Saturday, December 15, 2007

Caps Bounce Back; Beat Tampa Bay 3-2

Capitals 3, Lightning 2

I'll start off by talking about what might have been the most controversial play of the game for Caps fans - Filip Kuba's high-sticking penalty on Alexander Ovechkin. Bottom line is this: the Lightning were very lucky they weren't down for more than four minutes, because there's no way a two-handed slash across a player's face should be a double minor. Kuba deserved a five minutes slashing major. For Caps fans there's that instinct to call for Kuba's head and say he should have been thrown out for an intent to injure play and suspended three games. I know, because I felt it. But looking at it from an objective point of view, I don't think Kuba meant to slash Ovechkin up high. It still should have been a major, no doubt, and perhaps even a misconduct because it was such a reckless play, but I honestly don't think Kuba's intent was to hit Ovechkin that hard or that high.

I will say this though: it's easy to make a case that it doesn't matter what the intention was. After all, Marty McSorley has vehemently denied that he intentionally hit Donald Brashear in the head with his stick but still received a year-long suspension that effectively ended his career, and I'd be willing to be that if the Kuba-on-Ovechkin play happens with Brashear, Sean Avery, George Parros or anyone in a Philadelphia Flyers uniform, it's five and a game, no question. As I said before, the bottom line is that as dangerous as that plays was for Kuba to only get four minutes was a mistake on the part of the referees.

I'd like to finish this section by talking about the class level of the Tampa Bay fans in attendance last night, which measures up to where it should be in about the same way Martin St. Louis measures up to the average NHL player (height-wise, not skill-wise). To boo Ovechkin from the outset just because he's Washington's best player is simply stupid, a bit classless and quite immature ("you're better than us! I'm gonna yell bad things at you 'cause I'm jealous!"), but to cheer when he goes down, boo when he gets up and boo when he touches the puck after being felled by an obviously illegal move (and borderline cheapshot) is classless. The constant moaning and yelling about penalties being called or allegedly missed, the booing of the other team's best player for no reason and when he's hurt, the general boorish classlessness... I guess those Tampa fans really take after coach. Or maybe Bettman just had a bunch of flunkies in the crowd tonight trying to build that Caps/Lightning rivalry.

Now, as for the rest of the game:

In what was perhaps an homage to teammate Olaf Kolzig, Brent Johnson started off the game for the Caps by allowing a goal on a shot that shouldn't have even been a challenge and then continued the theme by allowing a mediocre wrister from Vincent Lecavalier to get through his legs.

Between Friday night and last night, the Capitals scored six goals, surrendered one that was the fault of the skaters (non-goalies), one that was an empty netter and five that should have been stopped by the guys with the big pads and cool helmet decals. It's great that the Capitals' skaters have been playing well enough to either keep the game close or win when their goalies have been less than stellar, but the fact is you simply can't be a playoff team when any shot the opposition gets on net is a scoring chance (or, in the case of Buffalo's first goal on Friday, you create scoring chances for the other team).

So is the Caps goaltending in crisis? A fair question, but the short answer is "no". The long answer begins with Brent Johnson because it's quicker to address his situation. Brent Johnson is inconsistent, won't make a lot of great saves and will rarely, if ever, steal a game for his team. On the other hand, he is generally pretty solid and gives him team a fair chance to win every night. You can't ask for much more out of a backup goaltender, and as far as backups go Johnson is solid or better.

The situation is a bit more complicated for Kolzig. As I mentioned before, Kolzig looks like he is a mediocre goalie at this point in his career, and a borderline starter. At this point he may indeed be one. But no one works harder than Olie, no one is as competitive as Olie and no one is as hard on themselves as Olie. While ripping himself after the 5-3 loss to Buffalo Kolzig said he needed "to sit and stew [a while]". It wouldn't shock me to see Kolzig come back strong against Detroit and have a string of very good games. At the same time, it wouldn't shock me to see Kolzig struggles to keep his save percentage above .900 for the rest of the season.

Switching gears: a large part of the Caps success tonight came from their defense's ability to hang with Lightning players rather than be tricked by stickhandling moves or head fakes (Jeff Schultz was especially good about this). That, along with the success the Capitals had in cutting off the passing lanes, let the Capitals force Tampa Bay's attack to the outside. The results: only 25 shots against including a stretch of more than ten minutes where Tampa failed to register a shot. Those numbers are good any game, but against a team as offensively skilled as Tampa they're even more impressive.

I like what Boudreau did with the lines. I think Nicklas Backstrom is the best match for Ovechkin at center - Viktor Kozlov doesn't have enough skill and Michael Nylander's style of slowing the play down and waiting for it to develop doesn't mesh well with Ovechkin's constant all-out attack. Matt Pettinger has looked very good playing on Ovechkin's wing, always going at full speed (which is quite quick for Pettinger) and digging around the net. I like Kozlov centering Brooks Laich and Brashear as well. Kozlov and Brashear are two very big bodies for opponents to have to try to deal with, Laich is solid two-way grinder and Kozlov has quite a bit of skill. Plus it works really well for me in NHL 08.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Brian Pothier - 1 goal (game-winner), 1 assist, +1
(2) Tomas Fleischmann - 1 goal, 1 assist, +1
(3) David Steckel - 1 goal, +1

Quick Hits

  • I didn't see who but one of the Capitals defensemen failed to clear the puck during the penalty kill situation that came from Morrisson' slashing penalty, because he tried to clear up the middle of the ice. Another rookie mistake (and that's being generous). C'mon guys, remember the phrase "high and hard off the glass"?
  • To return to the Kuba/Ovechkin play: What's the point of dressing Donald Brashear if he's not going to make guys pay for hits like that?
  • I was a bit skeptical when I saw Fleischmann was dressed tonight as the lines scrolled across the bottom of the screen. Thanks for proving me wrong Flash.
  • Since being scratched Brian Pothier seems a lot more willing to take a hit, and I think that's helped him get more "in the game" and stay focused.
  • Lecalvier made a real stupid play at the end of the game when he drove the puck into the Capitals zone from his own blue line, resulting in an icing. That's just a frustration play, and you've got to give the Caps credit for frustrating Vinny and the Lightning like that.

No comments: