In the Upper Heartland, a House of Horror

Minnesota’s supposed to be the land of 10,000 lakes, not swamps, but every time the Caps visit Excel Energy Center their offense goes into a quagmire. Six games now in this house of horrors and six defeats to show for it, but the most striking stat about the visits: a grand total of seven goals scored by the guests. That’s just bizarre. It’s not as if the Caps have encountered Brodeur or Roy in their prime on the visits, either.

The Minnesota Wild want to bore the hockey world to death to get their Ws. In the State of Hockey, with a lot of competition for patrons’ rink dollars, I wouldn’t think that wise marketing, but with the lineups the Wild have had to dress since the team’s inception, I guess you dance with the date who says yes.

Fatigue and frustration — those along with a high volume of undisciplined penalties — doomed the Caps Thursday night. Minnesota skated with something approaching desperation, as the losers of their previous two games, while Washington skated like a team that had endured inordinate exertion the night before back on the East Coast. As well as one which expected some automatic transference of success from one sheet of ice to the next, without the requisite labor investment. Not a good formula for success. The head coach took note afterward.

“I can think of  about seven guys, off the top of my mind, right now, that had a disappointing effort for the first 50 minutes. You can’t play 10 minutes in this league and hope to win a game. I don’t know what it is but it’s something that 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 we looked like we were in quicksand. We weren’t moving the puck, we couldn’t handle the puck.

“I think we might have had a few excuses about being tired which all it was was an excuse because 18 of those 20 guys have played in the American Hockey League at some point and that’s three in three nights with a lot of busing, and they’ve got to play. So I am not buying any of this excuse about being fatigued, emotionally or physically. I’m not very happy with what happened,” the bench boss said.

Mike Green can’t be that banged up — 30:41 of ice time Thursday night. Gracious. But notice how he still isn’t quite looking to bomb it from the power play point? Kinda as he didn’t (couldn’t) against Montreal last April. Until he does, opposing penalty killers will be able to continue to cheat and sag off him, reading pass first, shot second, and throttle the Caps’ weapons on the perimeter. I don’t expect the Caps’ powerless power play to endure like this a whole lot longer. John Carlson — of whom we see flashes of exciting offensive flair in the opponents’ zone — is going to help it eventually.

A positive sign: more and more we’re seeing signs of the first line regaining its dynamic MoJo. When they’re on they’re more or less impossible to defend for an entire 60 minutes. The Caps played much of Thursday night’s third period in Minnesota’s end, desperate to catch up, and the first line was responsible for much of that push. But ill-timed penalties kept creeping in and undermining difficult-to-achieve momentum.

Should Jason Chimera’s waved-off goal in the second period have counted? Well, I think you can make a credible case that he didn’t so much interfere with Nicklas Backstrom as he was driven into Backstrom by a Wild defender. If that’s the case, the marker should have stood.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking on my part, but I am seeing a more committed Alexander Semin night in and night out this season. Even on nights when he’s not on the scoresheet, he’s buzzing about, active, assertive, looking to make things happen. I don’t think we yet know who if anyone among the young centers is his best playmaking pivot, but it would be terrifically helpful to have one emerge. I can’t help but think how semi-tragic it would be to render a decisive verdict on his status with the organization with his having endured his entire career here without a durable playmaking center.

The Caps are now 6-4 on the new season, and five of their six triumphs have been of the white-knuckle variety. Read into that what you want. More and more it appears as if Tampa is going to remain a tier I antagonist in the Southeast. Maybe that helps the Caps for next spring; a common post mortem on last spring’s disaster of an early exit was themed on the absence of the Caps getting any push from within the division. Anyway, it’s still just October. It’ll be good to get out of this month and cross 10 exhibition games off the ledger.

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This entry was posted in Alexander Semin, Bruce Boudreau, Mike Green, Minnesota Wild, National Hockey League, Southeast Division, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to In the Upper Heartland, a House of Horror

  1. Sam says:

    No, Chimera’s goal should not have counted even if he was driven in by a defender.

    “69.3 Contact Inside the Goal Crease – If an attacking player initiates contact with a goalkeeper, incidental or otherwise, while the goalkeeper is in his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.”

    The reason that Chimera didn’t sit in the box for two minutes, because it was incidental contact and not interference. Either Chimera sits 2 for interference or we agree that it was incidental. If it was incidental, it does not count as a goal unless the contact occurred outside the crease (see 69.1 “Incidental contact with a goalkeeper will be permitted, and resulting goals allowed, when such contact is initiated outside of the goal crease”).

    However, I don’t agree that the interference call later in the game should have been called because he was clearly pushed into Backstrom from behind.

  2. Sam says:

    Also, I forgot to add my original point:

    There isn’t much of a difference between last season and this season, up to this point. Last season, the Caps were 5-2-2 after 9 games. This season, they’re 5-4-0.

    Take a look at some of the results from some of the first 9 games last year:

    WSH 5, PHI 6 (OT Loss)
    NYR 4, WSH 3
    WSH 2, DET 3
    NJD 3, WSH 2 (OT Loss)
    NSH 2, WSH 3(SO Win)
    WSH 5, ATL 4

    The Caps always start out sluggish with games being decided by a single goal, and quite often after regulation. Most of our first nine games last year, we were scoring 2-3 scrappy goals by players like Laich, Bradley, and Semin.

    There really is not much of a difference between last year and this year. Give it another week or two, and the Caps will return to their normal form. This year, we’ll do so with a stronger PK, better defensive play, and better goaltending.

  3. Sam, it was 69.3 that Caps’ fans were looking to have invoked with the Flyers’ playoff series in ’08. Its enforcement seems selective at times. But then, isn’t that the case with much of the rulebook?

    The Caps themselves during training camp identified a need to develop a killer instinct this season — an ethos of stepping on the throats of their foes when they have them down. They’ve had too few such opportunities this season.

  4. Sam says:

    I agree. I still fume about that non-call. But it seems like they’ve cracked down on it more consistently league-wide since then because of that type of incident.

    Agree with your second point.

  5. 4capitals says:

    I am glad you pointed out Semin’s efforts so far this season. I agree that he has been playing well even when he has not been on the scoresheet. I hope the Caps can somehow sign him to an extension, I think we need his scoring ability to have a chance at winning the cup. Also he seems to be playing more disciplined and is not taking as many careless penalties. Your point about him not having an accomplished center to play with is also right on the money. I am hoping that Johansson can be that center.

  6. d says:

    Just wondering if anyone can tell me why Knuble is still playing on the first line. Maybe it’s just me, but he doesn’t seem to be doing his job very well. Any thoughts on this?

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