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In their last game before the All-Star break, the Washington Capitals rallied in the absence of their captain, their top center and their best defenseman to defeat the defending Cup Champs and enter the mid-winter hiatus on a positive note. A dozen days later, with their captain back and coming off a shutout victory in Montreal twenty hours earlier, the Caps couldn't generate the same energy, offense or, most importantly, result, as they dropped their Super Bowl Sunday matinee to the visiting Bruins by a 4-1 count.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Given that the Bruins were coming off a tough loss yesterday (one in which they didn't feel particularly good about their own effort), it was unsurprising to see them come out with a strong effort early, the kind that forces the opposition to "weather the storm" for the first ten minutes or so. Given that the Caps were coming off a rare (and not particularly difficult) road win yesterday, perhaps it was unsurprising to see them come out, well, flat (I hear it's sometimes difficult to get up for games in Southeast Division buildings). At the ten-minute mark, the B's were up 6-1 on the shot clock, but there was nothing on the scoreboard for either side. Storm weathered.
- Only a few moments later, however, the Bruins would strike when Rich Peverley and Milan Lucic crossed up Jeff Schultz and Dennis Wideman a stride or two inside the Washington blueline. Schultz stayed with his man (Peverley), and forced him to a backhand posture which was pretty well-contained. But the Boston pivot was able to thread a pass to his teammate, whom Wideman had let get behind him. Looch beat Tomas Vokoun and the B's were up 1-0. Most of the culpability on that one has to go to Wideman... but most of the retribution will probably head Sarge's way.
- Perhaps the biggest disappointment of The Dale Hunter Era so far is the Caps' apparent lack of interest in winning battles along the boards. Or maybe it's just an inability to win those battles on a consistent basis. Either way, the team's offense is predicated upon trying to score off the (somewhat rare) rush and/or capitalizing on opponents' mistakes. That's a tough way to generate consistent, dependable offense in this League.
- And, of course, losing board battles can be an absolute killer. Case-in-point, the Bruins' second goal, on which NBC's Eddie Olczyk rightly crushed Karl Alzner for not having his stick on the ice and losing a battle behind the Caps' net to Patrice Bergeron who got the puck past John Carlson and to Brad Marchand, who squeezed the puck past Vokoun to give Boston a 2-0 lead headed to the first intermission. This team has the size to be good on the boards and an even greater need for it. But, for whatever reason, it hasn't happened.
- Think things couldn't get much worse for the Caps from an injury standpoint? Think again. Brooks Laich left the game in the second-half of the second period after getting hit along the end-boards by Dennis Seidenberg. While we'll resist the urge to speculate (even though the hit looked an awful lot like the one that ended Evgeni Malkin's 2010-11 season), any prolonged absence from the Caps' Mr. Versatile could be a nail in the 2011-12 Caps' coffin.
- Realistically, a two-goal deficit with twenty minutes left shouldn't be nearly by-definition insurmountable. But against the Bruins it essentially is, as Boston is now 62-3-2 when leading after two periods since the start of last season (including 22-0-0 this season). Hopefully you took the time to go prep some snacks for the big game or something.
- In his last 11 games (and thus the team's last 14), Alex Ovechkin now has three goals and three assists, with one of those goals and two of the assists coming in his last pre-suspension game at Pittsburgh. The Captain came out with good energy in this one, but couldn't generate much offense (a couple of nice passes notwithstanding). Needless to say, if this team is going to end up in the post-season, that's going to have to change.
- Of all the problems the Caps have these days, it might be a relatively minor one, but Marcus Johansson has become an adventure in his own zone. And since he has just two goals (including the shutout-breaker today) and three assists in his last 11 games... yeah, he's struggling. (Add him to the list.)
Tyler Seguin's 20th goal of the season early in the third was another tally on which Wideman let his man get behind him in a dangerous position. After Johansson got beat one-on-one by Marchand, it was essentially a tap-in for TyTy. Three goals-against, and at least one fairly stunning mental lapse on each - obviously not a recipe for success.
- Silver lining? The Caps managed to fire 36 shots on goal, topping 30 for just the fifth time under Hunter and out-shooting an opponent for the first time since Nicklas Backstrom's last game.
On the one hand, with a road game and a tough home game on the schedule, an 0-fer weekend was certainly a strong possibility for the Caps, but they managed a couple of points and continue to tread water in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. On the other hand, losing at home always hurts... and losing a heart-and-soul player hurts even more. Onward.