Tonight's game between the Caps and the Islanders ended up being a heart breaker for Caps fans like me. Olie Kolzig made a lot of key saves to keep the Caps in it and Alex Ovechkin's goal with the empty net (6 on 5) to tie it with under a minute left was cause for hope. Unfortunately, there were a lot of low points, the Caps were out shot 31-16 through three periods and OT and the final score didn't go their way. For their part, the Islanders played intensely all night earning the two points, and had far too many chances to put the Caps away long before Richard Park notched the OT winner.
Olie Kolzig kept the Caps in it however, he didn't have that "human wall night" the Caps needed in order to get two points while only putting 16 shots on net. In fact, on the Isles first goal and the game winner Kolzig couldn't be happy and probably would, as they say, like both those goals back. Speaking of the OT game winner by Park, it was a relatively soft goal and at the time their was an injured Mike Green down on the ice with blood coming from his ear. From a "slightly" biased Caps fan's perspective it would seem play should have been whistled dead, but that apparently is not the case. The Caps are now 4-4-2 so far in the month of December. With three more games against Eastern Conference opponents left before the New Year, the Caps really need 4 or 5 of the 6 available points if they are to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot. That's a tough pill to swallow in December when the season's end is 3+ months away. Even though the Caps are clearly resurgent since the coaching change and are a far better team than their overall record of 13-19-4 would suggest.
On the plus side tonight - the Caps continue to have confidence and never give up. Olie had a solid night and looked like a number one goalie should. Alex Semin seems like he's back in the swing of things and the second line looked pretty solid, though I didn't think last night was Nicklas Backstrom's best outing. Despite being out shot by an almost 2-1 margin the Caps stayed in the game quite well. The Defense pairings of Morrisonn-Green and Poti-Jurcina were very solid. Milan Jurcina had a very solid game and made sure he didn't get burned regardless who he was on the ice with, ending the night +1 while Tom Poti ended the evening +2. Morrisonn - Green didn't fare quite so well ending the evening -1 however both had over 23 minutes of ice time. Tom Poti and Quintin Laing's penalty killing continues to look solid both players along with Dave Srteckel and Shoanne Morrisonn were on the ice for over 2:00 of the Islanders three power plays, and the Caps penalty killing was 100%.
On the minus side there were also many items to be disappointed about. First the Caps got out shot 2-1 and their forechecking didn't look as good as it has since the coaching change. This is as much a compliment of the Islanders play if not more so then an indictment of the Caps forechecking. As I noted the Semin-Backstom combination still clearly needs time to mature and Ovie hasn't scored an "even strength goal" in the last two games (last night's goal occurred with 6-5, despite being statistically counted as an even strength goal. On the defensive pairing negatives, I hate being right with my negative vibes - it was doubly bad for the Caps when my negative waves AND dmg's are both correct on the same play, as was the case with the Islanders first goal. The Defensive pairing on the ice was Schultz - Erskine; Erskine didn't have a chance and Schultz was pinching before Miroslav Satan broke out and Schultz couldn't get back. Just like I feared with this pairing the result was not good for the Caps. Of course Satan then when lateral across the front of the net on a 1-0 breakaway and Olie's cross movement was slow so he made the first move and got beat. It was a pretty goal that capitalized (no pun intended) on two Caps weaknesses - Olie's lateral mobility and Erskine's skating. As a counter to the penalty killing which held the Islanders to 0-3; the Caps powerplay was also 0-3 and languishes in mediocrity with regard to results, despite the presence of so many solid young offensive forces. Another tough pill to swallow is the Caps overall offensive production - only one Cap, Alex Ovechkin, has more than 10 goals as the season's midpoint nears.
Alex Semin's goal that tied the game was bittersweet, but at the end of two period the Caps had been out shot 20-8 by the Islanders, and the boys in blue certainly seemed be dominant. Overall with a 0.903 save percentage for the game and a 0.950 during the first two periods with lots of action, it's hard to put the game or blame on Olie. The vaunted Caps offense needs to get rev'ed up. It sure seemed the Caps were trying too many long passes and at times were man-handled by the Islanders. During the second period, two other occasions where the Islanders just rode the opposing Caps off the puck. One of those occasions occurred when Jeff Schultz was holding the puck too long. It seemed the reason for this mistake was again grounded in the pairing with Erskine, who was on the ice at the time - it seemed clear Schultz was looking for a winger to come back and get the puck from him so he wouldn't need to pass it to Erskine. Erskine and his Old Time Hockey style are fun to watch, and at times energize the rest of the team, but he almost let his temper get the best of him and gave up a man advantage. That said the operative word in the prior sentence is almost - he didn't draw a penalty and the Caps got the man advantage when Park was called for boarding. Unfortunately the Caps power play did not convert.
The best thing the Caps could have done was come out for the third period and act like they had an all out 20 minute hockey game to play; since essentially that was the case. The third period certainly seemed different then the first two - the tempo of the game and the Caps control of the puck seemed different. Each team had 7 shots and scored one goal so it was a much more even period statistically then the first two. However the truth be told, depite seeming to control the play frm 8:00 into the period through 15:00 or 16:00 into the period, the Caps let the Isles score a go ahead goal at 17:54 and had to pull Olie so Ovechkin could score a tying goal at 19:05 to force overtime. With a +/- of -1 in 12:58 of ice time for John Erskine and a -2 in 20:12 of ice time for Jeff Schultz last night; it would seem that Steve Eminger would have a fair chance of playing some during the last three games in December.
The amazing thing to most observers is that with only 30 points and the midpoint of the season quickly approaching the Caps still don't have to play over 0.700 hockey to make the playoffs. The reason is that when you extrapolate the current performance of the Eastern Conference teams only 6 teams are clearly on track to gain 92 or more points. The final two spots are clearly still up for the taking by any of the remaining 9 teams in the division. LETS GO CAPS !!!! Oh and Merry Christmas to all.