Not Up In Here – In Wednesday night’s 3-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, the Caps had contributions from all 18 skaters and goaltender Michal Neuvirth. A night later against the Minnesota Wild, Neuvirth was solid again. But he didn’t have nearly as much help in front of him in a 2-1 loss to the Wild.
“I can’t think of seven guys [who played well] off the top of my head right now,” says a clearly miffed Caps coach Bruce Boudreau at the conclusion of Thursday’s loss to the Wild. “It was really a disappointing effort I thought, from our team for 50 minutes. And you can’t play 10 minutes in this league and hope to win a game. I thought it was very disappointing.”
The Caps managed just four shots on goal in the first, matching a single-period low for the season. And midway through that first frame, a defensive breakdown left Wild winger Chuck Kobasew all alone on the doorstep to Neuvirth’s right. Ex-Cap Andrew Brunette – owner of one of the best pairs of hands in the league – threaded a perfect feed to Kobasew, who slammed home a one-timer.
For the seventh time in 10 games, the Capitals had surrendered the game’s first goal. Last season, Washington notched the first marker in 52 of its 82 regular season contests.
“I haven’t changed too much in the way of my philosophies as far as getting them ready for the games,” says Boudreau of his team’s lackluster starts this season. “So I don’t know what it is. But it’s something where we’ve got to come out better. We can’t let the other team take the game to us for the first half of the game.”
It was more than just the first half of the game. Washington attempted a mere eight shots in the first, and just 18 in the second before pumping 27 shots in the general direction of the Minnesota goal in the third.
“We need to figure out ways to have better starts,” declares winger Matt Hendricks. “We need to play that effective style of hockey for 60 minutes. We didn’t do that tonight.”
Having too many of their shot attempts blocked is a frequent bugaboo for the Capitals, and Boudreau was bummed about Thursday’s blocked bids, too.
“It’s determination on their part,” says the Caps’ coach. “But I know if teams were blocking shots when I played, I’d shoot at their head. [Then] they won’t block too many. We’re allowing them to block shots. Shoot it where they’re not. It’s one thing sliding and making a great block save, but they’re just standing there and we’re hitting them in the shin pads.”
Blocked shots aside – the Caps actually blocked 15 shots to the Wild’s 13 – the real culprit of the Caps’ offensive woes against the Wild was missed shots. On a night in which Washington recorded a season-low 22 shots on goal, it also recorded 18 missed shots, one shy of its single-game high. The Caps only tested Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom on a few occasions, and he had the answer on each of those. It took a late Ovechkin goal – with Neuvirth pulled for an extra attacker – to keep the Caps from getting blanked for the first time in 2010-11.
“I don’t think we did anything in the first two [periods],” says Hendricks. “The work ethic wasn’t where it needed to be tonight, especially at the start. Minnesota plays the game very defensively. They take a lot of our threats away so we needed to be a hard-working team tonight and we just didn’t do it for the first 40 minutes, 50 minutes.”
Blocked passes were also a problem; the Caps repeatedly tried to force passes through lanes only to have them broken up or picked off.
“We know what makes this team successful,” Boudreau declares. “And it isn’t going with diagonal passes through the neutral zone. We’ve got a big, strong team with big forwards. Our success has been winning the battles below the circles. That’s what we did [Wednesday] night so successfully.
“Tonight, we decided we wanted to be fancy. You can’t be fancy in this league.”
Boudreau had plenty more to say after this one.
“We looked like we were in quicksand. We couldn’t move the puck; we couldn’t handle the puck. We might have had a few excuses about being tired, which all it was was an excuse. Eighteen of those 20 guys have played in the American Hockey League at some point and it’s three [games] in three nights with a lot of busing and they’ve got to play. So I’m not buying any of this excuse about being fatigued, emotionally or physically. I’m just not very happy with what happened.”
Line Dancing – Boudreau shuffled the deck and mixed his lines a bit in the late going, trying to rub the stones together and create a spark.
The Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble line was creating chances throughout. That trio combined for seven of the Caps’ 11 shots on goal and 11 of the team’s 26 shot attempts through the first two periods. By game’s end, they had accounted for 11 of the team’s 22 shots on goal and 20 of Washington’s 53 shot tries.
Through the first two periods, 11 of the Caps’ 12 forwards (except Perreault) averaged at least five shifts a period. Matt Bradley, Tomas Fleischmann, Fehr and Perreault all skated fewer than five times in the third, while Boudreau leaned heavily on Backstrom (8:44 in the third), Ovechkin (8:10), Laich (8:08), Semin (7:17) and Knuble (7:08).
Defenseman Mike Green skated a whopping 12:20 in the third and 30:41 on the night.
“I know but you’re looking down the bench and you can’t find enough guys that were going,” says Boudreau of his third-period line shuffling exercise. “Poor Nicky had to play every second shift.”
No Goal – With Minnesota nursing a 1-0 lead late in the second, Chimera managed to bull a puck past Backstrom, only to have the apparent tally immediately and vehemently waived off.
Instead of his third goal of the season, Chimera had cob and the Caps were still down a goal.
“I think it should have been a goal but my opinion doesn’t matter right now,” says Chimera. “That’s what happens. Sometimes you get the breaks, sometimes you don’t. I was trying to stop and there’s a guy with back pressure on me, it wasn’t like I ran him over. I think it was going in anyway, it was one of those ones that should have been a goal.”
Tough Barn – Washington is now 0-5-1 in its six visits to the Xcel Energy Center. The Caps have been outscored by a combined 14-7 in those half dozen games.
It gets worse.
The Caps have scored two first period goals and five third period goals in St. Paul. They have held the lead for 18 minutes and 34 seconds of the 425 minutes they have played in the building. All of that “lead time” came in the only game in which they recorded a point on the road against the Wild, a 3-2 shootout loss on Oct 12, 2006.
The Capitals have never managed more than 28 shots on goal in a road game against the Wild, and they’ve averaged exactly 21 shots on goal per game with a 5.6% shooting pct. in those half dozen games.
Another Ailment – Caps defenseman Tyler Sloan was lost for the night at some point in the second period with a lower body injury. He is listed as day-to-day.
After skating 5:21 in the first period – and serving a minor penalty for interference – Sloan retired for the night after three second-period shifts totaling 2:19.
Hit Men – Coming into Thursday’s game, the Wild’s Cal Clutterbuck (34) and the Caps’ Ovechkin (33) ranked third and fourth, respectively in the NHL in hits. Both players added four body blows to their total in the contest.
The Caps and Wild each recorded 29 hits on the night. Matt Bradley led the way for Washington with five hits in just 8:46 of ice time. Clutterbuck’s linemate Eric Nystrom paced the Wild with five hits. Nystrom was also named the game’s third star.
Power Supply – Minnesota’s Matt Cullen has made a living on the extra-man unit this season. Now in his 13th season in the league, Cullen has collected nine points (three goals, six assists) on the power lay in 2010-11. He has 10 points overall this season.
Cullen has yet to crack the 50-point plateau in his NHL career; he has totaled 48 twice and 49 twice. His single-season career high for power play points in a campaign is 23 (eight goals, 15 assists) with the 2007-08 Carolina Hurricanes.
Cullen picked up the primary helper on Mikko Koivu’s power play goal late in the second period, the goal that proved to be the game-winner. Just nine games into the 2010-11 season, Cullen is already almost halfway to matching his career best in extra-man output.
Postgame Quotebook – Chimera on the Caps’ slow starts in games this season: “I don’t know. We’re just maybe not ready to play off the bat too good. You’ve got to be ready in this league. You can’t wade into games, you’ve got to dictate the pace. When we get up, it’s hard to contain us, that’s for sure. So we’ve just got to work on our first periods and our starts.”
By The Numbers –Jeff Schultz paced the Caps with five blocked shots … Nick Schultz led the Wild with four blocked shots … Ovechkin led all Caps forwards with 20:43 in ice time. Cullen led Minnesota forwards with 22:36 (7:03 of it on the power play) and Marek Zidlicky paced Wild rearguards with 25:44 … Laich – who had won 25 of 37 (67.6%) face-offs on the season coming in to Thursday’s game – lost all five of the draws he took against the Wild.