The Capitals in game one of their first-round series against Montreal fired 47 shots on Habs’ netminder Jaroslav Halak. Ovechkin didn’t have a single one of them. Not one, through nearly four periods of hockey.
Ovechkin wasn’t quite invisible — the style of game he plays ensures he can’t be — but he was conspicuously impact-less in this opening postseason game. Brutal, really.What exactly did the Habs do to so thoroughly, so effectively bottle up the world’s greatest hockey player? Bruce Boudreau talked about Montreal’s success with gap control, meaning, Habs’ blueliners and forwards maintained ideal spacing among one another during Ovi’s shifts, thereby limiting his time and space for playmaking and shooting. It doesn’t take much of a wrong turn or angle by a defender for Ovi to exploit it, but Thursday night the Habs were ever in position to thwart the revving of the Gr8’s great engine.
And Gabby in the postgame pulled no punches in assessing his captain’s game: “He didn’t play good. I mean, they gapped up on him really well, but I don’t think Alex played very well. I can’t put my finger on it right now, but when you get 50 shots on goal and Ovechkin doesn’t get any and you have four power plays . . . They took him away pretty good, but I just didn’t think he was very good tonight.”
- Is there a favorite’s curse in the NHL this spring?
- Hal Gill had a lot to do with Ovi’s fantastically frustrating outing. Gill, who won a Cup with Pittsburgh last spring, skated 25 minutes and blocked nine shots — and seemingly all of Ovi’s. Gill made no one forget Paul Coffey with his skating Thursday night, but that’s not why the Habs acquired him. He takes up space and he clears the Habs’ crease and he puts his 12 years of NHL experience to good use in a postseason.
- There was little love for Halak from Capitals’ Head Coach Bruce Boudreau afterward. “We had a lot of shots but we didn’t have a lot of great quality chances after the first period. The chances we did have we shot wide or didn’t shoot at all . . . He played good, but I don’t think he did anything we didn’t think he was capable of doing.” His comments sound eerily reminiscent of last year’s first round matchup against the New York Rangers. The difference with last year’s first round being that Gabby thought the Caps were making the saves too easy for Henrick Lundqvist. Goals in the postseason most often are scored down low and with shear strength and determination, far less often from pretty passing plays or long shots from the point.
- When do you imagine we might next see Nicklas Backstrom finish off a potential game-winning three-on-one break by shooting the puck into a fallen defender’s pants . . . from behind the opponent’s goal cage? Never, methinks. That was a shocking fit of overthinking inaction from one of the planet’s best playmakers.
- A handful of Capitals had outstanding games Thursday, most especially Jose Theodore and John Carlson. Theo demonstrated early on a general comfort in his crease, seeing the puck exceptionally well, playing solidly positionally, controlling rebounds rather well, and taking effective angles on Habs’ shooters.
- Carlson was perhaps the Capitals’ best defender Thursday, and before this series is through, he may well be judged the most effective defenseman in both ends for either team. Thursday was of course his first NHL playoff game. He skated a +1 in nearly 22 minutes of ice time. He never looked out of place, he never lacked poise, he was alternately reliable and dynamic. He is going to be a star rearguard in this league.
- Winning a lot of faceoffs generally is a recipe for success, and the Caps won a lot of them in game one: 63 percent. Eric Belanger was a staggering 18-3 on draws.
- Another Russian AWOLer: Alexander Semin. He largely deployed his floater game of ineffectual shift-taking. With the Caps’ two most lethal offensive attackers missing from the attack the hosts really made the evening relatively stress-free for their guests, most especially after the first period, despite the overall high volume of shots. Bruce Boudreau wasn’t particularly impressed by the volume of shots his team generated because of the meager quality of so many of them.
- The absolute best word I could assign to the collective tension and anxiety that was palpable in the Capitals’ postgame locker room and in the hallways of Verizon Center’s event level from 10:00 on last night is foreboding. Not full-on panic, not depression, but foreboding. That word seems to convey a bit of a pervasive purgatory existence, and it seemed to comport with the strained-but-not-quite pained looks on faces from George McPhee to minority ownership to locker room attendants to bloggers.
- Snapshot of foreboding: Jeff Schultz, merely a franchise-best-ever +50 on the season, offers an uncanny impersonation of Sergei Gonchar circa 2001 — an anti-Gene Kelly fit of unhappy feet — while playoff overtime backpeddaling near his own blueline, falling down without cause, surrendering a prime scoring opportunity to the adversary.
- On the positive side of things, the Capitals have won five of nine playoff series in which they have lost Game 1. However, they now stand at 15-22 all time in postseason overtime efforts.
No fewer than 87 individuals affiliated with media in Montreal made credential requests of the Capitals for last night’s game. We were at times three-deep in a press box gallery last night, with Canadian broadcast outlets — radio and TV — forced into calling the game standing and completely exposed to the heavy traffic of an overloaded media space, and consider that the Caps had fairly filled the media lounge downstairs as well. I heard more French spoken last night that I did in three years of taking the language in high school.
There is a swagger to the Montreal press corp beyond its bloated size. One of the first questions directed at Canadiens’ head coach Jaques Martin during his postgame presser came from an out-of-towner who asked, with haughty derision, about the play of “Tomas Jagr . . . Jagr . . . Tomas Plekanec,” an unmistakable dig at Capitals’ netminder Jose Theodore and his in-artful attempt to dismiss Plekanec’s muted respect for the goaltending duo in D.C.
I’ve been through a few of these unwanted white-knuckler offerings of foreboding with underdogs everyone had writtten off. In the intermission between last night’s third period and the overtime I made an impromptu appearance on the radio with Jonathon Warner of Federal News Radio, who solicited my thoughts in that moment I think precisely because of the volume of grey hair I’ve accumulated at this time in the calendar. A best of seven series most often produces a worthy, superior victor. Most often. But not always. A ludicrously hot netminder can steal a series. Or, a prohibitive favorite can squeeze too tightly the sticks that inflicted heavy damage during a comparatively trivial regular season.
It’s too early to tell if Jaroslav Halak will outplay Jose Theodore and remind Caps’ fans of the Ghosts of Kelly Hrudey and Ken Wreggett past. It is perhaps not too early to forecast our being here a while in this series to sort it all out.