The Olympic Break can not come soon enough for the Washington Capitals. After their 14 game winning streak was snapped in Montreal on Tuesday night in overtime the Caps had to face a very hot Ottawa Senators club (winners of 12 of 13 prior to this one) on Wednesday evening and despite a hat trick from Alexander Semin they were defeated 6-5 at Scotiabank Place. The Capitals are banged up (Tom Poti, Shaone Morrisonn, and Jason Chimera all were out with injuries/ailments) and a tired team at this point but they still have a 14 point lead in the Eastern Conference with 21 games left in the season. They fall to 41-13-7 (89 points) and will play in St. Louis on Saturday before the NHL shuts down for the Vancouver 2010 games.
Let’s get to the highlights, analysis, and quotes:
I am going to make this blog shorter tonight because Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau has been saying for two weeks that his team needs some serious practice time to get back to playing their system and the last two nights have proved him totally correct. So for me to sit here and nitpick this guy or that guy, especially after the team just won 14 straight games, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Let’s start with the total team defense: It was atrocious. Too many giveaways, bad decisions, sitting back too much, etc. You name it and the Caps did it wrong at some point on Wednesday night. Poti and Morrisonn, two of the regular d-men, were out with a groin injury and the flu, respectively, plus John Erskine is playing dinged up. Add in that Karl Alzner, who was recalled from Hershey today (along with forward Chris Bourque) had to endure a day of planes, trains, and automobiles, and you can see why the mental focus and execution was not there. Still no excuse and those in the camp of “Caps need to add a defenseman before the trade deadline” have gained alot of ammuniton after the last several games.
Semyon Varlamov (22 saves) played his first game since December 7th and outside of the first 18 minutes in the second period, he struggled big time giving up some goals in which he was not screened. He did not get much help from his defense and two of the goals were power play tallies (Ottawa scored on both of their man advantage situations while the Caps did not score on either of theirs). Boudreau lit into both his defense and his goalie after the game.
“Our thought our defense was horrible and our goaltending was horrible. You can use whatever term you want I don’t think [Varlamov] was ready to play. The puck is going through the legs, he’s been making that save since he was 7 years old so unless his memory bank has lost it he should have made the save,” started Boudreau, “The giveaways part from our defense were more horrible than the goaltending and I didn’t think the goaltending was good,” finished Boudreau on the defense and goaltending.
Washington has been extremely sloppy lately and Boudreau has noted, on several occassions, even during the winning streak, that the team was trending down (he talked about this after the victory over Tampa Bay on January 31) and bad habits were become more and more apparent.
“[Bad habits] have been creeping in for about 7 games now and I’ve been telling them every friggin night about bad habits. The break can’t come soon enough for me, where we can get 5 or 6 good days of practice and get back on track here. It’s tough to practice when you have 3 games in 4 nights,” added Boudreau on the problems and the solution to correcting them.
Semin, who was pretty much a no show in Montreal and didn’t do alot against the Penguins on Sunday except draw a penalty that set up the game winning goal, was on tonight. #28 scored three goals on Ottawa’s Brian Elliott (19 saves), added an assist on Tomas Fleischmann’s tally (the Caps first of the evening), and fired nine shots on the cage in just over 18 minutes of ice time. He also had 6 shots blocked something that the Senators defense, especially Anton Volchenkov (11 blocks), do very well while the Caps didn’t work hard enough to put themselves in position to thwart shot attempts.
The shots on goal in this one were low (28-24 Sens) because Ottawa did such a good job of not letting Washington get the puck through to Elliott, who was not on his game either. Boudreau commented on that as well.
“Their goalie wasn’t very good either but they got more shots so they scored more goals,” finished Boudreau on the sloppy contest.
Clearly there is no need to panic, but team defense is something Washington will need to pay more attention to if they want to win the Stanley Cup. Brooks Laich has repeatedly talked about his team sticking to its system if they want to get where Pittsburgh got to last year. Right now, Washington is nowhere close to playing their system. The only reason they’ve been able to win or stay in games the last two nights has been because of their high skill level and great goaltending (up until tonight). At the end of the day, I thought Alan May of Comcast summed up the Caps situation, in respect to getting ready for the post season over these last 21 games, best.
“It is time to put an end to the madness in the d-zone,” said May.
Notes: Alex Ovechkin, who played 29+ plus minutes in Montreal logged nearly 27 minutes in Ottawa & looked tired. He had an assist, but only had 1 shot on goal and took a bad penalty in the 3rd period for interference (slid Mike Fisher’s stick away from him while it laid on the ice)..Fleischmann (-3) was on the ice for all four even strength goals (thanks for that one Japers Rink!)..Flash also struggled in face-offs going 2 and 9 and Ottawa’s second tally by Milan Michalek came after #14 lost a draw to Jason Spezza..Spezza had a goal and two assists but was a -2..Washington has hat tricks in three straight games (Ovechkin, Laich, Semin) but surprisingly have lost the last two games. Before those two losses the Caps had won the previous eight games in which they notched a hat trick (h/t to Caps Sr. Media Relations Director Nate Ewell for that stat)…the Caps-Canadiens game on Tuesday night set Comcast viewing records in the greater DC/Baltimore area scoring a 5.8 rating, which translates to an average audience of 148,00 households.