A Less Than Superb Owl: Penguins beat Caps 6-3

Greg Fiume

Photo credit: Greg Fiume

The Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins have a storied history– especially on Superb Owl Sunday. Snowmageddon, anyone? This Sunday’s game belongs in history as well. But, like, next to the bombing of Guernica or childbirth before Ignaz Semmelweis.

Right after a faceoff, Chris Kunitz (may have) deflected a shot by Paul Martin into the Washington net. Mike Green responded by finishing off a great sequence and scoring a pretty one-timer goal– more on that one later. Deryk Engelland re-established the Penguins’ lead with a thoroughly screened blueline slapper, redirected by Matt Cooke. John Carlson tied it up with the Weirdest Goal of the Year: a center-ice dump-in off the boards that tricked Vokoun into leaving the net before the puck bounced in.

Then it got weird. Kris Letang took the lead back with a golden opportunity up close on Holtby. Chris Kunitz made it 4-2 shortly after that. A phantom trip call on Wojtek Wolski and Karl Alzner’s broken stick afforded Chris Kunitz either his second or third goal.

Mike Ribeiro gave life to the Caps with a powerplay goal made possible by some great hustle by Ovechkin, but despite some late-game heroics, that’s all they could muster. Chris Kunitz got either his hat-trick goal or his FOURTH of the day on a last minute power play goal. Yikes.

Penguins beat Caps 6-3.

  • That first Caps goal was remarkable. Mike Green took a big shoulder hit and fell into the boards behind the net. The puck continued around the back, where Alex Ovechkin fought with two or three Pens before freeing the puck up for Mike Ribeiro. Ribs hit up Wolski near the circles, who had the awareness to find Mike Green, still smarting from that hit, in the sweet spot. It was stunning teamwork, and a great use of Ovechkin’s physicality. Pittsburgh was so busy double- or triple-teaming him, they left Green wide open. Next time someone says Green is soft, show ‘em this.
  • Ian and I think Mike Ribeiro is the Caps’ best player right now. Tell me you disagree. He seems connected to his teammates in all the ways the rest of the team is not. He’s all about position– putting his skinny frame in the fray and creating space out of nothing at all.
  • Which is greater: NBC’s infatuation with Sidney Crosby or their disgust for Alex Ovechkin? I’m gonna say the former, but the latter is pungent as well. The first intermission was basically the two-minutes hate, emceed by a guy who beat a fan up with his own shoe. Besides: they’re wrong. NBC Sports folks say Ovi should become Crosby. We say Let Ovi Be Ovi.
  • John Carlson’s has my vote for Goal of the Year. But as soon as it happened, the Penguins went on a roll. Even when we’re lucky, we’re unlucky. No use in complaining, particularly when the Caps managed just 3 shots at even strength that period.
  • Lots of folks blame Braden Holtby for the Kris Letang goal. I’m not. A talented shooter shouldn’t be allowed to set up that close to the Caps net. It’s a high-percentage shot, and the Caps defense should have spoiled it. That’s not to absolve Holtby of guilt: he had a miserable day– and he’s played only one game this season up to his level.
  • It seems as if the NHL is interested in having more power plays this year. They’re calling everything (except Erskine’s hit last game and Malkin’s delay of game today), including some bad ones. Wojtek Wolski‘s trip, for example, isn’t the sort that has been called before this year. It’s great that the NHL wants more offense, but it sucks that it all seems to come on the backs of the Caps.
  • Who is this Chris Kunitz person?

I don’t like how John Carlson is playing. I don’t like how Marcus Johansson is playing. I don’t have an abundance of faith in this roster. I’m still not panicking (whatever that means), but I’m definitely worrying.

I still believe the Caps have suffered from bad luck and they’re due to bounce back, but the same fundamentals I was so enthused by have eroded this week. Puck possession is in the toilet. And not even a nice toilet.

A few years ago, the Capitals were the best team in the league. Because of offense. When the Caps’ shooting luck went belly-up in Montreal, the press turned on them. Their coach was kicked out of town, and their identity was warped into something meeker. Now, they’re neither an offensive juggernaut or a gritty, grind-em-out team. That amorphousness is laid at the feet of George McPhee, but we’ve gotta admit our own complicity as well.

We demanded that the Caps change (actually, we didn’t), and now we don’t like what they’ve become.

So what now? Blow it up? Make a drastic systems change? Wait for luck to turn and work on the basics in the meantime?

I got no idea. You tell me.

Go Beyonce.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephenrosedale Stephen Rosedale

    Ugh.

  • kemiisto

    Enough is enough! (c) Send this sieve back to AHL. :(

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1184025207 Glenn Havinoviski

    Second straight Caps game they’ve televised here in Dubai. I thought they’d have a chance to win 2 in a row here. Come on guys, what’s with two penalties with one minute left? With Vokoun in goal for the Pens, the Caps should have pounded Pittsburgh. They must be taking a page out of Atlanta Thrashers playbook, or the Florida Panthers of 2-3 years ago. This is awful. Ovi is trying but he quite simply has lost creativity. Where is Knuble now that we need him to crash the net? MoJo has disappeared, and Backy seems distracted.

  • http://twitter.com/mikeholden Mike Holden

    Ovechkin doesn’t need to become Crosby, but I agree with Milbury and Jones that he has become predictable and that his game needs to evolve. Ovi can still be Ovi, but can become a more complete player.

  • Holy_Cal

    At least the O’s report to Sarasota in 9 days. And I’m glad the caps picked a shortened season to stink it up, rather than a full 82.

    In other news: Say no to Luongo… Unless its for MoJo or Perrault.

  • GuestZ

    Holtby has lost 3 of his 4 by a score of 2-1. MoJo and Green don’t know how to handle a puck. Kundratek doesn’t seem to know what a hockey puck is or what it’s used for. And I love Chimmer, but he’s been WAY too quiet this season for my liking.

    Dirty laundry is out to dry at my house. When will the CAPS do the same with theirs?

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Ian Oland

    When Ovi curled around the corner and went straight to the net, I think I peed myself a little.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Ian Oland

    When Ovi curled around the corner and went straight to the net, I think I peed myself a little.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Holtby’s sv%s:

    0.823
    0.897
    0.935
    0.884

    He’ll come back big.

  • kemiisto

    First of all it’s only .769 for this game. And sv% is not the whole story of course. GAA is just terrible.

  • BigRest

    Please, oh please, refer us to when specifically “A few years ago, the Capitals were the best team in the league.” was. I guess you didn’t account for any of the teams who actually succeeded in the playoffs or the ones who actually, you know, won the Cup.

  • Billy Pasour

    What were the fans chanting at the end of the game when we were on the kill? Sounded like “let’s go caps” but my wife thought it was “bring Bruce back” … Ducks are 5-1-1, btw

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Specifically: when they won the Presidents’ Trophy and then lost to MTL due to incredible luck by their goaltender. Thanks for playing.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Right you are. 0.769230769230769. My bad. Thanks!

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Ducks are fun to watch.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    The Luongo rumor has been quashed, phew.

    Go Os.

  • Billy Pasour

    Thought GMGM was a fool for firing Bruce last year, and still think so. Can’t wait for the Ducks to win it all so Bruce breaks the stigma. McPhee will remind us that we don’t know anything about the game, surely.

  • BigRest

    “incredible luck” only happens with other teams, never the Caps, right? Incredible luck? Pfff, you must be playing, that’s for certain. No matter how it happens, the team that hoists the Cup at the end of the year is the NHL’s best hockey team.

  • http://twitter.com/mikeholden Mike Holden

    That wasn’t just about their goaltender. Montreal figured out how to shut down the Caps. They blocked an amazing number of shots in that series.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    The NHL invented their playoffs to determine a champion with drama rather than just going by score totals at the end of the season.

    The Caps were incredibly lucky that year, as we’ve written. http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/2010/10/25/pdo-and-why-the-caps-may-be-struggling/

    That luck stopped abruptly vs Montral, particularly when Semin got shut down.

  • http://twitter.com/mikeholden Mike Holden

    At the time, I think it was either you fire the coach or make some changes to the team. It made some sense to see how the Caps core would respond to a new coach first, rather trade guys they’d developed and invested in.

  • 28IS(still)GREAT

    Dear Braden Holtby:

    We regret to inform you that due to the sudden decline in consumption of our product in Washington, D.C. we are no longer able to sponsor you.

    Sincerely:

    The Kool-Aid Company

  • http://twitter.com/mikeholden Mike Holden

    Keep Holtby up or send him down to keep him fresh at some point if really necessary, but I’d put Neuvirth in goal again for a stretch and really see what he can do as the number one.

  • sean

    No crashing the net, no defensive coverage, puck battles lost along the boards and turnovers. No grit, no heart=2 wins.

  • http://twitter.com/mikeholden Mike Holden

    Was it luck or did Montreal have a great game plan and come ready to sacrifice? Here’s something I wrote about their insane shot blocking that series: http://brookslaichyear.com/2012/05/18/great-block-parties-2012-rangers-devils-isnt-2010-canadiens-caps-yet/

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    I crunched these numbers a few years ago.

    WSH EV Sh% in losses to MTL:

    0.054
    0.040
    0.029
    0.028

    NHL average was above .080 that year.

    Possession (Fenwick) in same set:

    2
    -2
    20
    24

    Fenwick scores of +20 correlate highly to wins… unless really bad luck strikes. Like what you see in those Sh% above.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    And about blocked shots: it’s an overvalued stat. The shots that are usually blocked are the ones goaltenders stop 98-99% of the time, and blocking a slapper risks injury. Blocking a shot from 15ft out is a good idea, but those are rare.

  • Holy_Cal

    I’ll feel much safer about life when Lu is wearing a large Maple Leaf on his chest.

  • http://twitter.com/Isaac_Jacob1 Mordy

    Frustrating to be a caps fan right now, being 29th place in the league. No one would of expected it. I thought we got some good off season additions by adding Ribeiro losing Semin. I miss Dale Hunter and Bruce Boudreau.

  • Dark Stranger

    I have no personal preference as to where Luongo goes. But do not want him for Caps. Acquiring relatively old players with long contracts = Bad Idea. Nothing personal against Luongo — just his contract.

  • PuckBuddyDoug

    The PuckBuddys have been arguing the same basic point for about a year. Although, we’re chastened to say as much, as that may not bolster Peter’s analysis in many minds.

  • Holy_Cal

    Exactly. No need to mortgage the future when the present is so uncertain. An overpaid overrated goalie isn’t the “missing piece” to make us competitive all of a sudden.

  • http://www.facebook.com/donald.e.norwood Donald Eugene Norwood

    The worst part was having to walk by the horde of snaggle-toothed Pens fans who had congregated on the steps of the National Portrait Gallery after the game, as they chanted rude and uncreative slogans like, “Ovi Sucks.” Oh the humiliation.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Haha snaggle-toothed

  • ACN

    Well, I mean, they’re Pens fans. They’re not familiar with class or culture or art, so they probably didn’t understand the concept of a museum.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett