Crankypants. (Photo credit: Bruce Bennett)
On a warm Tuesday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning were kind enough to host the Washington Capitals for an hour of playoff hockey. It’s not going to end well.
Sean Bergenheim opened up with an easy one– a five-holer made possible by Mike Green’s absentee defense. Early in the second, Mike Knuble pierced Roloson thanks to Ovechkin’s set up. A bomb from John Carlson and screened by Eric Fehr gave the Caps a 2-1 lead, but Vincent Lecavalier returned fire from the goal mouth to tie it up. After a powerplay pile-up in the paint, Alex Ovechkin found the open puck and inserted it in the twine. A turnover gave Steven Stamkos a beautiful netter from the slot. 24 seconds later, Ryan Malone kicked in the game winner. Bolts beat Caps 4-3.
The Caps are in a three-game hole. Dire.
- Alex Semin‘s first and only shot of the night came with 58:13 into the game. There are no adjectives for this Sasha.
- Nick Backstrom tragically missed this game due to a — oh? No way. He actually played? Well, he didn’t put a puck on net, so why did he bother suiting up?
- On the other end of the spectrum: Alex Ovechkin. He made no shortage of mistakes, but he also showed up when it was needed: assisting Knuble’s goal and heroing his own tally, the would-be game-winner. Greasy goals are the greatest goals, and Ovi is covered in grease.
- We expected so so so much more from the Semin-Arnott-Laich trio.
- Mike Knuble, team neckbeard leader, scored an early powerplay goal, but like a Virginia Tech party, there were too many men. The crucial goal was waved off. Yeah, that burns.
- It’s the small things. Hockey is a game of inches, angles, and fractions, but the Capitals keep playing it macro-style. Moving your legs on the man-advantage, tape-to-tape passes, controlled and patient breakouts, funneling the puck to the net: these things really do pay off. We know this because the Tampa Bay Lightning are doing it perfectly. The Bolts are playing the hockey that our boys should be playing.
- The 24-second span in which Stamkos and Malone scored amputated this team’s soul. That third period should have been the Caps’ finest hour. Instead we got a squad of sourpusses playing crankypants-brand hockey. Five meager shots on Dwayne’s net.
- No, but seriously. We’ve covered this before: hockey is fun. Even when your team is losing, you gotta enjoy it. A bummed-out team doesn’t just lose championships, they lose fans.
- Remainders: Marcus Johansson was the VIP of the PK, closing in on pointmen with the quickness and creating turnovers. Sturm-Gordon-Bradley were terriers laying siege to the Tampa Bay zone with every shift. Mike Green missed most of the third period; his 13:24 TOI is like his defensive play: way below par. Ovechkin clipped Dwayne Roloson’s neck with the stick early in the third, but there was no injury.
And then there was Michal Neuvirth. The best Capitals player by a mile, Neuvy stopped 26 pucks, a handful of which were omega-level saves. Those saves were ultimately not enough, but they were more than his teammates deserved. Neuvirth’s play is streets ahead of the rest of the Caps, and despite his young age Michal looks like only player with his head always in the game.Again: this is a game of inches. A few bad bounces have given Tampa Bay the space they need to earn wins. But those tiny distances could and should have been mitigated by responsible, cohesive team-play. Instead, we’re seeing symptoms of something else: a fumbled pass from Mojo to #AwfulSasha, a futile Brooks Laich shot from the point into an oncoming defender, and an ill-chosen cross pass in the defensive zone. That’s how entitled, cynical, and careless players do the hockey. It’s unbefitting the Washington uniform.
We’re pretty much at the end here. The sky is darkening over the Capitals’ season. Players’ wives are buying sunblock.
Wait, scratch that.
Maybe the Cup is beyond our reach. Maybe this series is too. But the Capitals have an opportunity on Wednesday night to show the world what kind of hockey team they are. We’re going to see gap-toothed smiles and detonating pucks. We’re gonna see Russian hugs on ice. We’re going to see the net behind Dwayne Roloson quiver like a rippling pond. We’re gonna see Caps hockey.
To paraphrase my favorite writer: if nothing the Caps do tomorrow matters, then all that matters is what the Caps do tomorrow.
Crash the net.