I’m always glad when an afternoon game ends well so the rest of the night isn’t spent brooding.
Here’s some thoughts in the immediate aftermath:
1) Braden Holtby. Again, not much else needs to be said. Aside from a couple of lackadaisical passes to his defense, he was on tonight. He also benefited from a bit less work, as I thought the Caps defense as a whole played better. Even when Nash hit the post, I thought Holtby’s decision to poke at the last second caused Nash to change his shot ever so slightly. Nothing like a big 1-0 win in OT for your first playoff shutout. It’s interesting that he told reporters after the game he didn’t even realize it was his first. Shows you just how focused he is.
2) Steve Oleksy. He continues to show up night in and night out. A great hipcheck, a great pass to Chimera in the slot, etc. Even when he gets beat, he’s somehow able to get back into position. I’ve never really been sold on him over Orlov, but it’s beginning to look more and more likely that it will be Hillen and Orlov battling it out next year.
3) Adam Oates. He continues to push all the right buttons. His players ooze confidence, and I think a lot of it has to do with their coach. They all LOOK happy too, which they obviously were not last year all the time. His post-game press conference was so refreshing today. “It’s hard for me to tell players to shoot the puck when I never did.” Reminds us fans that we can second guess all we want, but in the heat of the moment, even the coach knows its tough. He also sounds like the Dalai Lama after listening to Tortorella.
4) Green OT Winner . That is all.
1) John Erskine. Probably the only thing I will criticize Oates/Calle for is continuing to play this guy so much. He’s just too slow, especially against quick Rangers forwards like Stepan, Callahan and Nash. I’m still scratching my head over the amount of money given to him mid-season.
2) Backstrom/Johansson. Too much passing from them today. They aren’t playing terribly (although Backstrom is still not looking like himself yet this series), but they aren’t playing well either. Obviously Oates says you can’t blame the players for not shooting in the heat of the moment, but at some point they need to make better decisions.
3) Henrik Lundqvist. This is “bad” in the sense of being a Caps fan. He was brilliant today. Aside from that 7 minute stretch in Game 1, he’s been nearly perfect. Fortunately Holtby (and some timely posts) have been slightly better. If he keeps playing this way, the Rangers have to feel good about winning both games at home.
4) Second Line. I’m still not feeling it. They didn’t play horribly and they continue to show flashes where they keep the Rangers buried in their zone for long periods of time. But I still think they need to get on the same page. Erat needs to look for his shot a bit more as right now he and Ribeiro are playing almost the same game.
5) The 3rd period. For as good as the 1st, 2nd, and OT were, the 3rd was kind of a snoozer. Only five shots a piece and lots of chess moves out there.
6) The Delay of Game Rule. I don’t hate the rule, I just think it needs tweaking. Only obvious shots and passes over the glass should be called. The fact that Alzner conceivably COULD have gotten a penalty for attempting to poke the puck out of the reach of Dorsett is kind of silly.
All in all, it was a great game for the Caps. I had more in the Bad column, only because it was hard to single out players for good games tonight. Alex Ovechkin was stellar as always, and I thought the third and fourth line played better than their counterparts from NY. That’s all you can ask them to do this time of year.
Up 2-0 in the series, let’s go get one at MSG.
Mike Kelly will be providing some guest posts during the playoffs. Here’s his first:
DVR is an amazing invention. Got home late so I figured I’d take my time eating dinner and get to the game later. After fast forwarding through commercials and intermissions, BOOM…only finished about 25 minutes after the actual game ended.
I’m going to try and post the good and the bad in my mind immediately after the game. So here goes from tonight’s big Game 1 win.
1) Braden Holtby. Cool, calm, collected…almost to a fault. He almost got caught cheating across a couple of times (the Nash shot in the 2nd period is the first one that comes to mind) but he seemed 99% in control. Barring a meltdown of some sort, the rest of his team can feel confident with him back there this post-season. And if he does make a mistake, at least his pants will be there to stop the puck (still not sure how that one didn’t go in). 36 shots and 35 saves…that’ll do every time.
2) The Third Line. What a solid game by these guys. Chimera gets the big third goal caused by Perreault’s relentless forechecking. And then there’s Eric Fehr making George McPhee look like a genius again. Fehr is finally using his long reach and big frame to his advantage…and at times seemed to be skating just as fast as Chimera. I can’t recall any time where this line really got bogged down in their own zone. And they were constantly pushing the puck up ice.
3) Mike Ribeiro. He didn’t make it on the score sheet tonight, but he played the kind of game we all criticized him for not playing so often during the regular season. Aside from a couple of silly turnovers during those first few power plays (more on that later), he played a solid team game tonight. Back-checked several times to break up Ranger chances. Dumped the puck in late in the game. And as always he made smart passes. Was very impressed with his game. I’ll also say that his line’s shift with about nine mintues left in the game tonight was the one that may have broken the Rangers. He, Brouwer, and Erat kept the Rangers pinned in their zone for a solid minute after the Rags had been all over the Caps. I thought it really changed the feel of that period and put the Caps back in the driver’s seat.
1) Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. This one started off pretty bad with the first power play…and the next two weren’t all that better. The turnovers at the blue line are especially maddening and one almost led to a Hagelin breakway goal. Fortunately Holtby bailed out Backstrom. But even not on the powerplay, the Caps were turning it over more than usual tonight. Green, Backstrom, and Erat stick out as the worst offenders tonight. Even the normally sure handed Karl Alzner was coughing the puck up. This is clearly something that must be fixed as the series goes along.
2) The Rangers first line played well. This partly goes along with the first point. But it seemed like Nash, Richards, and Zuccarello were all over the Caps tonight (Nash leading the way with eight shots on goal). I actually thought the Caps did well keeping Callahan and Stepan in check, who traditionally seem to be Cap killers. But I thought they gave Nash and Richards too much room tonight. Nash is always going to get his chances, because he’s too good of a player not too, but let’s not make it too easy for him.
3) Martin Erat. Let’s just say this was not his finest performance. A really stupid penalty, some bad turnovers, and just overall seemed lost tonight. Aside from one very good third period shift and his almost goal that Lundqvist got a glove on…i gave his performance a big, Meh.
In the end, they won…by two goals! It’s nice not to have the infamous coin flip game we were so used to last post season. Still, the Rangers had their chances and have to feel relatively good about how they played. The Caps need to clean up in their own end. And both of the Caps top two lines have to be better, especially the second line. Ovechkin and Holtby…just keep doing what you’re doing.
Blocked shots quickly became a major storyline in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals as New York Rangers skaters opened the series by stopping 26 of the New Jersey Devils’ shot attempts in Game 1 before they could make it through to goalie Henrik Lundqvist (stat via ESPN.com). Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said about Lundqvist’s play, “I saw him [only] about 10 minutes of the game because there were so many Ranger players in front of him.”
Anytime I see discussions about shot blocking, particularly in the playoffs, it sends me back to the 2010 first round series between Montreal and Washington, in which the eighth-seeded Canadiens knocked off the top-seeded Caps in seven games.
@TedStarkey I credit the Montreal Canadians of 2010 for the block party.—
Mike Holden (@mikeholden) May 17, 2012
Montreal blocked 182 shots in those seven games against the Caps, for an average of 26 per game. The 2010 Presidents’ Trophy winning Capitals led the series 3-1 before the Canadiens came back to win three straight, with shot blocking playing perhaps the biggest role I’ve ever seen it play in a series.
As WashingtonCaps.com Senior Writer Mike Vogel wrote in 2010 following Game 7:
“Washington fired 94 shots to Montreal’s 38 in Game 7. Only 42 of Washington’s shots were on goal; the Canadiens blocked a whopping 41, which was more than Montreal teed up on the entire night. The Caps also missed 11 shots. In the final three games of the series, the Habs blocked 83 shots. The Canadiens had just 66 shots on goal of their own in the same three games.”
94 shots by the Caps in that Game 7! That includes 41 that never made it to goaltender Jaroslav Halák because a Montreal player got in the way first. That still blows my mind.
26 blocks in Game 1 against the Devils is something the Rangers—who then had 16 blocks in Game 2—can be proud of. But the 2010 first round shot blocking performance by Montreal against the Caps, particularly the 41 in Game 7, still might be the best block party ever.
- Rangers block fewer shots in loss (nypost.com)
- Rangers’ Girardi, McDonagh more than just shot blockers (sports.nationalpost.com)
- Capitals, Rangers and their shot-blocking: Troubling sign for the NHL playoffs? (sports.yahoo.com)
Just over two months ago, with less than twenty games remaining in the Washington Capitals regular season, I wrote the following as part of a post on how the struggling team was complaining about signs that fans were holding up before a game:
I’ve rooted for a lot of losing teams in my life; it’s really not hard to do. I’m not a fair weather fan, even when my teams are on a losing streak. But when a team doesn’t seem to care for stretches at a time or when they look deflated, uninspired and plain defeated, they’re not always a lot of fun to pull for…
See yourself, one solid shift at a time, winning the game being played on the ice, Caps, not what some fan is holding up to the glass surrounding it. Your season, and many fans’ patience, might be gone soon if you don’t.
It’s hard to believe that the Caps team that just eliminated the defending Stanley Cup champions and then took the Eastern Conference’s top seed to seven games is the same group that seemed so far from focused just a short time ago. But focused is exactly what this team appeared to be during much of its 2011-12 playoff run.
Though their eventual Game 7 elimination by the New York Rangers was disappointing, like most any playoff exit is, and contained examples of improvement still being needed—such as an ugly third period power play or the inability of the team’s star players to perform at the level required to win the game—it’s hard to be upset with the Caps’ overall post-season performance, particularly given where they were in March. Perhaps more importantly, these playoffs signaled that the Caps of the Ovechkin era may be capable of playing the type of dedicated hockey often seen from teams that make deep playoff runs.
As Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post wrote in his post-series column:
In the past, what Washington often lacked was much more than a goal. It was a combination of qualities that command respect in the NHL and which Hunter, of course, calls character. He might as well say “pain in pursuit of progress,” because everything he demands hurts in one way or another.
Whether a Capitals player must throw his body in front of slap shots, bang on the boards, focus on defense first or sacrifice minutes so the right players, by skill-set, not star reputation, can be on the ice at the proper times — there is always an element of sacrifice…
Sacrifice. Dedication. Grit. Leaving it all on the ice. These are not terms that have been used often to describe the Caps playoff teams of the past few seasons. Yet even NBC Sports commentators were complimenting players like Ovechkin for blocking shots and buying into Dale Hunter’s system at times this post-season (it’s critical that Ovi still improve his two-way game more than any player on the team, but that’s perhaps a topic for another day).
Did this Caps team blow an opportunity in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead? Absolutely. But they bounced back and won the next game, like they did every time they needed to during these playoffs. Every game was close for the Caps, against both Boston and New York. All but one game during their entire fourteen game run was decided by one goal.
This year’s performance was far beyond last year’s second round loss in four straight to Tampa Bay, the blown 3-1 series lead against Montreal the year before or the 6-2 Game 7 loss to the Penguins in 2008-09 for which the Capitals didn’t seem to be in the building. As I’ve written before, “Not since the 2007-08 playoff loss in seven games to the Flyers has it appeared as if the team left it all out on the ice as they were eliminated.” That changed this post-season.
This year’s team seemed to grasp the fact that talent alone isn’t enough to win in the playoffs. These Caps were playing as if they now better understand the concept Wayne Gretzky wrote about in his autobiography, when he described the scene as he and fellow Edmonton Oiler Kevin Lowe left the building after losing the 1983 Stanley Cup Finals to the New York Islanders:
“We both knew we were going to have to walk by the Islander locker room, and we were dreading it: having to see all the happy faces, the champagne shampoos, the girlfriends’ kisses, the whole scene we wanted so much. But as we walked by, we didn’t see any of that. The girlfriends and the coaches and the staff people were living it up, but the players weren’t. Trottier was icing what looked like a painful knee. Potvin was getting stuff rubbed on his shoulder. Guys were limping around with black eyes and bloody mouths. It looked more like a morgue than a champion’s locker room. And here we were perfectly fine and healthy. That’s why they won and we lost. They took more punishment than we did. They dove into more boards, stuck their faces in front of more pucks, threw their bodies into more pileups. They sacrificed everything they had. And that’s when Kevin said something I’ll never forget. He said, ‘That’s how you win championships.’”
Washington players have taken some bumps and bruises in the playoffs the past few years, but quite often it was the Caps who were having their shots blocked or who were being beaten to pucks by guys that seemed to want it just a little bit more. While it was the Rangers who rose to the occasion and seized the opportunity before them in Game 7 Saturday, the Caps put together a playoff run that shows they may finally be on their way toward getting it.
- Ovechkin, Caps embarking on new Game 7 history? (cbc.ca)
- The Waning Inevitability of a Caps Stanley Cup (washingtonian.com)
- Is Alex Semin being held to a higher standard than other Caps players? (brookslaichyear.com)
Thanks to ABC 7 ‘s Suzanne Kennedy for including me in this segment on tonight’s news:
…and check out her article online too:
“Washington Capitals fans stay optimistic after rough loss“
Throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, fans have been seen in TV shots flipping opposing players the bird after a goal. But it’s rare that you see the players fire one back, which is what it appears Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto of the New York Rangers are doing here to this fan in Washington after last night’s three-overtime victory.
I wonder if hockey commentator Don Cherry will label Girardi and Del Zotto, both from Ontario, ‘good Canadian boys’ or criticize this behavior as “goofy stuff” like he did when Alex Ovechkin did such highly offensive things as excitedly jumping into the glass to celebrate goals. We’ll wait to hear from Cherry on this.
- Dale Hunter’s reaction to penalty call in OT on Alexander Semin (brookslaichyear.com)
- Caps-Rangers preview: The New York Rangers Blog answers our questions (brookslaichyear.com)
- Washington Capitals fall to New York Rangers in Game 3 on Marian Gaborik’s goal in the third overtime (washingtonpost.com)
This is going to be a quick post, with a few tweets and thoughts on what seems to be the sports story of the day in DC and beyond: Alex Ovechkin’s ice time in Game 2 versus the New York Rangers last night.
A few of mine from this morning…
They don't put individual player stats (including ice time) on the Stanley Cup. I'm fan of DH32 doing whatever it takes in each game to win.—
Mike Holden (@mikeholden) May 01, 2012
Odd how people felt inmates ran asylum w/ Bruce & Ovi's shifts were too long etc, yet now DH manages bench differently & people fuss. #Caps—
Mike Holden (@mikeholden) May 01, 2012
@pfholden It deserves attention (though Ovi isn't only Young Gun who saw less ice time), but I don't find it to be a big issue if it works.—
Mike Holden (@mikeholden) May 01, 2012
One from Mike Vogel after the game last night…
Eagerly awaiting stories on Backstrom's reduced ice time, lowest of 45-game SC playoff career. I'm sure everyone asked him about it. Right?—
Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) May 01, 2012
And a couple of mine from after the game…
@BradenOwen_92 only DH32 knows for sure but likes to linematch, is playing defensive grind-it-out system & 8 is defensive liability at times—
Mike Holden (@mikeholden) May 01, 2012
@BradenOwen_92 one of the upsides is this keeps him more rested for those times when you do need to lean on him more.—
Mike Holden (@mikeholden) May 01, 2012
One way to look at this: it often feels good when you don’t need to go to your closer to win a baseball game, knowing he’ll then be better rested the next time you need him. If the Caps get involved in another long series or make a deep playoff run, keeping your players from getting too banged up is usually a good thing.
See the chart at the bottom of this article from The Globe and Mail for a look at Ovechkin’s minutes for every playoff game he’s played:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/hockey/globe-on-hockey/alex-ovechkin-the-role-player/article2418893/
Ovechkin’s ice time last night is an interesting story, but I don’t see it as an issue right now.
This morning, we asked Caps fans on Twitter, “what is one thing the team must do differently in Game 2?” Here’s some of what we got back:
@brookslaichyear play like game 7 every game from here on out until we win the cup
— Steve Cook (@SCO0K) April 30, 2012
@brookslaichyear Get more pucks to the net, try to force some bad rebounds by Lundqvist, put a bit more pressure on him.
— Lucaslee Chatterson (@LJSwims5) April 30, 2012
@brookslaichyear Use armor-piercing pucks to defeat the posts.
— Boston Capitals (@BostonCapitals) April 30, 2012
@brookslaichyear Holtby needs to stay focused, even if a lot of pucks don’t come his way!
— ~Eileen~ (@kittileen) April 30, 2012
— Hugo Гузман (@LAICHaBOSS21) April 30, 2012
Here’s one from my brother and fellow BrooksLaichyear blogger…
@brookslaichyear How about F’s need to support D when D gets beaten down low instead of standing 2 feet away and watching. (coughovechkin)
— Patrick Holden (@pfholden) April 30, 2012
And there’s the obvious one I’d expect we might get…
— Ben Mellott (NBN) (@NBNStudios) April 30, 2012
…but then some more detail…
@brookslaichyear Screen The King, get dirty. Defense has been good, control the puck offensively to limit chances against.
— Nate Hewitt (@nphewitt) April 30, 2012
Thanks to everyone who responded.
- How Caps fans are feeling after Game 1 (brookslaichyear.com)