Coffee’s for Closers: Habs beat Caps 3-2 (SO)

Ovechkin Sign

Aww (Photo credit: our own Chris Gordon)

The quintessential 2010-2011 Washington Capitals game includes a worthless first period, so the opening frame of tonight’s date with the Montreal Canadiens was surprisingly invigorating. If only the rest of the game could have followed suit.

Mathieu Perreault capped off an extended shift in the offensive zone with a takeaway and five-hole goal on Carey Price. On the powerplay, Mike Knuble filed some paperwork in his office to give the Caps an early and pleasant 2-0 lead. In the second period, Brian Gionta launched a rocket on a 2-on-1 breakaway to put the Habs on the board. Then John Carlson’s failed drop pass led to another breakaway and another goal for Gionta. OT was exciting but scoreless, and we found our way to that old standby: the shootout.

Nick Backstrom led off, beating Carey Price but ringing iron. Brian Gionta, the bastard, scored top-shelf on Varlamov. Matt Hendricks pulled that same darn move again, but Price saw it coming. James Wisniewski’s attempt was covered by Varly. Alex Ovechkin, in a must-score situation, didn’t. Game over. Habs beat Caps 3-2 (SO).

  • Semyon Varlamov does not deserve the team in front of him. Knocking down 36 of 38 pucks, Varly was nearly flawless (yeah, except that one empty net thing). If Bruce Boudreau can supplement his stellar goaltending with some offense, the Capitals might become a viable team again. Man, that sentence felt weird to write.
  • Alex Ovechkin had three shots on goal. Two came in the final five minutes. That’s an awful showing, but at least we got to seem him square off with P.K. Subban a few times. In the third, Ovi stopped at center ice, letting Subban collide with him and submarining him high into the air. That’ll look good on a highlight reel.

  • If you ignore one column on the stat sheet, Brooks Laich didn’t have a bad game. He was a rock on the perfect penalty kill and was one-third of perhaps the team’s best line. But his three penalties (a slash, a hook, a trip, BINGO!), robbed the team of valuable even-strength time that they would have squandered anyway. But let’s throw this out there: Brooks pulled more un-whistled penalties than any player on the ice. For a while there, he was Montreal’s cross-check dummy. I would have played him in the shootout, but that’s just me.
  • Hint: here's how you score (Buy it!)

    Hint: here's how you score.

    How exactly did the Caps’ long-suffering power play finally score? Mike Knuble went to the goal mouth as Mike Green got haughtily creative in feeding him. The worst cliché in hockey is consistently true: go to the net; good things will happen.
  • The null side of that hypothesis was expertly tested by John Carlson. Graceful as kleptomaniac seagull at center ice, he gulped up a loose puck and entered the Habs zone all by himself. Late in a period in which the Capitals would only shoot six pucks at Carey Price, Carlson opted out of shooting, instead dropping back to… no one in particular. That broken play led to Montreal’s tying goal, and it exemplified the offensive meh-titude that this team can’t seem to shake.
  • But hey: perfect penalty kill ain’t bad. The Canadiens definitely made them earn it.

So I have a new rule. If the Caps can’t put 10 pucks on net in each period, we’re not allowed to make excuses for them. The Caps went 9, 6, and 9 tonight. No effort means no excuses.

Al Koken suit of the night

Al Koken suit of the night

These recaps are tedious. No one wants to relive an agonizing loss, and I don’t want to play the sanctimonious dilettante firing missives from his couch. It’s so much more fun to watch a win, to write about a win, and to read about a win. I know it’s gotta be the same for the players. If they were winning, they’d be having more fun, and if they were having fun they’d also be winning. Sounds stupid, right?

But here’s a radical idea: let’s put aside the bile for a week. You know that discussion about who’s letting you down and who’s got to go? Let’s put it on hold for a few days. It’s certainly our Gretzky-given right as fans to whine and moan about bad whistles and bad plays and bad players, but it’s not actually going to make anything better.

On my swim team in high school, we had this awful diver. He was just plain old no good. But he had the best attitude you could find in a kid. After an epic back flop and some low scores from the judges, he’d hop out of the pool with so much zest you’d think it was his birthday. And he’d do it again. So we would cheer for him like he was at the Olympics, even if it seemed a little inappropriate. Weird thing happened then: he got noticeably better over the season and ended up competing at counties, where the volume of our cheers suddenly seemed a little more appropriate.

Yeah, I’m bummed. I’m a bit angry. But February is a gauntlet laid out in front of these Caps, especially this next week: Tampa Bay on Friday, Pittsburgh on Super Bowl Sunday. So for the guys, let’s stow the bad vibes at least until it’s over. Just to see what happens.

  • Peter Hassett

    Can you believe I didn’t even mention Bradley???

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Chris Gordon

    @Peter – WHAT IZ WITH U?!!1

  • Peter Hassett

    Chris, I’m not sure how to respond to that. Mostly because I only understand half the worlds you used in that comment.

  • DarkStranger44

    Today is the type of game where I wish the Caps could make a trade for Brian Gionta, with Montreal choosing ANY player on the Caps roster in exchange. (Yes, I know this is ridiculous but that’s the kind of mood I’m in today. Plus, Montreal would not take that deal anyhow. But, then again, Montreal is good at selling high.)

  • Colin

    After 35 years, I’m just about to give up for a while. This team is lost and will continue to be that way until major changes are made. I’ll stop whining now because I’m gonna stop watching now. See ya in March.

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  • http://www.toooast.com mattymatty2000

    It’s hard to keep reading about a team that has the same problems yet is sadly unable to fix them. It seems we’re all just waiting for the turnaround to come, for the ’09-’10 team to show up again, but with each passing game it becomes clearer and clearer that that ain’t happening.

    I’ll give them your prescribed week off from recriminations, but I don’t think it will help.

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  • http://make-lemons.com michelle

    After last years “failure of a season” many were saying they wanted the Caps to not have an easy regular season….. well here we are. Is it fun? Not exactly (though Red pants help ease the pain)…. I don’t think its a crisis until the Caps are fighting for a playoff spot in April…..

  • rumbly45

    As a DC sports fan, you tend to get good in finding those silver linings. For me, “graceful as a kleptomaniac seagull” is the clearly the highlight of the game and of the recap. Well played sir!

  • deann

    Not to nitpick, but this “Then, in a tense third period, John Carlson’s failed drop pass led to another breakaway and another goal for Gionta.” Gionta scored both of his goals in the 2nd. The 3rd was scoreless.

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  • Peter Hassett

    @deann

    Thanks. Fixed.

  • deann

    No problem Peter! I remembered that goal well because they were fairly close together and really representative of a bad 2nd period.

    Love your articles and RMNB!

  • BobbyG

    OK, Peter, I’ll put the bile on hold, at least for a few more days. Where I go from there will depend a lot on what happens Friday and Sunday when the Caps play the Bolts and Pens respectively.

    The Caps have a way of bringing out the anger and frustration in the most loyal fans, and last night’s game is no exception. After an awesome first period, the Caps flat out stopped playing. They are lucky to salvage a point, thanks to Varly. Locker said it best post-game, it’s “leaving points on the table” when the Caps should have put the Habs away and not looked back.

    There are 30 games left in the regular season, so time is growing short for the Caps to show us if they have the heart and the will for the postseason.

  • CDizz

    @Collin
    You choose to give up NOW after 35 years? You do realize that these past few seasons (with a few others thrown in) are the only ones in which the Caps were the offensive juggernaut everyone knows them as…if you really were a Caps fan during the early years, then this should not affect you in the least.

    “Man, that sentence felt weird to write.”
    Hahaha it felt even stranger to read. Stellar goaltending with a lack of offense? Thought it would always be the reciprocal.

  • J.P.

    You do realize that these past few seasons (with a few others thrown in) are the only ones in which the Caps were the offensive juggernaut everyone knows them as…if you really were a Caps fan during the early years, then this should not affect you in the least.
    @ CDizz

    The problem with comparing this team to teams from the past is the crushing value of expectations. Even the good Caps teams from all the earlier eras were never “seriously” considered front-running Cup contenders the way the current incarnation is. Hoping and wishing that a typically “good” NHL team may make deep playoff run is a very different animal from a team that is supposed to openly challenge for the Cup, especially the kind of team that many analysts picked as serious front-runners this year (and last). Taking that into consideration, it becomes perfectly reasonable for the team’s poor performance to negatively affect a fan’s belief in their team.
    In other words, the expectations and values of the past do not equal the expectations and the values of the here and now :-)

  • 28ISGREAT

    Bile-free post in 3, 2, 1… [ ]. Sigh. Go Caps!

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  • CapsFan

    Hoping the MP85 haters (not just here but all over the blogosphere) will give it a rest for a while. One goal, one assist. More useful than Ovi or a bunch of other players. “Size matters not,” quoth Yoda.

  • Peter Hassett

    Well, @CapsFan, Yoda was like 26 inches tall, so he’s not exactly neutral on the issue of size.