For the second straight game the Washington Capitals were stoned by a hot goaltender as Ondrej Pavelec made 45 saves to lead his Atlanta Thrashers to a 3-1 victory over the Caps at the Verizon Center. It was the first time in over two years that Atlanta won in DC (Caps had won 9 straight) and the Thrashers are now 3-1-1 against Washington this season with one tilt left to be played at Phillips Arena. Alexander Ovechkin scored the only Capitals goal ending a nine game drought to make it, 2-1, late in the 2nd period but Pavelec and his golden horseshoe wouldn’t allow anything further. This loss drops Washington to 18-8-2 overall and their Southeast Division lead has been trimmed to five points over the Tampa Bay Lightning and seven points above Atlanta. Both teams have a game in hand on the Caps.
Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a game that was EERILY similar to game 6 of last season’s playoff series versus Montreal:
- Pavelec was easily the star of the game. He made the first save all night, including at least three great glove saves on Mike Green, but as Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau stated afterwards, his club did not force him to thwart many second chance opportunities. This is exactly what happened in last year’s playoffs when the Caps could not or did not want to pay the price to get to the cage and score the ugly goal. Perimeter hockey doesn’t win games and the Capitals could be accused of playing that way on Saturday night.
“It looked like we didn’t get very many second shots. You can have 100 perimeter shots and it looks good on the stat board but if you are not taking cross checking penalties in the back or tripping penalties then it means you are not fighting through to get to the front of the net…[Pavelec] made some good saves, I am not denying that, he obviously feels very comfortable playing us, he shut us out the last game, but I don’t think it was one of those games where he had to make a tremendous amount of second saves on the same play and that is what scores goals. If you look at the way they were playing, they might not have had the quality chances but when they did they had three guys going to the net and it was bang, bang, bang…when you look at our team we haven’t scored a lot of goals lately and it is a lack of commitment on paying the price to score. We are all wanting to score but are all staying on the perimeter wanting to get the puck rather than being the guy that is going to the puck. The guys that did that had chances but they are not natural goal scorers. [Matt] Hendricks went to the net, there was a loose puck there and it bounced over his stick , Eric Fehr, who is holding the stick too tight, went to the net and it flipped up on him. The guys who are looking to score are not getting their nose dirty enough to score the goals,” said a disappointed and very forthcoming Capitals head coach.
- Special teams were a disaster for the Caps. Washington was awarded five power plays and they failed to score on all of them, primarily because of a lack of net presence. It could have been 10 PP’s if the blind referees had called things correctly though. Jason Chimera was high sticked twice in the first period, including getting cut on the second one, but neither was called by tweedle dee and tweedle dum with the whistles (Bill McCreary and Stephane Auger). In addition, on a man advantage in the second period Green goes to the slot and Rich Peverly does his best Oregon lumberjack chop on #52′s twig from behind but it is not called, despite the fact that Green’s stick broke in half. That would have given Washington a 5 on 3 and could have changed the game. Again, too much influence from the zebras.
“I think it was a combination of everything. We didn’t work hard enough out there. In this kind of game, we have to score on the power play. We have to look at some tape and see what we did wrong,” said Nicklas Backstrom on the problems the Caps had in solving Pavelec.
“I think tonight [not paying the price in front of the net] happened on the power play. If you look at the power play you have everyone all in a circle waiting to take one-timers, then there was no second shot capability. Usually when we’ve got the puck to the point we have a guy going to the net and we have options but tonight on the point or the half wall everyone was just standing around hoping something was going to happen,” added Boudreau on the poor performance from his team when they had the man advantage.
- Things got even worse in the 3rd period with the referees and special teams. Dave Steckel caught Tobias Enstrom with an unintentional knee on knee hit. The referees did not have their arm up at all initially, but then Jim Slater jumped Steckel and the two tussled. The resulting call: Steckel two for kneeing and both Slater and Steckel earn five for fighting. That is ludicrous as Slater should have received an instigator or at least a minor penalty for going after #39. Ovechkin did WAY less on Adam Burish on Thursday in Dallas yet received two minutes for roughing. The LACK OF CONSISTENCY from the NHL’s officiating crew is simply maddening. So the Thrashers received a crucial power play when the Caps were previously all over Atlanta and it took only eight seconds for them to cash in. After Atlanta won the faceoff, Jeff Schultz failed to cut off a pass from Peverly and Andrew Ladd had an easy tap in goal at the far post. #55 needs to do a much better job on the PK and if he can’t, then he needs to sit for Karl Alzner and Scott Hannan.
“Obviously [the referees made a difference], but if I start talking about that again then I am just whining and I don’t want to use [the officiating] as an excuse,” finished the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winner on the guys in the striped shirts and the impact they had on this contest.
- Semyon Varlamov stopped 30 shots, including some quality chances, but the tally he allowed to Alexander Burmistov was one he would like to have back. Burmistov got behind Hannan and Tyler Sloan and came in from a bad angle with Varly hugging the post to his right. For some reason, #1 went down, seemingly trying to poke check #8, and Burmistov went upstairs short side. That goal made it 2-0 for the Thrashers and really hurt the Caps chances to win this tilt. On the other two Atlanta tallies, Varlamov had no chance. The Ladd PPG was on bad zebras and Schultz, while the first Atlanta marker came after a Washington faceoff loss. Dustin Byfuglien fired a shot that was going wide right but Peverly deflected it by the goalie who had won his previous four contests. Green was the closest to Peverly and he could have done a better job of not giving #47 room but this deflection goal was primarily the result of the Backstrom face-off loss.
- Speaking of face-offs, the Caps lost this battle, 25-23, for the first time in 15 games. Backstrom was the main reason for that going 5-12 on the evening. He took over a third of the draws because the Capitals were trailing and Boudreau kept trying to get the Caps back in it by playing his big guns (Ovechkin had over 25 minutes of ice time, while Backstrom played 22+).
Notes: Tom Poti (groin) and John Erskine (leg) missed the game due to injuries…down on the farm, Braden Holtby made 26 save as the Hershey Bears defeated the Binghamton Senators, 4-0, at the Giant Center…next up for the Caps are the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night at 7pm at the Verizon Center. It will be the 2nd tilt of a four game home stand.