Photo credit: Bill Smith
This is it. We’ve had a big red circle around this week since the schedule was announced. Washington Capitals @ Chicago Blackhawks kicks off three very tough road games (Detroit and Philly are the other two). With the Eastern Conference standings as dense as they are, this game means a lot.
Duncan Keith caught a lucky rebound up the middle that Andrew Shaw tipped in, then Viktor Stalberg smoked Dmitry Orlov for a big breakaway goal. Mike Knuble scored a long-distance goal (okay, it was just 32 feet) early in the second. Patrick Kane restored the two-goal lead with an easy wrister after a series of defensive goofs. Wideman and Schultz let Shaw skate away with the puck, and his wraparound become the Hawks’ fourth goal. Alex Ovechkin got some open ice and roofed it. Chicago got the empty netter as soon as Neuvy cleared out. Hawks beat Caps 5-2.
- Capitals-Blackhawks is kind of a March tradition. Remember 2010′s big comeback? What about last year’s Spring streak? This is the Return of the Jedi in that trilogy. I’ll let you decide who are the muppets in this analogy.
- The Capitals recorded just three shots in the first period, and all three came in the last four minutes. I’ll give you a million dollars if no one makes a St. Patrick’s Day/hangover joke. Regardless, you can’t win a game without shooting. It’s not an optional thing like fighting or showering. The rubber has to go towards the net or you will lose. Am I blowing your mind with my incisive hockey analysis?
- Viktor Stalberg left Dmitry Orlov in the dust on that first period goal. John Carlson‘s flubbed check led to Kane’s goal. Jeff Schultz‘s velveteen presence behind the net allowed Shaw to get up front. The D-man had a bad night, but they frustrated and over-leveraged all game. That’s what happens when you have no coherent offensive presence.
- No Caps player has fallen as far as John Carlson has under Coach Hunter, which is weird because Carlson played for Hunter in Ontario. If this is an epic mismatch of player and system, how do you fix it?
- “Let’s go, boys!” That’s what Mike Knuble said after scoring the Caps’ first goal. That goal by #22 came at 2:22 of the 2nd period, and it served to quell the haters. Mike jumped from fourth line to first after that one.
- That Alex Ovechkin goal was classic: end-to-end with open ice, schooling Duncan Keith using his skates, all alone against the goalie. That was Alex’s 30th tally of the year, putting him approximately two bazillion goals behind Steven Stamkos.
- Also on that Ovechkin goal: Michal Neuvirth‘s first NHL assist. Hopefully he gets another before his 200th game.
- Special teams is a thing. The Caps couldn’t draw a penalty through two periods, and they didn’t have much mojo on their solitary power play. Refs suck, sure, but Caps up-a-man suck harder.
- The Caps got blown off the faceoff dot again, which is sort of expected with Jeff Halpern getting (healthy) scratched. Pet theory: between Hamrlik, Knuble, and now Halpern, former junior-level coach Dale Hunter is ageist in his scratching. Dispute?
The Capitals just looked awful for long stretches. Without a sturdy offense, they spent most of the game in their own zone, where they were overwhelmed. They failed to challenge Chicago’s forwards on attack, or they lost many of the battles they did choose. The cracks in Washington’s defense looked more like vast fissures. Jim Johnson needs to take these kids back to school.
No time to linger on this one. Puck drop for Caps at Red Wings is in like 25 minutes. Last time we played them, well, it was awesome. The Caps have changed so much since game 7, and this one is going to be very very important.
Heck, they’re all gonna be very important. Judgment Day on April 7 at Front Page just got a whole lot more judgementaler.