had they connected more in the second half of period two the outcome is likely different.
- The penalty kill, which got plenty of work thanks to some shaky officiating (more on that in the bad section coming up), was really good despite giving up a goal on five Canes chances. The only tally was on a nearly two minute five on three for Carolina and had Matt Bradley not missed a clear he usually makes, Eric Staal doesn’t get a tap in that Varlamov had no chance on.
Now for the bad, and there was a good bit of it:
- The effort was not there in the 3rd period, as I mentioned above, but had Varly made a save on Brett Carson’s unscreened shot with just under eight minutes left, shortly after a brutal Nicklas Backstrom giveaway, the Caps would have likely won this contest. #40 is not making the big save when needed and I was surprised that he did not deny Chad LaRose on his breakaway that gave the Canes the lead with just 95 seconds left in this one.
- Speaking of that LaRose breakaway…that one came on a 4 on 4 situation where both Green and Corvo were on the ice pressing for the winning goal. The two offensive minded d-men were pinching down, with Green in the slot but they were okay position wise because Belanger was manning the left point. But for some reason #18 decided to go charging down the slot when he clearly should have been covering for #77 and that allowed Jussi Jokinen to send #59 off to the races. Boudreau, who didn’t look very happy after the game, thought that was a major mental mistake.
“We definitely have to smarten up,” the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winner commented on his team’s struggles in 4 on 4 play.
- On the winning goal, I thought both Jeff Schultz and his defensive partner, Green, looked bad on the play as Staal and Whitney criss crossed nicely to confuse the duo. When #55 chased #21, Whitney cut to the middle and #52 lollygagged it across the slot. #13 then fired a laser that Varly couldn’t handle to end the game. The poor coverage there seems like something Boudreau will want to address in a video session.
“There’s lots of good video, plays where we didn’t do the right things,” finished Boudreau on just Washington’s 4th defeat in 20 games vs. Southeast Division foes in 2009-10 (16-3-1).
- Perhaps the guys that I thought were the worst on Thursday night were the two referees, Steve Kozari and Tom Kowal. The call on Mike Knuble for goalie interference was simply atrocious as #22 was clearly cross-checked into rookie Justin Peters (25 saves) and the double minor high sticking infraction on Shaone Morrisonn was practically identical to the single minor whistled on Sergei Samsonov. Where is the consistency zebras? In addition, on the sequence that preceded the winning goal, Backstrom was hauled down in the neutral zone without a penalty being called. I also felt that they let some clear interference go on Carolina but what do you expect from two inexperienced referees in a road game for Washington? On Hockey Night in Canada Radio on Tuesday afternoon (Sirius 127), host Jeff Marek and co-host Elliotte Friedman chatted with New York Post writer Larry Brooks and @NYR_Brooksie stated that he thought the biggest problem in the NHL right now is the officiating. Larry feels that the pace of the game is too fast for the guys in striped shirts and I definitely agree.
The Capitals now head to Tampa to take on the Lightning on Saturday night before playing 7 of their final 10 games at the Verizon Center.
Oh, I just thought of another good thing, perhaps the best news of the night: Now that this one is done, Washington gets back team captain Ovechkin on Saturday night. The Great #8, despite missing 10 games, is just a goal behind Sidney Crosby in the Rocket Richard Trophy race (45 to 44). Ovie also still leads the NHL in points by two over Henrik Sedin. Washington definitely needs Ovechkin and anyone who thinks this team plays better without him should be sent to the nearest clinic for a mandatory drug test.
Notes: Corvo’s two goal game was the Capitals league leading 50th such occurrence (multi-goal contest by a single player) this season (h/t @washcaps, @capsmedia)..Washington won the face-off battle 32-28 (Backstrom went 12-4 while Dave Steckel was a poor 7-13).