Road Trip Gets Heavy, Hawks beat Caps 5-2

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?

Joe B in a polo shirt of the night

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.

Engblom’s “hair.”

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.

  • bailamos?

    No bailamos hoy :-(((((

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  • serpent

    S.O.S.–some like Alzner,Orlov.Kanoobs playing their hearts out and some just showing up now and then. No way to win a playoff berth,folks.

  • http://www.calacirian.org sonja n a

    I love this team … but it is not a team that is going to go past the first round.  If they even get the chance.

  • http://twitter.com/BigNed Ned Keitt-Pride

    I was at the game last night and I think it might be something a little different than that.  I think it was Peter (?) who posted here not long ago that the Caps have never looked the same since their teeth were pulled after losing the Montreal series.  After seeing the game, I don’t think it’s a matter of players not caring, I think it’s about players feeling emasculated.

    For example, for about half the third period the Capitals absolutely mauled the Chicago offensive zone.  Even up two I could feel the ‘Hawks fans around me starting to cringe.  That effort didn’t result in any goals, thanks in part to Crawford making some nice saves (easy to do when you’ve not been tested the whole game), but the Blackhawks looked bewildered.  Even more importantly, they weren’t playing on the Caps end of the ice.

    Like it or not, this team was put together to play the run and gun.  When the reins are loosed and they are allowed to push, push, push, they can keep their opponents reeling.  Why do we see the Caps give up so many early leads and then make their comebacks late in the third?  Because at that point the coach has no other alternative than to release the hounds and let them do what they are good at.

    As for motivation, think of your own job.  Say you’re a sales guy, great with people, recruited to get things going in a new territory for your company.  You’re all set to put in extra hours, hit the road, and start pounding the pavement and pressing the flesh to generate excitement about your company’s products.  You see some great early success, far exceeding expectations, but at the end of the year you miss out on a big deal to a competitor who bid at a loss just to keep your company from getting too much of a foothold in that area.  Suddenly, word from the top is that the reason you lost must be because you hadn’t done enough research on your competition.  To “fix” things, they decide that you need to spend more time researching the bidding patterns of your competition so you can better predict when they will do this again.  Number crunching isn’t your forte but you do your best, but the results are only decent.  More time in the office means fewer new contacts, and sales growth slows to a crawl.  After a couple of years of this now Leadership is starting to publicly question your abilities and your commitment.  How motivated are you going to be day after day?

    Trying to force feed the wrong system to the players you have is like trying to force feed a porterhouse to a horse.  It doesn’t matter how good that steak is, the dang thing just isn’t set up to digest it.  If you have decided you absolutely want your pet to eat steak, the solution is to change the pet.  Otherwise you’re just meddling with nature and it’s not going to end well for either of you.

    Speaking of meddling, the other thing I saw that contributed to the Caps poor offensive output: the constant line changes mean NO CHEMISTRY.  Time and again in our zone the Blackhawks kept possession by making plays based on knowing where their teammates were going to be.  Time and again the Caps sent a pass to someone who had just cut the other way, ran into each other, or looked a little lost.  When you don’t get to play alongside the same people night after night (or in Ovi’s case last night, period after period) you don’t get to know their tendencies, you don’t get to anticipate their movements, you don’t know if they like it slow and smooth and over the plate or fast and a little bouncy.  Match-ups be damned, these guys need a chance to gel, and that goes for offense and defense.  This isn’t speed dating, if a relationship doesn’t produce instant fireworks that doesn’t mean it can’t become something special over time.

    IMO, Uncle Ted and GMGM panicked after the Montreal series, then panicked again after the Tampa series (even worse).  I think they had a good plan that they should go back to (if they can find someone capable of running an up-tempo team close to as well as BB).  Or they need to trade every one of their star players, including Ovi, and start from scratch to build an organization dedicated to the dump and chase with talent drafted accordingly.  Good luck filling the Phone Booth, though.

  • Peter

    Well said. I shared this on our tumblr, Ned. http://russianmachineneverbreaks.tumblr.com/post/19580046524/run-and-gun

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  • Guest

    I remember going to games in ’08 when the arena was nice and empty.