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.