Caps 3 - Canadiens 0: If Bruce Boudreau could bottle this game and replicate it as an elixir, I bet he would be doing so this morning. First let me say despite the final score, and despite the fact that for Caps fans this was, by and large, a fun game to watch; there was one glaring short-coming ALL night long: the officiating was awful, and worse yet the officials were involved in things that affected the outcome and flow of the game even when they didn't have to be so. I'm not saying all the calls went one way or the other, they did not - both teams "got screwed", in my view evenly so or close to it. I just think that a professional sports league, especially one which is the highest level of it's sport, or at least purports to be so, can and should, do better. More on that, maybe, later in this post. For now let's get to the good, the exciting and even probably a little of the bad from last night.
Coaching and Preparation: Grade A. First let me say I saw two things from the Capitals Coach and his staff I haven't noticed all that much before (doesn't mean they weren't there, I just really never noticed them much before) that were really good and really worked out. First thing was the basic relatively calm and reasoned reaction to what was likely the worst call all night if not one of the worst so far this year - the wash out of the goal by David Steckel in the first period. Trust me when I say I certainly didn't think this was the right move by Gabby when he did it and I was going apoplectic because it was such a bad call. Apparently though the ref whistled the play dead because he lost sight of the puck and that's not a reviewable call or certainly the hardest one to get a reversal on anyway. That said: the whistle was way too fast, and if that was how the NHL Officials usually handled this situation, there would be A LOT FEWER goals through goaltender's 5-holes by guys right on the doorstep. In any case, Boudreau and the Caps merely and rightly requested an explanation and when they got it they didn't unduly delay the game, get flustered, or distracted bay it. Instead they quickly went back to work and in short order got their second goal of the night when Mike Green joined the rush and nailed a beautiful laser fast wrister past Carey Price at the 19:22 mark of the first period. The second thing that Boudreau did that frankly shocked and totally delighted me was when with about 2:00 left in the game he called a timeout. I'm sitting there, probably like most of the crowd wondering why with just 2:00 left in the game, a 2 goal lead, and the Caps playing well, their coach called a timeout. Then after the timeout, the Caps come out on the ice and immediately start playing a 1-4 trap, regardless of who they have out on the ice. That was beautiful to see, to see this ultra-talented team full of offensive powerhouses, play a 1-4 trap in a manner that would make Claude Lemiuex and/or Claude Julian happy. They were playing for the shutout for their goaltender who had played very well all night. They were just making sure they were ready for the inevitable offensive push from the Canadiens which came less than 20 seconds later when they pulled Carey Price. Best of all both coach and team were rewarded for this solid, smart play when at the 19:28 mark of the period, Team Captain Alex Ovechkin, got the empty net goal to put the Caps up by the final score of 3-0. Folks, if anybody tells you at any point between now and whenever this season ends that this Coaching staff has lost this team, pull out a video of the last three minutes of this game to show them just how absolutely wrong they probably are no matter what happens between now and then.
Offensive Game Plan & Execution: Grade B+. Bottom lines here are: i) everyone was part of the offensive game both 1st and 2nd lines as well as 3rd & 4th lines and the Blueliners. Despite the relatively low score and the fact the Caps only scored the single empty netter after the first period, they kept the pressure up all night long. The forechecking was relentless well over 55 of the 60 minutes of play. Were it not for a quick whistle in addition to call-up Jay Beagle's excellent goal to start out the night's scoring that was the result of simple, straight forward play and hard work the first period would have included two goals that are the kind of goals you really want to see if you think you are trying to get ready for the playoffs. Beagle's goal and Steckel's disallowed tally were the result of players going where they need to go and being willing to pay the price to score, plain and simple. I guess in addition to feeling the washout of Steckel's goal was a horrible call, another reason I was so upset with the call, is because it would have been Steckel's second goal in as many games - I haven't looked but has he scored in back to back games as a Cap anytime before that? The first and second lines played very well, Mike Green's goal was the result of a blue liner activating and joining the rush the way he should and when he should. As far as putting real pressure on the opposing goaltender and getting solid offensive zone time, this was one of the best games I've seen, especially five on five. Top 2 Lines: Ovechkin, Semin, Knuble, Laich, and Backstrom all had very good nights - Backstrom was 83% in the faceoff circle. Call-up Kieth Aucoin did well filling in for the injured MP85 and MoJo90 as the second line pivot. From the third and fourth lines, the performance and contributions were great from where I sat and now post-game looking over the statistics. Jay Beagle was a truly noticeable presence in the game, in a good way - all night long. David Steckel also solid all night long - in every facet of his game. Eric Fehr +2 on the night and involved in the game in every way on every shift. Matt Hendricks didn't let a weak call against him just 0:23 into the game affect his game one negative iota and was his usual solid self. Jason Chimera was +2 on the night and chased down two pucks to nullify icing calls that helped keep pressure on the Habs and give the Caps more offensive zone time. Andrew Gordon played a solid all be it relatively unremarkable game last night after being much more noticeable in the last game, that combined with the fact that if he played two more games here in DC he'd have to pass through waivers were probably while he was sent back down to Hershey. That said A. Gordon and Jay Beagle's play of late has to be keeping everyone on the Caps roster on their toes.
Defensive Game: Grade A (it was a shutout) : So ice time leaders among the Caps Blue liners last night were: Mike Green - 28:19 TOI (4:56 SH and 11:49 PP); and John Carlson 22:13 (14:32 EV). Carlson was usually on the ice with Karl Alzner (18:13 TOI, 14:01 EV). Last night was Jeff Schultz' return to the ice from injury. #55 played 13:16 TOI (2:07 SH) and was generally paired with John Erskine. Schultz was the only defenseman who wasn't in the + column, finishing the night +/- even. Green was +2 and all the rest of the blue liners were +1 on the night. Any night you are playing the "Flying Frenchmen" and you only see Brian Gionta and/or Mike Cammelari get free and skate in on your goaltender unencumbered a few times and with either a blueliner or backchecking forward in close enough pursuit there isn't any real threat from a follow-up on the initial shot is a good night defensively in my book. Also it seemed to me that Mike Green had more than the one blocked shot and had at least one hit last night but apparently not so per the score sheet. By the way, I don't think you should penalize or reduce your opinion of a guy's defensive abilities just because he also happens to be a great skater and have a great shot too. Green had an excellent night last evening and his pairing with Scott Hannan during the shifts when Hannan joined him were really, really solid - Nice to see.
Goaltending: Grade A (it was a shutout). Semyon Varlomov was 25 for 25 and "pitched a perfect game". He seemed a lot calmer and more comfortable in the net than he did against Carolina the other night as well. The Canadiens had enough real scoring chances that you can't say Varly didn't earn the shutout, he did. By comparison, Carey Price was 27 for 29 and had a solid night as well, though not well enough to steal his 20th win of the season off the Caps at home.
Special Teams - Penalty Kill: Grade B+. The Canadiens had 8:30 TOI with a man advantage during five power play opportunities. Despite that large amount of time, from my perspective their best scoring chances came 5 on 5. At no time did they really threaten to score for extended periods and during really extended zone time. In fact there was only one of the five power pays where they seemed to get any extended zone time. During these time periods it's hard to say who in addition to Varly was the best penalty killer. Not because there weren't any others but rather because pretty much everybody did a very good job on the penalty kill.
Special Teams - Power Play: Grade F. The only special team on the ice last night worse than the Canadiens' power play was the Capitals' power play. It was the only aspect of last night's game that the Capitals didn't execute well. To be fair there is no doubt in my mind that Carey Price was his team's best penalty killer but the Capitals 7 times including a 4:00 double minor for a total of 14:27 of ice time. That's 24% of the game. To have that much power play time and not get at least one goal is just not good enough so you can't really even give the power play anything but an F. I don't know what the answer is to get the Capitals power play back on track but I do have faith in this coaching staff and team to figure it out or die trying and when they do, these guys will work their butts off to effectively change things and start scoring more power play goals again. That said until they do that, there's always a risk they won't win games without every other aspect of their game being as good as they were last night.
Next up is the Penguins in the Winter Classic. I'll be there with Wingman and we'll both be very psych'ed.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!