Well last evening I walked into the house after getting off a plane from Albuquerque tired and still fighting a bad cold I had all week on the road. So rather then subjecting the other fans in section 103 to the same coughing I had been doing since arriving in San Diego on Monday, I watched the Caps - Sabres from the love seat in our rec room here in Bristow. Yes, the end result was disappointing as was the recap shown this morning on ESPN Sportscenter. The highlights were Ovie's 23rd goal and the Sabre's game winner in the third. Both were poignant, for Caps fan in opposing perspectives, of course.
Rather then go through the game details as others already have, or write a vehement counter-point to some folks criticism of Olie the Goalie's performance last night (I really don't think that 3 of the 4 goals that occurred during the time Olie was in the net were all his fault like dmg seems to think and I definitely don't feel he's playing sub par for a starter - in fact there was just an ESPN highlight of a great save by Olie last night.) I'd like to highlight and amplify by others that it's definitely not the time to get down on the Caps, since the coaching change they are a different team look at the stats as some others have. Here's where the Caps stand since the coaching change: 6-4-0-1 (3-1-0-1 against SE Division Opponents including 1-1 vs. the division leading Hurricanes). All eleven games since the coaching change have been against Eastern Conference opponents.How big a turnaround is this compared to the first 21 games - HUGE! If the first 21 games had been played this way we'd be looking at a team that had a clear chance at breaking 100 points and a playoff spot. Since the coaching change, Bruce Bodreau's team has been able to "stay on the bubble" for a spot in the playoffs, and the best part is we no longer blame losses on players who are out due to injury (a fact of life in the NHL that has to be accepted and dealt with - it's a physical game and there are 82 of them in the regular season.)
Statistically, they have drastically improved in almost every category. The one category that has been an issue the past two games is turnovers, 25 in each of the last two games. Also in last night's loss penalties were an issue - the three!! too many men on the ice penalties, put the Caps total penalties at well over their average since the coaching change. Another notable low item, last night was the first time since the coaching change that an opponent scored 5 goals - even though one of them was an empty netter. I will say one thing about the game versus the Sabres before going through the stats discussion. Last night once again, the horrible? controversial? whatever, basically bad ice again played a role in the result of the game. It contributed to two goals and at least one "tripping" penalty that wouldn't have happened on good ice that I could see on TV. It's also been an issue in a couple of potential injuries since the Caps started playing a more wide open game in Boudreau's system. Problems with Verizon Center's ice surface need to be addressed sooner than later.
The team the Caps lost to last night are the only Eastern Conference team the Caps can't seem to figure out. This year the Caps are 0-3 versus the Sabres, this is perplexing, the Devils are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games - their only loss - the Caps. The Caps are 1-2 versus the Lightning and go to Tampa tonight where the Lightning are 11-4-2 so far this year. Tampa Bay is 4-5-1 in their last 10; if the Caps win they will be 7-4-0-1 since the the day after Thanksgiving. A win would mean they have captured 62.5% of the available points in a busy stretch of their schedule. Extrapolating that through the rest of the season would put them at 88 points for the season. With 88 points, the Caps will have to also pick up a couple of "bounces" and find a way to win 2-4 additional games. Impossible? Probably not, if they keep playing like they did during their three game "winning streak". If they keep giving up 25 turnovers a game though, it will certainly be a real hard road ahead. They will also likely need a couple of miracle games from their stars to get those three or four extra wins, a game where Olie the Goalie is a human wall. A game where the Great Eight gets a hat trick +; a game where Backstrom, Semin, Nylander or Kozlov looks like they are on fire. A game where Mike Green scores two and Shoane Morrisonn flattens anything that comes into the Caps zone so the inevitable young player mistake doesn't matter. Any of those things could result in the Caps having the likely minimum number of points for a playoff spot, IF they keep playing in the rest of the games like they now know they can. What better way to start then making the Lightning 11-5-2 at home when the third period buzzer goes off tonight? LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!