Any talk of the impending demise of the Detroit Red Wings can be put on hold as they controlled the puck for the majority of the contest and took advantage of five Capitals penalties and parlayed that into two power play goals and a third one just 18 seconds after another one expired to knock off Washington, 3-2 in Motown. Washington, which suffered its third straight loss, now drops to 2-2-1 on the season.
Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau will be pulling out any hair he has left after this one because the main culprits tonight were star players Mike Green and Alexander Semin, who took two penalties each and as usual they were of the lazy variety. Green took a hold and a hook and Semin was called for a slash and a high stick, all of which were infractions that were not involved in any scoring opportunities and are thus STUPID to take. The last one Green took, with just 7:37 to go in a tied hockey game, was just awful as he put his stick on the Red Wing skater while backchecking when forward Brooks Laich was in perfect position to make the defensive play in Washington’s zone. Just 44 seconds later the Wings scored the game winner on the rush as Pavel Datsyuk fed a streaking Tomas Holmstrom in the slot and he deposited the puck past Jose Theodore (34 saves on 37 shots).
The Caps tried to tie the game but Detroit plays their system very well and Washington had a hard time mustering any scoring opportunities down the stretch (the Wings out shot the Caps 11-4 in the third period and 37-24 overall). As the horn sounded Alexander Ovechkin, who was the contests #2 star and gave a maximum effort, slammed his stick on the Red Wings goal in frustration while goalie Chris Osgood and company gathered to celebrate the one goal win.
There is lots to digest, analyze, and discuss after this one:
Let’s start with Semin who was Mr. Disappear tonight except for his horrible penalties. We keep hearing that this is the year that this guy is going to mature and take a major step towards being an elite player on a consistent basis. Based on what I saw Saturday against one of the best teams in the league I am not so sure I want to commit long term to a guy who appeared to be disinterested in such a high profile game. If I was Ovechkin I would chew my fellow teammate and countryman out after that bad display of hockey.
Theodore played well tonight and it was not his fault Washington lost, although he could have done a better job covering the rebound on the first Wings goal but his defensive pair of Tyler Sloan and Brian Pothier didn’t help him out either. Sloan looked a step slow most of the evening but it is hard to fault him for that given this was his first game on defense this regular season and he had to play it against the high flying Wings.
There are several reasons why the Red Wings have the puck so much and skill is just one of the compenents. First, they pass the puck as well as any team I can remember since those 1980’s Edmonton Oilers squads, and more importantly, they know how to play away from the puck better than any other team in the league finding open space which makes stringing passes together much easier. The Caps have a level of skill that is commensurate with Detroit but they are still learning how to play away from the puck and right now that is the biggest difference between these two teams.
In addition, something the Penguins did very well in their second round playoff series against the Caps and throughout the playoffs is run a little bit of interference to aid your teammates without it being impeding enough for the referees to call a penalty. On the Wings winning goal on Saturday, Nicklas Lidstrom did a great job of slightly interfering with Brooks Laich at the blue line and that allowed Brian Rafalski to spring Pavel Datsyuk with speed down the left wing boards to set up Holmstrom’s blast.
Matt Bradley was one of the bright spots for Washington tonight scoring a goal (the first of the season to come from a 3rd or 4th line player) on a bad angled shot, that Osgood should have had, and also drew a penalty on Nicklas Kronwall. On the ensuing Caps power play late in the first period Osgood made the save of the game robbing Ovechkin in the slot after a nice give and go with Green.
You often hear that one of the issues with the Caps is the lack of a big defender to move opposing forwards from in front of their goaltender. Detroit’s second goal was the result of Dan Cleary camping out in front of Theodore and Tom Poti. The way the rules are these days it is tough to move players from the goal area without getting called for interference so I am not sure getting one big defender is the total answer to the defensive problem. However, I do think the players on defense, other than Green who still is growing and improving, are playing at a level that is close to their potential NHL ceiling right now. In Hershey, there are two guys who have enormous upside and will improve the Caps defense in the near future. 2008 1st round draft pick John Carlson needs at least part of this year to develop in the AHL but 2007 1st round pick and 5th overall, Karl Alzner, is ready to come to the NHL now but because of the lack of salary cap room (primarily caused by the Michael Nylander situation) he isn’t playing with the Caps yet. To me the overall solution on defense is getting Alzner up with the big club and learning on the job (he will make mistakes early on), bringing Carlson up later in the season if he continues to develop and dominate in Hershey, and then adding another quality defensemen at or near the trading deadline.
2nd line center Brendan Morrison scored his 3rd goal of the season on the power play (Washington was 1 for 3) early in the third period on a feed from Ovechkin. Right now #9 is looking like a very good off-season addition by GM George McPhee. Forward Mike Knuble is another solid pick up but he only has 1 point in five games so Boudreau needs to figure out something to get him going. Perhaps bumping the erratic Semin off the first line and replacing him with #22 might be the solution?
Next up for the Caps are the New Jersey Devils on Monday at 7pm at the Verizon Center.