So Much for the Notion of a Short Series

Thursday was Alexander Ovechkin’s first NHL playoff game as captain of the Washington Capitals. It was one he would rather forget.

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.

This entry was posted in Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Bruce Boudreau, Jeff Schultz, John Carlson, Jose Theodore, Montreal Canadiens, Morning cup-a-joe, National Hockey League, NHL playoffs, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to So Much for the Notion of a Short Series

  1. Rob H says:

    Unfortunately I can’t make it to the game myself, but if somebody with tickets reads this, PLEASE start a USA chant tomorrow.

  2. Andy says:

    We’ll get right on that – because it makes so much sense when your roster consists of 4 American, 16 Canadian, and 6 European players.

  3. Hittman says:

    Bigger, faster, stronger, more talented…makes no difference if a team doesn’t use those things to its advantage. Among the other desaparacidos: Fehr, Fleischman, Laich, Knuble (6 shots…when did he take them?), GREEEEEEEN. Mike Green was the worst player on the Caps last night and I’m not just being dramatic. He looked like absolute dogshit, much like he did last playoffs. Could be why he was left off the Olympic team.

    This was the equivalent of the US tying Norway in 1979 leading up to the Olympics. Maybe Boudreau shouldn’t skate ladders until 2am, but he needs to get in someone’s face and challenge whether they are in fact hockey players.

  4. DCPensFan says:

    They have to stop trying to be cute. Looked like they were waiting for the highlight play/goal — it’s the playoffs, they’re all highlight goals. Throw puck on net, bang in rebound. you cited Backstrom’s 3-1 on, but it seemed like there were a lot of smaller plays like that. a pass too many, or one too many dekes

    And MTL was playing with fire at times with the way they were moving the puck in their offensive zone. lots of blind and high-risk passes across the middle to the points. Somebody gets a stick on one and you don’t have to be fast to get by Gill going the other way.

  5. Geo says:

    I just tire of fans throwing the entire team and coaching staff (including Ovy) under a bus after one game. Maybe the fact the Caps could easily have still won the game (if they hadn’t snoozed on Gomez’s rush) despite most of their A-List players playing like C-list players is a silver lining. 😀 As the Post pointed out, the Caps are 4-1 in the last 5 series where they lost Game 1. We’ve got ’em right where we want them, no? 🙂

    They know how Montreal’s going to play this series now. It’s the coaching staff’s job to make adjustments (and the players to pay attention), so here’s hoping they don’t just stand pat for Game 2.

  6. Kevin H says:

    I felt like two guys showed up – Carlson and Theo. Everyone else looked asleep, waiting for things to change or just generally lethargic (except maybe Chimera as well). The score could have been worse in Montreal’s favor, in my opinion. They were buzzing in the second half of the second period (Theo made some sparkling saves), probably should have been awarded a penalty shot (or a PP at least) for the Green haul down and they just looked downright into the game.

    Oddly, it seems like we did shoot, but I’m not sure we generated much you could call a real scoring chance. Maybe Halak was controlling his rebounds really well. I’m not sure….ugh.

  7. Danevil says:

    The Habs took a lesson from the Olympic team… that’s what happens when you put all your eggs in one basket! shut down Ovi and the whole team falls apart. Once they stopped skating and trying to “cheat” the Habs pounced. Reach around’s became holding and it was all lost for the Caps after 30 mins… Go Habs Go

  8. Marc says:

    Meh. MUCH ado about nothing, people. I strongly suggest you save your panic posts until at LEAST the second loss of the series, if that should even come.

    Of course there are coaching adjustments to be made here and there, and perhaps some motivation applied to a few posteriors, but … panic? Definitely not panic.

  9. ebuce says:

    The world’s greatest hockey player? Really? You are referring to Ovechkin as the world’s greatest hockey player? Didn’t finish first in points. Didn’t finish first in goals. Doesn’t play any defence. $hit the bed at the Olympics. Did nothing last night. I hate to break it to you but the Worlds greatest hockey player wears a Pens uniform…along with a Stanley Cup ring and a Gold Medal. Don’t confuse flashy with greatness.

  10. Eric says:

    Right on Marc. No need to panic, yet.

    The first half of the game actually looked really good. It’s the flow of a playoff game. It just so happens that the Caps pushed in the first 30 and Montreal took the rest of the game. Get used to it, that’s playoff hockey.

  11. Kevin H says:

    Just curious, but who was discussing a need to panic? I thought this was a spot people might come after games to discuss the game in an intelligent way. This one wasn’t so rosey, so what. But shouting down discussion of the losses seems a tad extreme.

    Or, do we only discuss the good games? Just curious, I’m relatively new to OFB (started reading it at the start of last season, though I am a long-time Caps fan).

  12. Marjolaine says:

    That was one game. Chances are pretty good the Caps will take the cake. However, keep in mind that during regular season they had a tough time against the Habs. So the cake will not come easy, in my opinion. It’s a whole new season, as they say, it’s hockey fever in Montreal and the fans there demand victory. Have you visited their blogs? They draw 200 to 1000 comments daily on one particular one…they’re fanatical, they’re insane!

  13. Uriah says:

    I thought the first period was great, the boys came out hard, Ovechkin was skating with as much intensity as I’ve seen since before the suspensions. We had something like 20 shots in the first period. If it wasn’t for Halak and a little bad luck we could have stormed out to a 2 goal lead.

    But then something happened, they came out so flat in the second period. That’s when I started getting worried. I knew just from the way they were skating in that first 5 minutes of the second period that we were going to struggle to win that game.

    I wonder if Ovechkin injured himself when he hit his back on the corner of the open door by the benches in the first period. He didn’t look the same after that. Strangely, I hope he was injured, slightly of course, because then he’s at least got an excuse for the way he skated around lackadaisically in the 2nd and 3rd period. What I mean is that if he wasn’t injured then I’m starting to worry that he’s got issues with his mental makeup in the face of adversity.

    He’s still not hitting the way he used to, and I think he needs to hit to play well. It energizes him and gives him an edge. If he’s not hitting he’s simply not the same player. And right now he’s thinking when he goes to apply a check, hesitating at the last instant, and either missing the check or not delivering it completely.

    He also damn near crippled himself doing that on that open door last night. I swear it looked like he got the corner of it right in the middle of his back. I have to see a replay, but again it looked like he tried to peel off to avoid contact at the last instant. As if he’s afraid of getting suspended again.

    I think Colin Campbell is in his head still. I was hoping he’d reassert himself in the playoffs, but judging from game 1, apparently not.

    Somebody else needs to get in his head and kick Colin out. Hears hoping that his mom gives him an earful after that performance. 😉

  14. penguin pete says:

    in my (irony intended) penguins of madagascar voice, “welcome to hell, boys, welcome to hell.”

  15. Everybody lighten up – there’s A LOT more hockey to go. My thoughts were yes, Carlson and Theo might have been the best guys on the ioce for the Caps last night though Corvo, Green and Morrison also played pretty well. I certainly did NOT think Semin had a bad night, he to was argeted by the Canadiens and their Gap control that said had the Capitals stayed patient, continued to polay like they did for the first 30 minutes – in other words controled, using their size and NOT looking for streatch passes that really weren’t there, even with Halak playing lights out like he did, the outcome might still have been different and more to every Caps fans liking.

    LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. george says:

    One game is too soon to call the series but as a Habs fan, I can tell you that this – if the game is tied after the first period, it’s anyone’s game. But if the Caps are leading after the first, they will likely win as Montreal has a bad record coming from behind. Halak stole the game. That and frustrating Ovi is the game plan. It will be a great series. If the Habs go on, they will have a hard time continuing this way. If the Caps go on, they will have gained valuable experience. Play on!

  17. Grooven says:

    I blame the rally towels.
    Have the Caps ever won a game where the towels were the giveaway?

    If the Caps play the same sort of dominanat fast game they played in the first period, they’ll be alright.
    And seriously, when there are two guys in front of the net, shoot the puck and let one or both of them go for rebounds and deflections — since it seems the wide-open shots are missed or passed out of.

  18. odessa steps magazine says:

    Guys on HNIC radio were trying to put forward the “ovi is hurt” theory.

    not surprisingly, Milbury still buried Ovi.

  19. Marjolaine says:

    Re: chanting USA, USA…please, please don’t even go there. NHL is almost 60% Canadian. About 18% is American and the rest European. Guaranteed you won’t make friends!

  20. Sam says:

    Also, while we’re on the topic of chanting “USA, USA”, please refrain from booing during the Canadian national anthem. I was at the game and I was disgusted at how many boos were coming during the Canadian national anthem.

    I’m sure players like Brooks Laich, Mike Green, and Jose Theodore all appreciate you booing their national anthem. Stay classy, Washington.

  21. Marjolaine says:

    It’s ugly, ugly, ugly when they do it — agreed. A 6″ thick glass wall outta be implemented between the peanut gallery and the rink.

  22. CapsFan1975 says:

    If it’s a short series, it will be in favor of Montreal. I would settle for winning a 7 game series as long as WE win it. The problem is — we do NOT match up well against Montreal. We need to figure out how to do so — pronto.

  23. khuddle says:

    One thing I want to see more of starting game 2: CAPS CRASHING THE NET. That means you Mike Knuble — thats what we brought you in for. That means you too Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr. Time to rattle Halak, time to impose our physical superiority over these Franch upstarts.

  24. OvieTracker says:

    Truth be told, the Caps are lucky to escape with the series tied at 1-1. Game 1 was awful, and when they fell behind 4-1 in Game 2, I thought they were toast. I couldn’t stand the suspense for a second OT game, but thankfully Nick Backstrom’s hat trick saved the day.

    I don’t know what to expect from the Caps away from Verizon Center going into a very hostile Montreal environment for the next two games. If they don’t solve their problems quickly, this series could be over soon, and NOT in a good way.

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