Sitting, waiting, and waiting at Metro Center for an Orange line train to come and take me home after Monday’s game concluded, I was reminded there are still a few things in Washington less effective than the Capitals offense was that evening. (I also cover politics.)
Some of the best analysis and reflections of what happened in the blowout Game 7, and what went so right and so wrong in the season, will come after the players and coaches talk more extensively to the media on exit day later this week.
Right now, the result produced a cocktail of shock and awe and bitter disappointment in the postgame pressers, which effectively shut down any public in-depth analysis from Adam Oates and company Monday.
But when you lose an elimination game 5-0, there’s a lot of analyzing to do.
There was, indeed, an exquisite performance by the Rangers’ goaltender to consider. He gave the Capitals nothing on 35 shots.
But, frankly, I don’t buy Lundqvist-stopped-the-kitchen-sink a good enough excuse for the Capitals losing. It’s not like Henrik Lundqvist being good is a huge shock. You know that going into the series. Your gameplan needs to be equipped to beat Lundqvist on his best day. Yes, accomplishing that may be akin to trying to get Kate Moss to eat, but, as Joel Ward pointed out recently, Lundqvist is a human, just like everyone else. So it’s possible to succeed against him.
In fact, Mike Green said after Monday’s game that when the Capitals stuck to their strategy, that’s when they found that success, and that “at times, we kind of got away from that [our discussions of how to beat him].”
So where Lundqvist really won was his execution was better than the entire Washington roster. Whether that’s because of will, or mental fortitude, or his experience, or coaching or training or that “x” factor that makes him Henrik Lundqvist, that’s something for a longer discussion this summer.
I don’t think this execution drum is a nuanced difference, though, and it’s helpful when considering what the Capitals need to get themselves over this playoff stonewall. You may have the perfect gameplan and all the answers, but if you can’t execute it, you’ll always be sitting at home far earlier than you planned.
“We knew what we were supposed to do. We couldn’t just quite do it. And that’s a tough thing, tough pill to swallow, when you know how to beat a team, you just can’t quite get it,” Alzner said in general of the Capitals’ execution.
Of course, all this doesn’t explain the 5 goals at the other end that the Capitals gave up.
Gone was the tight defense that the Capitals displayed in games 1, 2 and 5. The second line, meanwhile, was on the ice for three goals against. Two of those were with the defensive pairing of Erskine and Carlson. Mike Green was on the ice for three goals against (though the first one, to be fair, was kind of a bad slate of luck as some Capitals players took untimely tumbles to the ice outside of their zone, which meant Washington was woefully out of position). Mike Ribeiro was on the ice for four goals against.
The silver lining? Steve Oleksy was not on the ice for a single goal against in the elimination game. And he was the only defenseman to achieve that Monday. That is the definition of keeper.
Perhaps he should have received more ice time—as it was, he was second-to-last in ice time among defensmen. Compare that to Jack Hillen, who played 44 fewer seconds than Oleksy yet was on the ice for two goals against.
In Washington’s net, meanwhile, Braden Holtby did not look anywhere close to his normal self. He got absolutely no help from his defense. But he also didn’t really help them out much, either, compared to what he’s capable of. Don’t tell that to the locker room, though. Karl Alzner and Troy Brouwer were having none of it.
“We gave up 2-on-1s, we gave up breakaways, we gave up odd-man rushes. We can’t expect him to save ‘em all,” Brouwer said. “He’s been unbelievable all season long.”
“We had the goaltending to go far,” Alzner said.
That’s so positive, sooo back to the offense.
I know the Capitals’ top players are going to receive a lot of heat for not getting on the scoreboard in Game 7. I get that. At the same time, I’d point out that the Rangers’ biggest offensive stars (Brad Richards, Rick Nash and Derek Stepan) didn’t score goals either Monday, and the team managed to net 5. Nash got an assist on the third goal, and that was it. So there are still ways to win sans top scorer domination, though Nicklas Backstrom called his own [presumably offensive] effort “embarrassing” in the series.
In the end, a lot of things had to go wrong simultaneous for such a drastic dip in performance by the Capitals. And there will be plenty of time to discuss it in the coming days. Right now, if you’re a Capital, it just feels like Cinderella had her glass shoe run over by the pumpkin carriage.