Punchless Caps Lose 3rd Straight

January 14, 2011 | Ed Frankovic

Remember those Wendy’s commericials with the “Where’s the Beef?” lady? These days you could rerun those ads to describe the Washington Capitals but modify the line to be “Where’s the Offense?” Once again a lack of scoring and some boneheaded plays led to a Caps defeat, this time at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks at the Verizon Center by a 4-2 count. Washington has now gone nine straight contests without scoring more than three goals and going back further it has been 15 of 16 games at three goals or less. Clearly some changes need to be made because this club is not getting it done offensively and they show no signs of breaking out of that funk. The loss keeps the Capitals at 55 points and thanks to an unlikely New Jersey Devils victory in Tampa, Washington is still only two points out of first place in the Southeast Division. The Caps are also seven points ahead of the ninth place Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference but the Canes have two games in hand.

Here is my analysis of a game that going into I thought would bring out a strong Washington effort:

– After two periods the shots were 29-16, Canucks, with Vancouver carrying the play and having a large terroritorial edge. They were winning nearly every battle for the loose pucks and they were working harder than Washington, which kept the Caps pinned back in their own zone for much of the first 40 minutes. The Capitals continually tried to break out up the boards but nearly every time there was one or two Vancouver players waiting and as a result there were numerous Washington turnovers. Either the Caps weren’t as focused as I’d thought they be against the NHL’s top team in the standings or they simply are not that good. The Caps were playing their third game in four nights, but given that Vancouver played Thursday night in New York, fatigue was no excuse.

– In the third period the Caps played better, outshooting the Canucks 11-6 and getting one tally, but it was nowhere near enough. Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo only had to face 27 shots and he pretty much saw all of them. Washington continually made poor decisions entering the opponents zone and when they dumped the puck in, the Capitals forwards were not working hard enough to get in position to hit the Canucks defense. That allowed the Vancouver blue liners to have an easy time of getting the biscuit out of their zone. Bottom line, outside of Alexander Ovechkin and perhaps Brooks Laich, the Capitals don’t have any forwards that have the ability to scare an opposing defense into turnovers. If that doesn’t change over the next few months, then the local Dicks sporting goods store will need to stock up on extra golf balls because that is what sport the Caps will be playing in late April and into the rest of the spring.

– Washington’s power play once again failed to click going 0 for 3 in 4:09 of ice time. If you don’t shoot the puck you can’t score. Guess how many shots the Caps had in those three power plays? Three! That is pathetic. It is maddening watching Ovechkin, Mike Green, and Nicklas Backstrom pass up shot after shot from the point or high half wall. At this point, things can’t get any worse by sitting those guys out with the man advantage and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau should consider going with some d-men who will shoot the puck and forwards who will crash the net in Sunday’s 3pm matinee against Ottawa.

– Boudreau switched up two of his defensive pairs in this one, putting Jeff Schultz back with Green and having Scott Hannan with John Erskine. The results were not good as Schultz looked woefully slow against a speedy Canucks club and Green had one of his worst outings in quite some time. Sarge is -5 in his last two tilts and it boggles my mind that he is getting more ice time than Karl Alzner, who had another strong game going +2 in 16:31 of ice time compared to 19:43 for #55.

– Up front, after Marcus Johannson (1 goal) and Matt Hendricks (1 goal, +1) there wasn’t much to like. Backstrom waited until the third period to show up and Ovechkin only had 3 shots on goal in just over 25 minutes of action. The Great #8 did have seven hits but once again he struggled with his stickwork and failed to get off shots on some good chances. The worst forward on the ice for Washington was Jason Chimera (-2 in 7:24 of action). #25 took a stupid roughing penalty 3:02 into the middle frame and the result was a Christian Ehroff power play goal just 44 seconds into the Vancouver man advantage. But things would get worse for Chimera as he carelessly turned the puck over at the red line allowing Daniel Sedin to skate in on a breakaway and beat Semyon Varlamov with 4:01 to go in period two. That tally made it 3-1 and given the way the Washington offense is struggling, the game was pretty much over at that point.

– The positives were again few and far between. Alzner had a strong game going +2, Johansson had one of his better outings in a very inconsistent rookie season (but that is to be expected, for the most part), Varlamov (31 saves on 34 shots) made some good stops to give the Caps hope after 40 minutes, and the team was strong from the face-off dot winning 38 of 57 draws. Backstrom was 19-5 while Dave Steckel went 8-1. Manny Malhotra, who was a close second to #39 in the race for the NHL’s best faceoff man, was abused by the Caps on Friday night losing 10 of 12.

– In summary, this third straight loss was another bad outing and the question I have after 45 games is: Is this team just taking it easy and hoping to kick it into gear in the spring or are they really not that good? Right now, given the lack of offensive production, I am leaning towards the latter and as I’ve blogged lately, GM George McPhee needs to upgrade his top six forward crew with at least two fresh faces if they want to go deep into the playoffs.

Notes: The Canucks fourth goal was into an empty net (Daniel Sedin floated at center ice waiting for the freebie)…Defenseman Tom Poti is out for at least a week with a lower body injury (i.e, he hurt his groin again)…Eric Fehr started on the top line, was yanked off of that for lack of production, and then left the game in the third period after colliding with Steckel by the bench area. It appeared #16 injured his arm (Update: Fehr injured his shoulder and is out 3-4 weeks)…Alexander Semin is still out with a lower body injury…Down on the farm, the Hershey Bears got goals from Zack Miskovic, Brian Willsie, and Steve Pinizzotto while Dany Sabourin made 25 saves in a 3-0 victory over Adirondack.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: At 1040 am on Saturday morning I will be on with Stephen Pepper and Russell Waxman on Japers Rink Radio talking Caps hockey. The full show starts at 10am. Click here to listen in live.