Thursday, April 1, 2010

Still In Search Of Win #50.....

Well as we all know Tuesday evening's outing between the Capitals and the Senators resulted in.... gasp ... the Capitals third loss in a row and a "one point night." To be sure Tuesday evening was a far better outing by the Capitals then Sunday's game against Calgary. The Capitals effort versus the Senators, a team who as Gabby pointed out, was a better effort and more inspired effort than the prior two games. However, it wasn't a 60 minute effort. Look I get it, in fact, I think nearly everyone gets it - as Coach Boudreau has pointed out this is pretty much exactly like trying to tell your kid he needs to get cracking the books a couple weeks before finals, in fact it's like that and the kid "aced" the mid-terms and knows he's really, really smart/good.

These last three games have been tough on those of us fans who are by nature "worriers" and if things go as I think they will for the remaining six games of the season, we're all still likely to be worrying through the end of the season. I say that because four of the final six games of the season are against the two teams most likely to be fighting for the last playoff spot in the East - Boston and tonight's opponents the Atlanta Thrashers. The cause of Tuesday evenings loss was in my opinion primarily one thing: "Time and Space" - as in the Caps clearly allowed Jason Spezza and Daniel Afredsson too much of it. I was at the game and watched it closely, by the end of the first period it was obvious who the Caps needed to shut down - they basically did that for the 20 minutes from the middle of the second through the middle of the third period, Tuesday evening. However, despite protestations to the contrary, it's sure seems to me that many players on the Caps are "throttled" back at least just a little, at least being a little more careful to avoid injury, etc. then they likely will later this month.

After Ovie's last suspension, vetran Mike Knuble noted that one of the keys for a player to have a long career, the long career you want great players like Ovechkin, Green, Semin, and Backstrom to have is to know when you can and should ease your foot up on the accelerator. The Capitals have clearly are doing that, either consciously or unconsciously and it shows. Yes I know the Capitals are denying it (coasting) that's why I phrased it as consciously or unconsciously. But, it shows when you come out slow and don't finish off opponents in the third period. Sure there were some moments of inspiried hockey in particular I liked the DEFENSIVE play of Mike Green - the two breakaways he got back for and broke up including one with a penalty free diving poke check ought to be put on CD and sent to every one of the people who get to vote for the Norris trophy this year. Alexander Semin's second goal, masterfully set up by a feed from Ovechkin, as well as Semin's hustle and play in general for those 20- 30 minutes I'm pointing to was great as well. I thought Jose Theodore played well, though he clearly was at least left out if not hung out to dry for most of the goals. The officiating was once again maddening but it went both ways, the penalty on Karlsson for tripping Ovechkin that resulted in the Caps first goal of Tuesday night was a gift and a bad call. Of course since I'm a Caps fan I regard the "makeup tripping call" against Nicklas Backstrom, also a bad call, as the worst call of the night. In the end that gave the Senators the chance to win the game - which they did. In truth neither team played a complete game Tuesday night and that gave both teams a chance to win. In particular if someone told you the Caps and Senators would play a game where Senators goaltender Brian Elliott had a SV% of 0.810 and the Senators were the winning team, before Tuesday night would you have believed them?

In the end it doesn't matter, we are on to tonight's match-up with the Thrashers, a team that is truly perplexing. They trade Ilya Kovalchuk at the deadline, generally a smart move because he wasn't going to re-sign in Atlanta, yet they are still truly in the playoff race with Philadelphia, Boston, and Montreal. To be sure Atlanta is the team with the longest odds against them making this year's post season, but they are by no means out of it. They really have to be driven at this point knowing but for an unfortunate, perplexing loss on Monday night to Carolina they too would have 82 points and though they'd still find themselves in 9th by virtue of the tie breakers they'd be poised far better to pounce on a misstep by any of the other three. Of course the fact the Hurricanes also beat Montreal last evening had to be welcome news to the Thrashers. Atlanta has just 5 games left but they are all against teams that already have their ticket to the post-season: 2 against the Caps, 2 against the Penguins, and 1 against the Devils. Whether that works for or against the Bluebirds remains to be seen. One thing is for sure though - the Thrashers have far more at stake tonight than the Capitals, Atlanta really does probably need to "win out" to have a chance at the playoffs and they have been playing well. In fact at 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, they have the best record of the four "bubble teams" in the East over the prior 10 game stretch.

Well I'm hoping Brooks Laich returns tonight and John Carlson is also in the lineup, it would be even better if Brendan Morrison was back too and the line-up could and does start to stabilize to what it will be for the start of the playoffs. I expect we'll see Semyon Varlamov in goal tonight though to me it looks like the goaltender for the start of the playoffs will and should be Jose Theodore. I'm planning to be catch the game from my seat in section 103 though it's unclear at this moment whether my lower back will be cooperative, it's been aching for two days now. The cause is as perplexing to me as the recent play of the Caps and the officiating in the NHL has been since October. Hope to see y'all there Rockin' the Red ....


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