Patrick McDermott

Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

After a misstep on Long Island, the Washington Capitals hoped to regain their footing while hosting the New York Rangers on Sunday. After a quick start, the Caps lost control of the game. A snazzy goal by Steve Oleksy in the first period gave the Caps the lead, but the Rangers retaliated with four goals– two of them scored after penalties by Alex Ovechkin. Holtby was chased from the net, and the Caps never really mounted a palpable comeback.

Rangers beat Caps 4-1.

  • Possession predicts victory. The Rangers outshot the Capitals at even strength 29 to 19. The Caps can still win games like that, but they can’t do it often. This team has to own the puck, or else they’ll remain a bottom-10 team.
  • Steve Oleksy continues his fairy tale. His first period goal exhibited his best virtue: the dude shoots. From anywhere and anywhen, Oleksy doesn’t have the meekness that kept Dmitry Orlov from getting noticed last season. Hip checks are great and all, but if you can put rubber on net, you have a better chance at a future in the big league.
  • New York’s first goal was a Derek Stepan softy that banked off Holtby’s skate. Braden Holtby should have locked down that post. That’s what happened, but here’s what you heard on NBC:
  • Alex Ovechkin‘s missed hit on Stepan at neutral ice was the cause of both that goal and the momentum shift in the first period. No, NBC, that’s bullpucky. Stepan stepped outside of Ovechkin’s path, so for Ovi to make the hit he’d have to stick a knee out and risk both injury and suspension. Ovechkin already got whistled for interference on a late hit earlier this week; he was smart not to push his luck today. That said, any Caps fan would prefer that Ovi hauled ass afterwards, but to say that this non-event precipitated the goal is absurd. It just exposes Jones and Olczyk as dilettantes who can’t speak intelligently about tactics, so they have to compensate with ad hominem nonsense.
  • Alright, this is basically an all-Ovi recap. Ovechkin committed two penalties before the Rangers’ second goal: a hold and a trip (the trip is not on the game summary). The Rangers converted on the delayed penalty and then again on the power play. I’m really baffled as to how Ovechkin committed the hold, but either way: not a sterling shift by the Caps captain. At least he attempted a block on the Boyle goal.
  • Let’s suppose for a second that the Capitals truly are hated by the refs– and maybe that’s true– I dunno. How do the Capitals rehab that image? How do they get the calls they want? This is not a rhetorical question; I really want to know.
  • Marcus Johansson returned to active duty since his concussion/interminable benching. 1 shot, 1 assist, 15 minutes on ice, and some strong play along the boards. I think he was pretty awful on the Rangers’ fourth goal, but overall it’s good to see him back and building trade value. Sorry, that was snide.
  • Still, I wonder why Wolski and Perreault were in the press box today while fellas like Joey Crabb and Aaron Volpatti get sweaters.
  • Braden Holtby was relieved before the game’s halfway mark, but not before he surrendered three goals on 19 shots. It was not Holtby’s best day. Michal Neuvirth took over in net, appearing for the first time since February 7th, which I’m told is NOT actually Valentine’s Day. After too many setbacks, it’s great to see Neuvy healthy and given the opportunity to stop some pucks again.
  • Alex Ovechkin is still stuck at 699.
  • Is anyone else strangely fine with the new Fall Out Boy song getting played at Caps games? That song was basically designed to be played in arenas, and pretty much anything is better than Gary Glitter. Feel free to call me names in the comments.

Dammit, world. Stop making me defend Alex Ovechkin. I am NOT happy with his play either. Still, there are good ways and bad ways to have this conversation.

For example, if your argument includes the phrases “like a man” or “European-style”, you may benefit from some inward reflection before you turn your gaze out. If your point alternates between demanding that Ovechkin become a pure goal scorer and becoming a two-way forward, there may possibly be some coherence problems. And if your point is just an excuse to advance your own Q-rating or get some ad impressions, you are probably not intellectually honest.

But if you are prepared to acknowledge the inevitable decline that comes with age while leveling criticism at Alex’s backchecking speed, have at it. If you are cognizant of the lower level of talent skating with Alex since 2010 while you question the merit in him handling the puck so much at neutral ice, now we’re on to something. That’s how we’ll have a good discussion– by understanding and internalizing the opposition’s points while refining our own.

Alright, I’m off the soapbox. I am burning the soapbox along with the game tape. This game — this whole weekend– was a stinker, but it’s over now.

This coming week will be the most important of the Capitals season. A home-and-home series with the Carolina Hurricanes could launch them closer to the division leader, or it could put the division title safely out of reach.

No pressure.

  • Bye, playoffs; and hello nice draft pick!

  • After the first ten minutes, I thought the Caps had this one in the bag. Wrong. So very, very wrong.

  • Chris

    It is simple – AO needs to play better to get off the NBC hate. But it is obvious that he is scared to make a hit for reasons obvious today – he’s going to get called for borderline crap. And he isn’t the only one that played poorly today – Brouwer, for example, would have put at least one in if he played with his stick on the ice.

    Agree – Volpatti and Crabb. Seriously?

    At leasy MoJo loked decent. But Ovie needs more than MoJo on the first to help. And that’s part of his problem – a subpar supporting cast. So disappointing … and it makes me sad to realize that things may not get better this year.

  • I agree the Ovi hate is a bit much, but Caps fans just seem butthurt in response. Including myself.

  • I don’t get the Volpatti and Crab thing either. Especially at the expense of Perreault. That’s just shooting yourself in the foot before the opening faceoff.

  • Yv

    About Ovi exactly what you said, that was ridiculous comments by NBC commentators. I waited for some time when somebody, anybody will mention that he definitely could be penalized for late hit or interference as in Boston game. Weak call later on Ovi’s interference was just an example. The ensuing goal was mostly on Holtby. Caps now in big trouble. Only double clean wins vs CAR and subsequent good pace will give Caps a chance to catch them. If they split it would be practically impossible to close 8-points gap in remaining games.

  • vahockeymom

    I’m starting to worry….I think you are right. Two wins against Carolina, and it’s still an uphill battle. It’s all heart now, and hard work to pull themselves up.

  • On Ovi’s dive to block a shot: I like the effort but I think he screened Holtby in doing so.

  • Chris H

    joey crabb is such a plug

  • ha

  • Totes.

    Johansson did kinda the same on the 4th goal.

  • JP linked to the Caps usage charts:

    big happy blue circles for Wolski and Perry. They shoulda played.

  • Yeah. Part of the butthurt is that Ovi is bad. The other part is how bad NBC is at describing how he’s bad.

  • I had a sick feeling in my stomach all morning yesterday before that eminently winnable game against the Isles; it was suspicion that a playoff contending team would take care of business, and pretenders would fall apart in spectacular fashion; and I already knew, in the back of my mind, into which of those categories this year’s Capitals fall. But holy mackerel do I get pissed when I hear this xenophobic garage on my television in 2013. It’s not just the NBC guys on national broadcasts piling on Ovi for all the wrong reasons, either, if you watch our opponents’ feeds instead of Locker and Joe B, you get every hack homer latching onto this narrative, lazily denigrating the talents and character of russian players, especially Ovi, every time they slip-up or god forbid, age like a typical human. I can’t pinpoint exactly what’s going on with the guy, but throwing up your hands and declaring he’s NOKD is crap journalism. I shouldn’t really have to point out that there’s no special toughness fairy granting magical powers of grit and specialness to every lucky bastard that happens to be born in the western hemisphere, but somehow, the hockey monoculture remains unconvinced.

    Then I look at the ever occluding window of Capitals near-term of contention, and it begins to look possible, probable maybe that the vagaries of history and happenstance and ringing goalposts and Habs series gone awry may ultimately collude to prove slathering xenophobes like Milbury right, at least partially, in claiming that Ovi just isn’t tough enough to lead this team to a Cup. And the idea that this team I love may serve as another anecdote of cherry picked data added to the rocksolid confirmation bias that keeps Milbury and his ilk from the base self-awareness that would lead to realizing these opinions are utterly stupid, pulled from the nether caverns of their lower intestinal tract where the cancer of their North American exceptionalism grows strong, emitting noxious odors and the Soviet-era prejudices of a generation too intellectually lazy to come up with anything more sophisticated than “different people are different.” These things I know: they are fartbrains, and they are wrong, and they will be proven wrong because that’s what happens to idiots as data accumulates over the passage of time. But not this weekend, not by Ovi or this team, and I’m just going to be over here wallowing in my anger for a while.

  • Rob

    What baffled me was the “holding” call on a play that a monster like Zdeno Chara does all the time: a reach in with the stick around the body. Even the tripping was incidental. It was the second straight game I thought some ticky-tack calls sealed the Caps fate, even as they play somewhat subpar hockey. Alex Ovechkin still moves with the puck well. That sort of movement should draw more penalties. I am not an apologist and Alex did not bring his A game this weekend. But what appears odd is that refs seem to call him differently than other players and that is problem.

  • Rob, I watched that play maybe 5 times, and I had a really hard time picking it up. Coach’s challenge next year, pls?

  • Dark Stranger

    I also noticed how little the 4th line played after a “certain” point in the game when they weren’t the ones that made any egregious errors today — it was the 1st line who did. Still, I don’t get why Wolski was scratched or where Perreault was either. And how does Crabb keep getting ice time over the other guys who rotate in and out of the lineup?

  • I love the way you write, Annie.

  • You’re so kind; thank you, and likewise. I’m actually super insecure about it so that means a lot. I really didn’t mean to write that much but I agreed so much with your excellent recap that I decided, what the hell, today is as good a day as any to write the world’s longest sentence fragment about an intestinal tract.

  • Dave

    Great post. Agreed completely with:

    a) Ovi trying to avoid an interference call

    b) Ovi’s iffy second penalty call on the double penalty

    c) Ovi takes control of the puck way too much through neutral ice

    Milbury actually sounded surprisingly calm after the 1st intermission when criticizing Ovechkin. Must not have had his coffee until the 2nd period…

  • 5 star post!

  • Rhino40

    Props to you Annie: “Magical Toughness Fairy”–I can’t begin to tell you what an absolutely brilliant juxtaposition that is!!!

    IMO, The crux of the problem isn’t that OV got “old” or “lazy” or that any of the other intellectually bankrupt criticisms leveled at him are even remotely valid. In fact, for the first several years of his career, OV played Canadian-Style Tough even better than most Canadians did–skating hard every shift, Scoaring Moar Goals, and laying colossal hits on everything that moved…The only thing he didn’t do was drop the gloves.

    …and the powers-that-be couldn’t f***ing stand the fact that this jet-set, D&G-wearing “Russky” was playing Their Game so well that even Mr. Hockey Himself was giving the guy mad props!

    …so they punished him for Being Ovechkin by suspending him again and again and again…for doing the exact same things we all know would go <unpunished–or even be praised!–if Sid-the-Id had done them.
    This was the one and only thing that could possibly have stopped Ovechkin from being one of the greatest ever: They (the NHL disciplinarians) took a man off of the ice who loves to play hockey like few others ever have…and in so doing, ruined a once-in-a-generation talent.

  • Rhino40

    Let’s suppose for a second that the Capitals truly are hated by the refs– and maybe that’s true– I dunno. How do the Capitals rehab that image? How do they get the calls they want? This is not a rhetorical question; I really want to know.

    Peter, I’ve been asking that exact same question every year, for the last twenty-seven years…

    As for the title of your post, I got the 1984 reference, hence:

    Finishing Your Checks is Roughing
    Gap Control is Interference
    Asking for an explanation is Unsportsmanlike Conduct