Friday, December 7, 2007

Caps Lose in Newark (no word on whether any were mugged coming out of the arena)

Capitals 2, Devils 3

The Devils just had to pick the game against the Caps to have Scott Stevens night, didn't they? And they just had to have the first image of Stevens in the tribute video be him on the Capitals bench didn't they?

I don't know how much of it was aired on the Caps broadcast, but I was getting Devils feed from Center Ice and I would have to say it was a nice little ceremony. The only part that was a little weird was when they showed Stevens' famous (infamous?) hit on Lindros. It might be his most notable check and it sure is a hell of hit but it's just unsettling to me to see the moment that one of the most exciting players to come into the league in the last twenty years had his career effectively ended (or at least diminished). Classy on Stevens' part to thank both the Capitals and the Blues in his Hall of Fame introductory speech (which was shown as part of the ceremony), but the most interesting part was when Stevens thanked Lou Lamoriello for making New Jersey his home. Think that's the first time that's ever happened?

I also think this is worth mentioning: the Devils commentary team was as woefully prepared as I've ever heard any broadcast team be in any sport. And I've seen this. And this. And I watch the World Cup on the broadcasts with American announcers. But these guys were a whole new level - they referred to Backstrom and Zubrus as teammates from last year, stumbled over their own notes and at one point confused Mike Green with Jeff Schultz. How do you even do that? I mean, yeah, they're both Capitals defensemen but Green is right handed and is about 6'1'' and 190 pounds (I know what he's listed at, but there's no way he's over 200) and Schultz is left handed and 6'6'' and 225.

As for the game:

What an atrocious first period, full of stupid plays on the Capitals part. Stupid, unnecessary penalties on Schultz for tripping and Laich for tackling holding. The crowning moment (of stupidity) was Pothier's pass right up the middle of his own zone that lead to Vishnevski's goal and put the Caps behind 1-0. Anyone, anyone, down to grade-school kids, who's been playing or following hockey for more than a month can tell you that you never make that play unless there are acres of free space in front of you. Especially bad when your team is trying to play a tight defensive game against a defensively sound opponent who has won eight straight.

The stupidity continued right up the very end, with Green's hooking penalty with a minute left in the third. There's not way to blame that call on the refs either. It was a clear hook and just....well, stupid on Green's part.

The frustrating thing for fans (and for the team as well, I'm sure) is that other than their momentary lapses (Pothier's pass, Green's penalties) and bad breaks (Ovechkin having his shot off the post go out; Travis Zajac's goal) the Capitals played well, and if the Devils don't have Martin Brodeur in net, I'm not sure so they win that game. Considering the Capitals were missing their captain (Clark), their number one center (Nylander) and their best defensive forward (Gordon), they played very well for most of the game.

Regular readers know you're not going to make it through very many of my write-ups (for this season at least) without a mention of the bad luck the Capitals have faced and here it is: The Devils third goal, scored by Zajac is the latest example of horrible luck for the Caps: guys getting tied up; mixed up down low and the puck comes both right in front of the wide-open net and right onto the offensive player's stick. That's only happened against the Capitals this year; it doesn't happen for them.

The unfortunate reality, I think, is that this just isn't that Capitals year. They can't get bounces, can't get calls, can't even get the ice to freeze at Verizon Center and have been dealing with injuries to key players since training camp. The bad news is that it may be time to accept the team's fate of another year out of the playoffs, another lottery pick and another season of crowds of 13,000 at the Verizon Center for Caps games.

The good news is that I don't think all that much has changed from the start of the season to now really. Were it not for injuries, bad luck and timely mistakes the Capitals could easily be in the playoff race. Alexander Ovechkin is still one of the best players in the game, Alexander Semin is still capable of scoring forty goals in a season, Clark and Matt Pettinger are still solid two way players, Gordon and Dave Steckel are still good shutdown forwards, Mike Green is going to be an all-star caliber player before too long, Tom Poti can log a lot of important minutes, if someone else can step up to play with Shaone Morrisonn the Capitals will have a very good shutdown defensive pairing and Boudreau seems to be doing an excellent job coaching the team thus far. Add that to the fact Karl Alzner, Chris Bourque and (very likely) a very high draft pick (Steve Stamkos?) will be ready to compete for roster spots and Jaromir Jagr will be off the books for the Caps and things still look pretty bright for next season.

Maybe it seems silly to be talking about next season three weeks before Christmas and maybe in some ways it's premature. After all, I'm not quite ready to call it quits on the 07-08 campaign yet (but I am very close). The point I was making is just that, although the Capitals have been very disappointing this year, most of the cause of the preseason excitement is still going to be around next year. This organization still has a wealth of young, talented players and that's not going to change. The Capitals will be a force in the Eastern Conference before too long.

As for the present: the Capitals are now 9-17-2, a full ten points out of a playoff spot and in need of a serious run, a Devils-esque (nine in a row) run in fact. If they're going to there's no better time to start than Saturday night: playing at home coming off a tough loss and facing the Thrasher who . . . you know, suck.

Quick Hits
  • Eleven minutes into the first period shots were 4-1, Capitals. Five shots. In eleven minutes. For both teams combined. That's Devils hockey for ya, folks.
  • The Caps were dominated in the physical game. Period.
  • That said, the Devils were lucky the refs were fairly lenient. There were about a half dozen potential interference minors, none of which were called.
  • Thank you, Alexander Semin, for reminding us just how good you can be.
  • I was surprised to see Langenbrunner back on the ice after he went hard into the boards - from how he was favoring his right arm I was sure it was broken.
  • Joe Motzko had a really nice play in the first where he cleared what would have been a sure goal out of the crease and into the corner. Great awareness.
  • Credit where credit's due: David Clarkson did a great job frustrating Ovechkin in the offensive zone.
  • At one point one of the Devils announcers said Jeff Schultz "low-bridged" David Clarkson. I'm pretty sure that for Jeff Schultz to "low-bridge" anyone they'd have to be about nine feet tall.

No comments: