The Caps came in to tonight’s nationally televised match up against the Phoenix Coyotes in desperate need of a win to stay within striking distance of division-leading Tampa and to also ward off Montreal from fifth place in the Eastern Conference. They came up empty, unable to dig themselves out of a two-goal hole and losing 3-2 to start the five-game road trip.
Give credit to the Coyotes for playing the perfect road game - at home. Although Washington outshot Phoenix 31-18, the 'Yotes muddied the flow with their version of the trap, limiting the Caps to 16 even strength shots on goal and never allowing the Caps to get into a sustained offensive rhythm. Yet the Caps could still have pulled this game out. Why didn't they? They lost the special teams battle, going 0-for-5 on the power play and giving up one goal in three shorthanded situations.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Through the first period, the Caps had one even strength shot on goal. One. That's not going to cut it, especially if the power play isn't producing.
- Crashing the net works. The first Caps goal may have been fluky but it wouldn't have happened had Brooks Laich not gone to the bakery and drawn the defender with him.
- StarWatch Part I: Clearly, there is something wrong with Alex Ovechkin. He's over-thinking the game and not relying on his instincts. The old Ovechkin would have buried one - maybe two - of his power play chances in the second period. Yet one of his power play shots harmlessly rolled off his stick; on another one he hesitated too long and planted it into the shin-pads of the defender. This isn't our Alex.
- StarWatch Part II: Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin continued their trend of not scoring goals. The two stars have a combined three goals since December 2.
- The power play unit generated 15 shots in 10 minutes with the extra man but couldn't dent the twine once. Fix the power play, Bruce. It's costing the team standings points.
- MIke Green's absence was noticeable, simply for the fact that it forced the pairing of John Erskine with Tyler Sloan. On paper, a team with Phoenix's speed and balanced attack should have been able to exploit that matchup. They did. For the game-winning goal. (Yet somehow the Erskine-Sloan combo finished +1. Go figure.)
- Dave Steckel did not have a good second period. A bad giveaway in the defensive zone -followed by an ugly whiff on a clearing attempt early in the period - did not harm the Caps. However, the stick-lift Martin Hanzal abused him on did, which directly led to the 'Yotes first goal. To his credit, he did come back strong in the third period with his set-up of Matt Bradley's strike.
- Former Cap Sami Lepisto skated 21:13 tonight. Lepisto is only one of two players - Johnny Oduya being the other - drafted by George McPhee in the 3rd round or below to become an NHL regular.
- Ilya Bryzgalov won the goalie battle tonight, stopping 29 shots. To his team's credit none of those saves were of the ten-bell variety. If the NHL grants Phoenix the ability to spend at the trade deadline, they may make some noise in the Western Conference this spring. They play smart hockey, are equipped with a balanced attack and have a solid goaltender.
- If opponents insist on collapsing the middle and limiting the number of high-percentage shots they will allow the Caps, then the defensemen must start bombing low, accurate shots from the point. Right now, the Caps lack defensemen who can do this. Neither Alzner, Hannan, Schultz, Erskine or Sloan have the skill to get those shots off quickly. The result? Too many pucks are simply getting pushed back in the corner instead of thundered on net. Get well soon, Mike Green and Tom Poti.
Let's not mince words: the Caps are in trouble. They're 11-12-8 since December 2. First-place in the Southeast is fast becoming a lofty dream. The team's weaknesses are being exploited repeately, Caps forwards are routinely being outworked and the team is not burying its chances. Most worisome is that the organization - from coaches to players - seems to have few answers. Unless the Caps can find an extra gear and salvage some points on this road trip, talk in DC will not be of the Caps catching Tampa to win their fourth straight Southeast banner, but whether they can simply hang on for a playoff spot.