Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Capital Upset

The Washington Capitals and the hockey world were stunned by the 3-2 overtime loss suffered at Verizon Center Thursday Night. Tomas Plekanac scored in overtime by gaining entry into the Caps' zone, cutting to the middle, and letting a shot go from the high-slot area to beat Jose Theodore. Washington defenseman Joe Corvo was giving Plekanac way too much room to operate once he gained the zone, and seemed to be partially screening Theodore on the play.
The Caps dominated much of the first period outshooting the Habs 19-7 and winning almost every physical battle in all three zones. However, once the second period set in, the Capitals' bad habits came out that had been of concern all season. Montreal seemed to step up the tempo and their forecheck resulting in Capital turnovers and scoring opportunities for the Canadians. One thing (among the many) that the Caps need to do better are line changes in the second period - the long change from the bench to the defensive zone had their defense caught for extended shifts several times. The Capitals are not a good enough team in their own zone for their defense to get stuck on the ice only to turn the puck over and make poor decisions. This problem can also be helped by the wingers giving more support to the defense, giving them an outlet for breakout passes.
The goal scored by Nicklas Backstrom that broke the 1-1 tie very early in the 3rd period brought the fans back into the game and brought out shades of the regular season Capitals. But Canadians goaltender Jaroslav Halak had other ideas and put on a show in net. Halak ended the night with 45 saves on 47 shots. While the shooting continued throughout the rest of the game by the Capitals, the Canadians were winning more and more physical battles, especially in their own zone. The absence of a forecheck directly led to the game-tying goal by Scott Gomez. Gomez was able to carry the puck out of the Habs’ zone unmolested, picking up speed through the neutral zone, dodged a check by both Backstrom and Ovechkin, and then dished the puck to Brian Gionta, before heading to the net for the return feed that made it a 2-2 game.
Wait…Ovechkin?  Alexander Ovechkin? Was that the first time I mentioned his name in this post? Probably because he registered zero shots on goal in his 26-plus minutes of ice time. Hard to believe for the reigning MVP who finished 1st in the regular season with 368 shots on goal, and he also did not factor into the Capitals scoring. So, what do we usually see when Ovechkin is held scoreless? A one-man wrecking machine that punishes every player who touches the puck. That did not happen as well. Double-teamed all game, the Montreal Canadians did a great job with their gap control and placing their sticks in his shooting lanes. Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau called out Ovechkin directly in a post game interview.
“When you get almost 50 shots on goal and Ovechkin doesn’t get any and you have four power plays, there’s something (wrong),” Boudreau said. “They took him away pretty good, but I just didn’t think he was very good tonight.”
I suspect we’ll see a strong response to these comments at Ovechkin when the Caps are back in action Saturday night at Verizon Center.
Now, I have to give credit where credit is due, and the Montreal Canadians played as well as they could have played. I already mentioned the performance of Jaroslav Halak but the Habs’ big named players came through in a very big way. Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, and Tomas Plekanec all registered points for Montreal and these players knew they would need to play well in this series if they were to make a stand against the heavily favored Capitals. The challenge for Montreal will be if they can sustain this level of play as the series continues.
Expect Scott Walker for Washington to be in the lineup Saturday night to agitate the Montreal defense as I’m sure it was difficult to watch his team from the press-box. The game can be seen on Versus at 7pm et.

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