Mental Endurance

The Washington-New Jersey game, if it did nothing else Thursday, gave Capitals fans emotional whiplash, as it went from a lullaby to fireworks to a full-out penalty box parade within a 60-minute framework.


Before the ugly for the Capitals, there were high points. Alex Ovechkin—minus the actual scoring goals part—looked like a superstar, fighting for the puck and forcing two New Jersey tripping penalties that gave the Capitals a man advantage twice.  He even tried a slick pass as he barreled down on the net a second time—a notable adjustment to his routine, considering he’d had a lack of success on a similar pattern not long before that. Jason Chimera, however, was unable to capitalize once the puck reached him.


The beginning of this shortened season hasn’t been particularly the best canvas to show off the caliber of expected offensive superstars—I’ve seen Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, and Sidney Crosby all visit Verizon early this season, and the only one that forced my attention through the noise of the other 11 players on the ice was Crosby. Thursday, Ovechkin drew my eye multiple times, and the fans loved his energy.


The bottom line remains, however, that the team he captains lost. The recipe to beat the Capitals this season often boils down to patience, as they give you no reason to think, when playing them, that a comeback is not possible. New Jersey didn’t get the game-tying goal until approximately halfway through the third, and their final goal in the 3-2 victory came during time served on the sixth and seventh Capitals penalties of the game (fifth and sixth of that period, though one was concurrent with a Devils penalty). There were also two 5-on-3s tucked in there.


“Enough power plays, they’re bound to score one with the guys they have on the ice,” Karl Alzner told reporters after the game.


It got to the point in the third period where getting four men on the ice, not including Holtby, seemed a luxury. And that, as a penalty killer, means you’re accepting a reality that the odds are against you, while refusing to adopt a mindset of inevitability.


“You definitely think the percentages go up after you have to keep working on it, you get to figure out where the gaps are in the killers, and they finally found it there when they can roll across the top for that one-timer,” said Alzner, whose play along with John Carlson’s on the penalty kill earned high praise afterwards from Oates.


The penalties would be the elephant in the room, were they not addressed, but the sloppiness started with the first goal New Jersey put on the board. It was a shorthanded goal that the Capitals simply got outworked on-again, in their own end, on a power play. It wasn’t even a breakaway.  Out of all the goals, that one, really, is the least excusable.


In sports, there is often much talk of physical endurance. In this case, a focus on mental endurance may be most apropos.

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7 Responses to Mental Endurance

  1. Jay says:

    Not to take anything away from Ovechkin last night, but the first highly visible play when he broke in on net, was “tripped” and swiped at the puck on his way down was a great example between new and old Ovie, and just made me shake my head. I was sitting in 108 row F, so it all happened 10-15 yards from me. When Ovie got past the defenders, he fumbled the puck, it got caught in his feet, he tried to regain possession, instead tripping himself and then fanned on the puck as he fell to the ice. Greene didn’t touch Ovie, yet drew a phantom penalty. Yet you’d have thought Ovie made the most amazing move in the history of hockey. Makes me laugh.

    I’ll give Ovie credit for hustling about half of the night, at times he was flying, throwing the body around and generating chances, but Ovechkin from 2007 would’ve had at least two, maybe three or more goals. His passing abilities are definitely improving and he can toss the puck around as well as just about any Cap, but he gets paid to score goals not pass the puck, especially when the Caps don’t have anyone for him to pass to.

  2. Hi, Jay! Thanks for your observations. In the replay from the press box, it certainly looked like Greene’s stick caught Ovechkin’s skate blade from behind (it was hard to decipher), but perhaps I saw it incorrectly. Unfortunately, the video doesn’t seem to be on either NHL or the Caps’ website. Oates’ summary of Ovi’s game, if I remember correctly, was not glowing, but as my Internet went out last night while finishing this up, I couldn’t get quotes, and figured it was better to not include than incorrectly quote.

  3. Martin says:

    After watching the Pens-Flyers game the night before, the caps-devils game looked like grown-up rec league match.

  4. Jay says:

    By the way Elisabeth, I should have said that my comments were in no way directed at your write up which I think was really good. I was just so flabbergasted at the way Twitter lit up last night with the whole “Ovie is back” thing. There was a lot to like about Ovie last night, and you captured it well. But bottom line he didn’t score, and as you pointed out very well, the team he captains lost.

    I also think you are dead on with your comments about mental focus. And in last night’s game we saw at times a guy who was doing a lot of good things, but Ovechkin clearly has a problem that is resulting in flubbing the puck at times, missing the net on a clear breakaway (by a wide margin, if memory serves) and other small things. And, in my humble opinion, it goes to the fact he is thinking about things rather than trusting his instinct, which is a problem right now because he doesn’t seem to know how to adapt to the rest of the league catching up to him.

    It’s clearly a very mental thing with Ovie now, and as we all know as goes Ovie so goes the team. The team played a great second after a sloppy first period and took control of the game. But when Ovie had issues finishing and demonstrated the kind of mental errors that have been indicative of his play recently, the team lost that mental focus too. Mental endurance, that’s a really great term and a big issue with the Caps right now.

  5. Bucky Katt says:

    Mental focus. Hockey IQ. Determination. Whatever. Bottom line is this team has no identity. As one wag over at Japer’s has observed, George McPhee has replicated “American Pickers” in his approach to forming this team. We, as fans, get to watch the consequences of this every game.

  6. Mental Endurance says:

    Hmmm the coach we should still have behind he bench, B. Boudreau, seems to have his team mentally tough and not taking bad penalties. Lucky Ducks to have him! Still one of he dumbest things I have ever seen in Wash. Sports was the firing of BB (and that includes Dan snyders ridiculous moves. Oh the days when we had a legitimate shot! Instead now we have a emotionless coach that praises the penalty killers instead of maybe I don’t know addressing and fixing the problem of taking these bad penalties in the first place. Comical!

  7. kab says:

    I don’t see this as a coaching problem, ( we’ve got a rookie coach still trying to find his groove } or a system problem (nj even with their revolving dr seems to be working it) . I see it as a talent problem, specifically the lack thereof. when you bring out jhonny e. as your top defender that about says it all. unless papa bear and uncle George can pull a couple of high end blueliners out of their hat. this is looking more like a 48 game preseason of 2014. painful as it may be sooner or later ted will have to come to grips with the truth, cup winners are built from the goalie out. but hey bad hockey is still better than no hockey.

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