In the wake of the news that the Capitals would be with without Alex Ovechkin for the near future, CapsNation was flooded with rally-the-troops prose about how the team would re-double its efforts, with every man giving an extra 10% on top of the 110% they were supposedly already giving on a nightly basis. And that may still happen if and when they face a team that doesn't suck every drop of energy out of an already lifeless building by clogging the center and middle of the ice like they were the Beltway at rush hour.
But it sure didn't happen tonight.
To be sure, the bottom two lines, most of the defense and the netminder were all pretty solid. But the players on whom the burden of Ovechkin's absence most squarely falls failed to make use of their skill at best and failed to make use of their brains at worst.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Let's start with Alexander Semin, he of the "prime opportunity... to prove he can produce consistently and that he is worthy of a long-term contract at season's end." The
"Other""Only" Alex waited until the 3:19 mark of the third period to register his first shot on goal of the game, ended with just three, and took three separate offensive-zone stick penalties. To his credit, Bruce Boudreau finally benched Semin at the end of the game, but the damage had been done.
- Semin wasn't the only top-six forward to commit a bad penalty, though, as Brendan Morrison got nabbed for a third-period offensive-zone hook and Mike Knuble took a questionable boarding call earlier in the period while the game was still tied. All five Caps minors on this night were committed by skill forwards, and four of them were in the offensive zone. Inexcusable (and Gabby said as much post-game).
- The Devils are a well-disciplined team, but to draw just one minor penalty all night speaks to a lack of effort from these same skill forwards.
- We need a positive note right about now, so here's one - Mathieu Perreault positively shone in his NHL debut. Deuces were wild for the diminutive pivot, who had two assists, two shots, two takeaways (no giveaways), a pair of faceoff wins (out of four draws) and a plus-two rating, all in just 10:30 of even strength ice time. His saucer pass to Tyler Sloan was a thing of beauty, and his effort on the six-on-five goal (in Semin's place, to boot), was stellar.
- Sticking with the positives, Semyon Varlamov stopped 24 of the 25 even strength shots he faced, getting beaten only on 's pass from behind the net that bounced off of Mike Green in front.
- Rolston's goal may have been fluky, but I'd hesitate to call it lucky given the effort Jamie Langenbrunner made seconds earlier blowing up Shaone Morrisonn in the corner and keeping the puck in deep.
John Erskine played his first game since October 12 and looked a bit rusty. Or maybe that's just John Erskine and I'm misremembering.
- It's certainly worth pointing out that Nicklas Backstrom had a big night in the faceoff dot, winning 15 of 24 draws (63%), including the pivotal one moments before Tomas Fleischmann scored with the goalie pulled to cut the lead to one.
- It's unclear what led to the Chris Clark/Rod Pelley fight (perhaps an earlier scrum around the Caps' net after Pelley put a stick on Varly), but good on the captain for dropping the mittens there (and setting himself up to complete the Gordie Howe Hat Trick in the third... if only).
- Any time you allow a mediocre-at-best power play to beat you twice in the third period, your penalty killers didn't do their job well enough.
And so the Ovechkin-less stretch gets off to a rocky start at The Rock. One would have to imagine that the team will produce a markedly better effort on Friday night in Sunrise against a drastically inferior Florida team. But this Caps team isn't in a position to take anything for granted... including, for some of the players, getting a sweater for that game.