Thursday, March 11, 2010

Caps Quell 'Canes 4-3 in OT

It was a 2 point night once again at Verizon Center last night as the Washington Capitals calmed the storming Carolina Hurricanes to capture points 98 and 99 of their 2009 - 2010 regular season. In many ways it wasn't pretty as once again Bruce Boudreau and the coaching staff juggled the line-up to see how and where "the trade deadline new guys" fit and play best with the rest of what has been a relatively stable line-up since early this season. Don't get me wrong, I think these are the types of issues and challenges we as fans want the team to be having right now, except of course the Penalty Kill units.

My overall impressions and thoughts from the game since other more detailed recaps have already been posted and are being discussed around the net follow. First before getting hyper-critical here let's acknowledge that since the resumption of play and the pickup of Corvo, Belanger, Walker and Jurcina at the trade deadline the Capitals are 3-0-1 and that's 0.875 hockey in terms of points captured vs. points available; further they stretched their lead over the rest of the NHL to 6 points. Say what you will about the SE Division/Quality of Competition, etc. all you want the Caps accomplishments and overall strength of team is impressive, regardless of any editorial qualifying statements. Put in 50,000 foot level perspective, as of today, season overall the Capitals have played 0.734 ice hockey in terms of points captured vs. points available and even if they only play 0.500 hockey the rest of the season they will finish with 114 points. Clearly that's not what they or we fans want them to do nor is it what I think they will do, I'm just putting things into perspective before taking a hyper-critical look at the team in light of the good, bad, and ugly from first last night and then actually the last four games.

First the good from last night:

1) Jose Theodore played well, in my opinion, a) no softies, b) answered the call and made a couple of big saves when needed to keep the Caps in it, and had a save percentage of 0.903 against a resurgent, confident, well playing Hurricanes Team during a tight game, and of course he stopped the Brandon Sutter penalty shot.

2) Mike Green's two goals.

3) Tomas Fleischmann's game winner got him off "the schneid."

4) The Caps first and second lines looked good and most shifts they dominated and controlled the play and pace of the game.

The some good/some bad from last night:

1) The Caps power play unit scored two goals in four man advantage situations so it was 50%. However they gave up too many shorthanded chances/shots to the aggressive Hurricanes penalty kill and there seems to be a book developing around the league on the Caps about that. Going into the playoffs the power play unit needs to step back and watch the video of those games where they've played folks with an aggressive PK and make some adjustments in this regard.

2)The PK unit clearly made adjustments and at times was very good. The D-Pairing of Poti - Sha-Mo was especially effective on the PK unit. However, the Hurricanes Power Play unit was still able to go 1 - 5 and the end result was the PK Unit was 80%. As Craig Laughlin covered in the pre-game on CSN, you'd really like to see that number up at around 85%+ when you are looking at comparable performance by recent past Stanley Cup Winners.

The bad & ugly:

1) Overall, the Caps played a solid disciplined game but at least two and in my view three of the five penalties they took could have been avoided. The easiest way for them to improve the PK is to avoid these sorts of short handed situations entirely, the game is changing and at this stage of the season guys know certain things that will be called - "every time" - those are the penalties that ought to be avoided. Of course the 5 penalties also doesn't take into account the sixth because it was a penalty shot....

2) Mike Green's "assist" on the Carolina's power play goal by Jossi Joikenen in the second that tied the game at 3-3.

3) Regardless of their dominance at times, the Caps first and second lines failed to get the puck by Manny Legace and put the game away during the second period when they had chances to do so. From my perspective, watching on the CSN Broadcast, it seemed they needed to crash the net more and harder as they took many of their shots on the perimeter and didn't get either traffic or a rebound chance.

Bottom lines:

A) Based on the pre- and post-game comments by Coach Bruce Boudreau, I'd expect the line-up juggling and shuffling to continue for 5 or so more games. That's not a bad thing in my view. It should give everyone a chance to get to know each other and how they might interact if a brutal series results in injuries that require such shuffles in the post-season.

B) If the playoffs started tomorrow you'd have to go with Jose Theodore in goal. Personally, I don't have a problem with that - AT ALL. Since January, Theo has been consistent, confident, and very good. I think he's ready for the playoff run and I don't have any of the concerns or fears relative to him being able to shoulder the load required throughout the playoffs that many of the pundits seem to have.

C) While last night wasn't pretty and I don't expect the next five or six games to be so, the results certainly seem to be saying this team has what it takes and knows how to win, let's all continue to think good thoughts and hope that holds through June.

Next up: Tampa Bay tomorrow night at Verizon Center the last game of the five game post-Olympic home stand.


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