For a team entering the final quarter of the season with a huge lead in their Conference, coming off a once-in-a-generation win streak, dealing with a couple of injuries and about to head off for a couple of weeks of vacation, motivation and focus can somewhat understandably be hard to muster up. And, frankly, for the Washington Capitals, the "little things" should be more important right now than wins and losses: starts to games; penalty killing; defensive-zone coverage; breakout passes, etc. - basically correcting bad habits and not falling into any new ones.
So while the Caps lost to the Blues Saturday night in one of those should've-ended-as-a-tie games, there was some good and some bad along the way (as there usually is), and plenty to work on going forward for a team that looks quite ready for the break.
For the seventh straight game, the Caps were outshot, and for the sixth time in those seven they allowed 35 or more shots against (though five of the 36 St. Louis shots on goal came in overtime). They also allowed the first goal of the game for the seventh consecutive time out. And they let Blues sneak behind them for homerun passes all night.
But their penalty killing was, for the most part, superb, including killing a 1:18 mid-third period 5-on-3 with one of their best killers in the box. They dominated the faceoff circle, winning 61% of the game's draws (with each of the four lines' pivots topping 57%). And the power-play (read: Mike Knuble) potted a couple of tallies.
Indeed some good, some bad... plenty to work on.
Ten more notes on the game:
Jose Theodore rebounded from three-straight appearances with a sub-.887 save percentage (though, to be fair, he was often better than the numbers would indicate) to stop 33 shots through overtime and three of the four shootout attempts that came his way. He also made the save of the night when he snared an Alex Steen shot with his glove from the seat of his pants with the Caps killing off that two-man disadvantage, and can't fairly be faulted for any of the three goals he allowed. It's a rare night when arguably the Caps' best player is their goalie and the team can't find a way to win.
- It's hard to believe, but the Karl Alzner interference call and the interference no-call on Eric Fehr immediately followed by the missed-haymaker no-call on Eric Brewer were actually all part of the same game (as were numerous other missed and questionable calls, both ways). I've said it any number of times and will again - players and coaches don't care if games are called loose or tight as much as they care that they're called consistently so they can adjust their play accordingly. Tonight's game was about as uneven as they come.
- Place your bets as to what Cam Janssen gets for his brutal cheapshot on Matt Bradley (who, thankfully, seems to be okay).
- Jeff Schultz lost Patrik Berglund badly twice on one shift in the first period. Luckily for Sarge, I suppose, it only resulted in one goal against.
- Bless Quintin Laing for sticking up for his teammate and dropping 'em with Janssen despite the obvious mismatch that would ensue. That praise out of the way, here's some harsh reality on Q: he's simply not a good penalty killer, despite his willingness to give up the body to block shots (which is actually what got him in trouble tonight, as a puck deflected off of him and past Theodore for the Blues' third goal).
Alexander Semin's wrist shot; Brooklyn Decker; a volcano.... What are things that are ridiculously hot, Alex?
- The defense missed the calming, minute-chomping, veteran presence of Tom Poti tonight, to be sure, but if the choice is ever "John Erskine and Tyler Sloan" or "Karl Alzner and John Carlson," give me the latter. The still-chocolatey-smelling duo ended up with three penalties in just under thirty combined minutes, and Carlson's inability to play a puck along the glass in the neutral zone created a 2-on-1 on which the Blues cashed in, but neither of them runs around nearly as much as Sloan or Erskine, and both are better with the puck.
Brendan Morrison has looked rejuvenated over the past couple of games skating with Semin and Brooks Laich, winning 64% of his draws and setting up Semin's snipe in St. Loo, among other scoring chances.
- I don't follow T.J. Oshie closely enough to know what kind of reputation the kid has, but his dive at center ice in an attempt to draw a call while killing a penalty was nearly Sean Avery-quality. Impressive.
- Thanks to an ad on the end boards, I've had this stuck in my head all night. Oh, and "home of the loosest slots"? Really?
And now we break; time to rest and recharge the batteries (for most), and return fresh and focused (for all).
But will everyone who played tonight be with the organization when they play their next game, just hours after the trade deadline? Will some new faces be with the team in Buffalo that night, or are George McPhee and Bruce Boudreau going to go into playoff battle with what they've currently got on the roster? With all the talk of rest and relaxation... don't count on the Caps' brass getting all that much. They've got work to do.