Sunday, January 17, 2010

Raindrops Keep Falling...

Last time the Capitals played Philadelphia, it was snowing. This time, it's pouring rain. It would be nice to have a sunny day during the Caps vs. Flyers contest, but I digress.

In the last week, we've seen the extreme side of the Capitals' offensive ability; they currently lead the league in goals-for, with 177. Chicago is the next closest at 161. Going back to the January 5th game against the Canadiens, the Caps have scored an average of 5.1 goals per game!
just another celebration of a Semin shot in Atlanta

The defensive work is what is still troubling. Despite the overwhelming ability to score goals, the team still lost one game and had another go to shootout in the last week. Those two games also saw rookie netminder Michal Neuvirth give up a total of 8 goals over the span of about 50 minutes, and get replaced by veteran Jose Theodore. In the first of those two matches, against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Theodore unfortunately lived up to the derisive nickname of "ThreeOrMore" by allowing another 3 goals to slip by even as the front line juggernaut tied the game at 4-4. In the second game, however, "Contract Year" Theodore came in to stone the Florida Panthers for the final period and a half plus overtime, and then held on during the shootout. "Contract Year" Theo also played against the Maple Leafs this past Friday night, where he stood on his head to keep Toronto to a single power play goal even as six were scored against Vesa "For All Your Backup Needs" Toskala.

Just before the Canadiens game, Brooks Laich told the media that the team has a hard time buying into defensive work, even though, as he put it, it's when they play good defense that they get the opportunities to score four, five goals. Sure enough, that night against Montreal, they played well defensively, and they scored four goals. Two nights later, again, the defensive effort was decently solid, and they scored five. Those two games however, may have led to the shoddy first period in Atlanta, where it was only due to Neuvirth that they weren't chasing the Thrashers after one, considering the 18-7 shots-on-goal differential. However, Johan Hedberg's and Ondrej Pavelec's sieve-like qualities likely led to the disaster against the Lightning; the Capitals got lucky in Atlanta, knew they got lucky, and still didn't adjust their defensive game in Tampa until it was too late. And when things got "chippy" in the third period, they'd expended too much energy in the second just to pull into a 4-4 tie, and they had nothing left.
neuvirth works up a sweat against the thrashers

Did they learn their lesson? No. The next night in Sunrise, the exact same thing happened, almost to a tee. There was no Matt Bradley-coming-to-Ovechkin's "rescue" this time, though.

capitaLOLs hits the nail on the head

A quick first period goal on Friday night took some of the fight out of the Maple Leafs, and the defensive work was fairly solid, despite John Carlson not arriving at Verizon Center until 6:10 (literally minutes before warmups) and Brian Pothier's late scratch.

So what is to be expected against the Flyers? The last game was a rout, partially due to Daniel Carcillo's ill-advised "fight" with Matt Bradley and the resultant nine minutes of power play that netted a couple of goals. It's almost inevitable that the Flyers will try to punish the Capitals, as it's widely thought that Boudreau was just running up the score at the end (when he put Semin, Backstrom and Green out on a late power play... even though the point was to help David Steckel get that elusive first goal of the season). However, if the Capitals play like they did Friday night -- solid defense, cutting back on the cross-ice and cutesy passing, and unrelenting on the shots on goal -- they should improve their Eastern Conference leading home record to 16-3-3 easily.

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