Boos Held at Bay, More Anxiety in Net

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.

Andrew’s Thoughts:

  • 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.

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This entry was posted in Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Bruce Boudreau, Jason Chimera, Jose Theodore, Mathieu Perreault, Morning cup-a-joe, National Hockey League, Ottawa Senators, Verizon Center, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Boos Held at Bay, More Anxiety in Net

  1. Marleen says:

    You should try watching the last two games with the Canadian announcers like we’ve had to do here in Nova Scotia. They are having a field day making fun of the Caps. After the first Sens goal the announcers were joking that the Caps “part like the Red Sea” and let opponents skate right down the middle to Theodore who the Caps just hang out to dry. Then after the second goal they turned on Theo, saying the Caps are going nowhere in the playoffs with their D and goalie issues. They did comment that the fabulous offense is fun for the fans to watch, but they reiterated several times that the Caps are not a team that is anywhere near ready for the playoffs. It’s depressing up here! I want my Joe B. and Locker.

  2. Ray in Bowie says:

    “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.”

    Every Cap should be required to watch this 20 times…not every goal cabn be tic-tac-toe. Some are brute force, a rebound, and a lucky bounce. Failing to do the brute force exponentially lowers the possibility of the last two scenarios.

  3. Ted says:

    They have to come out guns blazing next 2 games. 114 will overtake all but San Jose. They need to stay motivated. If they wanna take some games off, then they should make sure it’s games they are playing after they clinch the President’s Trophy. They need to keep going as for now.

  4. Hittman says:

    Better to have these issues now than in the playoffs. Point of fact: the Bruins have the best defense and the worst offense in the league. Caps have the best offense and the 19th best defense. To make matters worse for the B’s, Marc Savard is OUT and he was their top offensive threat. Hopefully teh first round series will be a self-esteem booster.

  5. Joe says:

    As a B’s fan, I’m more looking forward to seeing Ovie for at least four games than I am at watching my hometown team duke it out for the Cup. I hope I’m wrong, but you guys should have no problems, barring a Tuuka Rask series-stealer.

    And Andrew, please tell me you’re not one of those fans who screams “SHOOOOOT!” for the entire two minutes of a power play. Professional hockey players, I think, have a pretty good idea of what they’re supposed to do on a power play. Throwing the puck on net is not one of those things. Isolating defenders and moving the puck around to set up a 2-on-1 down low is what they’re trying to do when they move the puck around like that. It drives me nuts when people scream at them to shoot when they’re out near the blue line with a defender in their face. Not understanding how a power play works shows hockey ignorance.

  6. Marleen’s comments ought to be taken with a grain of excellent barley and hops, as her husband and she are taking in their hockey up North in the company of Alexander Keith’s.

    http://www.keiths.ca/

  7. Sam says:

    @Joe,
    YES! That is one thing of three things that drives me nuts when I go to games.

    The other two are people up in the 400s who think EVERY offsides call was wrong and I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m really starting to get tired of the people who yell “Who cares” when they announce the other team’s goal scorer. It was funny the first one or two times, but now it is really starting to get annoying.

  8. Hittman says:

    @Joe/Sam:

    Now that we’re on the subject, the problem with being in a non-hockey town with a great team is that the majority of fans are newbies (at least it feels like a majority). Newbies bring some great things, like energy, warm bodies, etc, and they buy a lot of jerseys. But they also engage in those behaviors cited above, as well as some of the other more annoying ones, such as yelling “SUCKS” during announcements (more a football thing, but I’ve heard it at Caps games as well). It’s classless. When the Flyers are in town, the fans chant “Flyers Suck” or various iterations. Same for Penguins. Oh how I long for the days of organ sounds and without an “unleash the fury” video played like clockwork every third period. The Capitals have cultivated a mob-like mentality to boost enthusiasm and ticket sales, but sacrificed individuality and spontaneity in the process.

  9. Cathy W says:

    Amen to Joe, Sam and Hittman. Had people yelling “shoot”behind me last night. The Caps used to pick which one (Unleash the Fury, Inches, or Victory) that was appropriate to the game situation. Now, it is mostly just Unleash the Fury no matter how the game is going. One of the few good things about the last two games is that the “One, Two Three, all your fault” after each and every Caps goal, no matter what the game situation, did not occur at least for the first Caps goal. And when they are losing, I care when the opposing team scores.

  10. Ted says:

    The “Flyers su(ks” chants are idiotic and shameful. Not to mention you are allowing the visiting fans to dictate your cheers. Unbelievable in the circumstances and context.

  11. Grooven says:

    So glad we have people who can determine if other fans cheer/heckle the right way. Perhaps next, the challenge can be to work for complete silence during play much like tennis and golf.
    You long for people to do things, then decry what’s done.

    Sure, many miss the nuances of when to shoot, but there are plenty of times when we can see a completely wide-open shot, no defenseman screening, goalie out of place, player in position for a rebound… only to see more perimeter passing.

    Speaking of which… how many times did the Capitals blast a shot right into the Senator (or Flame) standing less than two feet in front of them, but then forego the open shot for a “nifty” pass?
    Not to mention, the passing was atrocious for the most part (with some noticeable exceptions).
    Perhaps skating to the puck instead of waiting for it to come to them is a good start to avoiding spotting the other team 2, 3, 4 goals in the first.
    Maybe we can see the Caps power play is noticeably better when they move around instead of standing in a designated spot and pass back and forth.

  12. Uriah says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but from what I’m seeing Corvo is a lot better in his own end than Pothier. He’s better at winning back the puck along the boards, and at carrying it, clearing or passing once he’s got it.

    Sometimes he looks to me like a faster, stronger and more tenacious version of Pothier, very similar playing styles.

    It’s going to be real hard for him to break into that top 5 powerplay group. I don’t think he’s good enough to justify taking one of the current 5 out. Do you replace Laich with OV at the front of the net and put Corvo on the point next to Green? I don’t know. Maybe. But they are #1 in the league; I wouldn’t mess with it now.

  13. @ GROOVEN, your last sentence was best. I too think people yell “Shoot!” way too often, regardless of the situation. But the Caps sometimes seem to wait around for a play to develop on the PP rather than creating the opportunity.

    @ JOE, I think even the professionals get into a rut on the PP, and the Caps tend to stand around more than they should. A motionless powerplay is a goalless powerplay. I don’t mind passing up the shot for a better one… but that better one will not present itself if the players stand around. And I’ve seen enough practices to know that they’re *taught* to keep moving, yet they don’t always do so. Perhaps the crowd should be yelling “Move!” instead. 🙂

  14. Hittman says:

    @OC

    The powerplay movement thing seems obvious but often is not when a player is out there in the fog of war. On my team growing up our coach had us play “the wheel,” wherein the guy with the puck would move either clockwise or counterclockwise within the PP zone. Meanwhile, the other 3 perimeter guys would match his movement and keep similar proximity. The guy in front of the net would attempt to create space and havoc. The wheel would slowly strangle the PKs into a tighter, less effective unit, which was then the time to strike.

    If you watch a well-oiled power play, the team will usually follow this format, whether they call it an umbrella, a wheel, or something different. The point is to have total coverage of the zone, enveloping the killers and controlling the boards while slowly forcing the PK unit into a tighter and tighter box until suddenly the entire zone is under control and great shots become easier to unleash.

  15. Sam says:

    @Chaos “But the Caps sometimes seem to wait around for a play to develop on the PP rather than creating the opportunity.”

    Which is why the have the number one PP in the league and are averaging one PPG per game. Surely with a PP percentage of 25.7% (versus second place Montreal with 22.4%), they are obviously doing something wrong…

    Maybe, just MAYBE, they’re doing the right thing and their “waiting for an opportunity to develop” is working.

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