Try as he might, Sean Avery simply wasn't able to give last night's game to the Washington Capitals.
A pair of selfish, stupid, and unnecessary penalties committed by Avery in the game's last ten minutes (one of which found the Rangers forward lucky to only be in the box for two minutes rather than five) gave the Capitals chances to beat Henrik Lundqvist a second time and send the game in to overtime, but the Capitals couldn't make Avery and the Rangers pay and will ultimately be sent back to Verizon Center down three games to one.
But even though Avery's antics might be the sexier story, the more important one for the Capitals is the team's inability (or unwillingness) to adapt their play to stay competitive on the Rangers. Aside from their Game Three victory the Capitals seem to be stuck in a Groundhog Day-eqsue cycle of mediocre hockey marked by an inability to get shot chances on net, and unwillingness to go to the net hard, an over-reliance on underperforming players, and a lack of tactical adjustment beyond line shuffling.
The most maddening facet of the Capitals' performance, to us fans, is that these problems seem entirely correctable. The Rangers have not overwhelmed the Capitals with their skill, power, or speed. They're winning games by simply making fewer mistakes and allowing a frustrated Capitals team to beat themselves. The obvious thing to do in the situation is point fingers at the coach - and certainly Bruce Boudreau deserves to have his performance questioned just as much as any of his players do - but this is a problem that goes beyond the man behind the bench and encapsulates the team's veteran leadership (Sergei Fedorov, Tom Poti, Viktor Kolzov), as well as its lead-by-example skaters (Alexander Semin, Mike Green, Alexander Ovechkin). The good news in this team-wide problem is it means it's not a matter of one person alone stepping up and changing the team's fortune. But someone, or better yet some collection of players, is going to have to give this team a swift kick in the you-know-what if the Caps want any chance of rebounding and making it out of the first round.
Some additional thoughts on last night's game:
- Here's you obligatory Tomas Fleischmann on special teams lamentation: Why is Tomas Fleischmann on the first powerplay unit? And why is he killing penalties at all?
- Speaking of Fleischmann, if I'm George McPhee, I'm starting to wonder if I should trade the guy just because Boudreau's infatuation with him is hurting the team.
- Mike Green's playoffs now include 19 shots attempts missed or blocked (compared to eleven shots on goal), seven giveaways (all in one game), zero goals, zero primary assists, zero even strength points, and a minus-three rating. And he played 29:51 last night
- The Capitals won only 33% of last night's faceoffs. No Capitals player was over 47% on draws.
- It'd be fair to note that if Jose Theodore had made the mistake Simeon Varlamov did that led to the Rangers' second goal, Capitals fans would be calling for his head this morning. Of course, it's also fair to note that Simeon Varlamov has, in three playoff starts, allowed one fewer goal than Jose Theodore did in one playoff start.
- Alexander Semin showed uncharacteristic restraint during the first period of last night's game after being slashed by Sean Avery on an offside call. In fact, Semin doubled back after the stick work and then seemed less interested in any extracurriculars after seeing Avery. Whatever the Capitals have said in the locker room about tuning Avery out seems to be working.
- Credit to the Capitals fourth line for working hard and drawing a penalty after the Rangers' second goal.
- Viktor Kozlov seemed to again be in contract year form.
This season, last season, and in last year's playoffs the Capitals were at their best when they seemed to be facing impossible odds. Here's hoping they're able that trend alive on Friday, and here's hoping for just a little more help from the hockey gods when it comes to the bounces and the posts.