After waking up and reading Tarik's piece on last night's game I just started wondering what pieces of the Cap's team would need to elevate their game to win without Ovie. Atlanta wet 2-0 this weekend without their star scorer, Ilya Kovalchuck and Pittsburgh is 3-2-1 so far this season without both Sidney Crosby and Marc Andre Fleury. Clearly Pittsburgh with a 29-19-4 record and 62 points on the season has "arrived" as a team that is back in the NHL's top tier; and there is no questioning their depth either now that they are still winning despite being as hobbled by injuries as any other team this season. The Thrashers are nothing if they aren't inconsistent, so explaining what happened with them this past weekend is harder but, the explanation seems to be as simple as they really wanted to show they are more than a one dimensional team and they have a fairly deep bench with offensive talent and a goalie who’s decided it’s his time to shine.
Looking at the Caps it’s hard to see them having that sort of balance, but that’s what they need. The second, third, and fourth lines need to add offensive production as well as they have escalated their defensive efforts. Over the past 10 games, second, third and fourth line players contributed 10 of the Capitals 33 goals, not a bad number; however in the last three games the supporting cast has scored “nada”, “zip”, “zilch”. Perhaps even more devastating to the Caps – in the last three games the the Caps have not scored a power play goal despite having at least a one man advantage for a total of 8:06. During the prior 7 games the Caps scored a total of nine (9) times on the power play. In the post lockout era special teams’ play is indeed a key to winning, and when the Caps power play is working, it opens up the game for everyone not just AO or Semin who are often the power play goal scorers. Another disturbing issue the past three games has been “bad penalties.” In the 4-0 loss to the Canadeans, John Erskine got the automatic delay of game penalty not once but twice. In the 5-4 OT win over the Canadeans, Alexander Semin ceded a power play opportunity to the Habs by getting nabbed for hooking 11 seconds into a second period power play. Last night, Semin, was twice the cause of lost power play opportunities. During the first period just 6 seconds after Atlanta’s Bobby Holick was sent to the box for slashing, Semin was again caught out of position and nailed with a hooking call as he tried to recover; then in the second period he was called for diving after he was held by Alexei Zhitnik. I really don’t understand how a guy who is truly fouled gets called for “diving” so I don’t hold the second penalty against him but the first one, especially two games in a row?!? These “bad” penalties were especially damaging during the two shut out losses, since the Caps didn’t get that many power play chances. If the Caps don’t make the playoffs it will be because of games like those two shutout losses this past week.
Are the Caps playoff chances much less than they were at the start of post all star push – not yet, but the team needs to stop reading the hype of their post Thanksgiving achievements and concentrate on the business at hand – winning hockey games one period and one shot at a time. If they return to that focus and level of play, then they’ll be able to win even on nights they don’t score 2 power play goals or nights that AO doesn’t score. LET’S GO CAPS!!!