The topic of home crowd boos emerged over the past couple of days, particularly on local sports talk radio, as they were belched with some decibels during Sunday’s underwhelming effort against Calgary. And with just a couple of minutes left in Tuesday night’s first period, and the host Capitals already trailing the Ottawa Senators 3-1, netminder Jose Theodore was staring at Senator Peter Regin breaking in on him uncontested, another formidible, first intermission deficit potentially confronting the Capitals for a second straight home game. In that moment as Regin bore down on the suddenly beleaguered Theodore, all I could imagine was the greeting 18,000 in red would have for their former heroes as they exited the ice in another couple of minutes.
Theodore, however, held his crease, offered Regin little to shoot at, and preserved his team’s deficit at two tallies. At the break the home crowd murmured disapproval rather than showering it upon the NHL’s top club. The Caps would rally to tie the game in the second period, and another deft Mathieu Perreault bit of marksmanship actually gave the home team a brief 4-3 lead in the final frame, but Ottawa ultimately prevailed in overtime, scoring on a 4-on-3 power play in the extra session’s final 30 seconds.
Theodore, however, fresh off of getting yanked in Sunday’s first period, did little to calm home fan nerves as they relate to the most important position on the ice in the postseason. Again on Tuesday night he seemed to lack composure and puck awareness as the play swirled around him in tight, and again relatively innocent, deflected and slow-moving pucks found their way behind him and into the back of his cage. A week ago — heck, 72 hours ago — the Capitals’ netminding rotation for the postseason seemed settled and solid. This morning, it is anything but.
“There were four pretty iffy goals out there tonight,” Bruce Boudreau observed in his postgame press conference.
Not quite a ringing endorsement of his heretofore no. 1.
And yet: Since January 13 JT is 17-0-3 — merely the best stretch of games without a regulation loss in club history. That stat is I think somewhat misleading, however. Theodore wasn’t the goalie of record in Sunday’s 5-3 loss to Calgary, but his performance in 10 minutes’ time had a lot to do with the result.
There were Capitals culprits skating outside the crease Tuesday night — particularly those assigned to kill penalties. The Senators struck with the man advantage on three out of four opportunities, using just 4:23 of extra man time to do it. The Capitals remain lodged in a troubling region of the penalty killing rankings: 25th in the league, succeeding just 78 percent of the time.
- Alexander Semin, by scoring his 36th and 37th goals, is now just one goal shy of matching his NHL best goals tally, accomplished in 2006-07. He seems more certain of scoring 40 goals this season than does Ovechkin of tallying 50.
- Elisabeth Meinecke of DCist came up with a most clever quip in the Verizon Center press box as Semin celebrated his second period tally, and second of the game. The Semin hat trick: two goals and an offensive zone penalty.
- Ovechkin Tuesday night was active and dynamic, but also highly inaccurate. He skated more than 28 minutes and attempted 20 shots, but only 5 of them found Brian Elliott’s net — 8 were blocked and another 7 went wide or high of the target. Sounds like just another evening of frustration against one of the league’s premiere shotblockers on the blueline, Anton Volchenkov. Except that Volchenkov didn’t dress for the Sens. He’s day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.
- Boudreau reunited Ovi, Backstrom and Semin early on and for most of the night, but they were again culpable for leading a Harlem Globetrotters exhibition with the puck in Ottawa’s end throughout the first period. All that razzle-dazzle did was generate four shots total for the team on Brian Elliott through 20 minutes of play. And the Caps generated just 21 shots on Elliott all game long, including overtime. That’s the lowest shot total for the club since November 22, 2008 — a 7-2 thumping endured against San Jose.
- It was, I thought, one of Mike Green’s most impressive defensive performances of the season. His coach apparently agreed, skating Green over 31 minutes.
- This team misses Brooks Laich, big time. But it’s more than just his career-best 24 goals and 56 points of production. They miss his nose dirty-ing jam in front of the opponent’s net, his net-crashing ethos, his speedy forechecking, and most especially that most intangible quality that he has in great abundance: he’s damned difficult to play against.
- Mathieu Perreault is certainly making a strong case to make the team next season. Or maybe even stick around for the remainder of this one. He scored another nifty goal last night, but what was more impressive was how he scored it. Perreault muscled out a puck along the corner boards, kicked it out to Eric Fehr, and then drove to the net, a strategy that seemed lost on the rest of the Caps last night. He does what many say Kobe Bryant of the NBA does, “he does work.” Perreault, the smallest member of the Capitals’ organization, showed he was not afraid to drive the net, muck it up in the corners, and take full-on physical abuse to get a scoring chance.
- One of the more impressive performances last night was, I thought, from Jason Chimera. While others often stood around, Chimera was flying down the ice creating several good scoring chances. His best play of the evening was when he tore threw the neutral zone and absolutely rocked a Senator from the puck in the third period. What was more impressive than the hit was that he apparently got his stick on the puck before he took out the feet of his victim. The Caps are a faster team with Jason Chimera and, when he plays as he did last night, a better one as well.
- I have one major question regarding the Caps deadline acquisition of Joe Corvo. If they traded for him because of his shot from the point on the power play, why doesn’t he play on the power play? He certainly isn’t a better d-man than Brian Pothier, so they most certainly didn’t acquire him to shore up the blueline. I thought he was brought in so Ovi could play lower on the power play, or take some time off; I guess I was mistaken, as he was on point for every power play last night.
- Just as a general rule of thumb, for fans and players, throwing the puck on net is never a bad idea. Passing around the perimeter during for an entire power play is a generally a bad thing.
The Capitals exit March with a solid if unspectacular record of 4-2-2 in eight home dates. More troubling are the questions raised by Jose Theodore’s sudden unsteady play. Six games in April that 72 hours ago seemed to hold little meaning suddenly have evolved into a most unwanted audition for a go-to guy between the pipes for the postseason.