Photo: John Russell
The weekend hasn’t been kind to the Washington Capitals. Aside from the Leafs, the Caps’ competition in the wild card race all gained ground while the Caps floundered against the Bruins. Sunday’s game against the Nashville Predators was a crucial opportunity to stay on pace. And while Nashville had a headlock on Washington during even strength, the Caps managed to summon up some special teams magic to keep the game interesting. Or excruciating, depending on your attitude.
The Capitals got on the board first with a beautiful five-on-five unicorn: Nick Backstrom stole the puck, served it to Mike Green, who found Troy Brouwer alone at the back door. Nashville stuck back 100 seconds later with Patric Hornqvist’s goal following a big rebound off Halak’s chest. Hornqvist wasn’t done, scoring a semi-breakaway late in the first as the Caps momentarily forgot what they’re supposed to do at their own blue line (hint: defense).
The second period was all Nashville, but Halak was halaking like there was no tomorrow. The Caps earned back-to-back power plays and converted the second of them, a frantic backhand by Brouwer in the slot. Shea Weber restored Nashville’s lead nine minutes into the third period with a monster slapshot. Nick Backstrom tied it a few minutes later, converting a power play with a slapshot as the bowels of Caps nation collectively liquefied.
Overtime gave us no decision, so here we go with the…
- Jarnkrok was a sidewinder, but Halak smashed him with a shovel.
- Kuznetsov missed wide again. He’s not gonna like that.
- Craig Smith scored on an early release.
- Grabo got blocked.
- Josi denied low.
- Nick Backstrom, who is not Calle Johansson, blocked.
Perds beat Caps 4-3 (Shootout).
- That was the 19th shootout of the season. That’s too many shootouts.
- The Capitals were a wet noodle at even strength. The Backstrom line got a pretty even-strength goal (his first at 5v5 since early February), but Nashville seemed to have a Get Out of the Defensive Zone Free card. This is not news. The Caps have been bad at evens since week one, but I thought I’d mention it again because Adam Oates had the world’s best scorer, Alex Ovechkin, skating with Jay Beagle in a huge game with the season on the line.
- Ovechkin was a non-factor. He had just three shot attempts– total– fifty minutes into the game. I’ll say this for Ovi: he’s being a good sport. He’d have every right to cop an attitude over how Oates has disadvantaged him during even strength, but he hasn’t done that. If he did, the clowns at NBC would be all over him. Instead, Ovi has been a good little soldier, and I don’t think I’ve heard anyone remark about that one way or another. Anyway: Ovi’s possession was under 30%, which is really really bad.
- Your boy Adam Vingan reported that Alex Ovechkin finished the month of March without a single even-strength point.
- Patrick Wey put an innocent hit on Rich Clune along the boards in the first. No one made much of it except for Clune, whose delicate sensibilities were offended. He demanded satisfaction, knocking out Wey (in his second pro fight ever). There never was a code in hockey. Wey was injured and missed the rest of the game, leaving the Caps with only five defenders for this very big game.
- Mikhail Grabovski, who is awesome, returned to play for the first time since late January (not counting those two minutes in Sunrise). Grabo started on the fourth line, where he and Tommy Wilson and Dustin Penner looked pretty fantastic and not at all like a fourth line. Wilson had a crucial scoring chance in the first before Oates obliterated his awful lines and replaced them with another set of awful lines.
- Here they are, per Mike Vogel after 40 minutes of play:
Grabovski – Beagle – Ovechkin
Johansson – Backstrom – Brouwer
Chimera – Fehr – Ward
Penner - Kuznetsov – Wilson
- I’m wondering how deep into this recap I can go without mentioning Troy Brouwer. Let’s keep going and see if the Brouwer Rangers throw a hissy fit.
- Shea Weber is so good. I hate him. He executed a textbook stick check to defuse Alex Ovechkin on a two-on-one breakaway. (I’d really like Mike Green to skim that textbook at some point.) And there’s that slapshot to give the Perds the lead in the third, which was one of the hardest slappers I’ve seen all year. Did I mention I hate him? I did like it when Tom Wilson put a big shoulder into him with three minutes left in #rego.
- With two goals tonight, Troy Brouwer set a new career best in goal scoring at 22. He got 21 back in 2009-10 with Chicago. He was just the triggerman in his first of the night, finishing a beautiful play by Backstrom and Green. The second goal, a powerplay marker, was the other kind of beautiful: scrapping in the slot for a loose puck that he shoveled into the net off his backhand.
The Caps have been so so bad at even strength and pretty awesome at the power play. We’ve known that since the beginning of October. I assume the coaches know it too. And yet here we are, with less than two weeks left in the season, and the Caps are somehow getting worse. Aside from defensive shallowness, the players aren’t all that bad, but the line decision-makers are plainly inept and the corpus of tactics they employ is infuriating.
But they can still draw penalties. Whatever criticism we offer for Adam Oates, he deserves tons of credit for the Caps being terrifying when a man up.
Then again, power plays are just one small part of the game– and not one you can rely on– either in the playoffs or in pursuit of making it to the playoffs in the first place.
Whatever– I’m sorry for venting. There’s nonsense abound in how Caps players are being coached, but the players themselves continue to excel in every way they can. There’s Troy Brouwer’s career-best season, Tom Wilson shaking off the role he’s been forced to play and becoming a scoring talent, Dmitry Orlov tilting the ice better than anyone else on the team.
Imagine how good those guys are gonna be under whoever the coach is next season.
If Oates called a timeout and told the players to choose their own linemates and play however they want, I genuinely think they'd do better.
— Peter Hassett (@peterhassett) March 31, 2014