The Caps faced off with the best of the NHL on Friday night at the phone booth, knowing exactly how difficult an opponent they faced. The Vancouver Canucks entered Washington with 62 points and the best road record in the NHL. The Caps, though, possess the East’s best home record, and the clash of the titans was on Friday night at the Phone Booth.
Short some inspiration until the third period, by then it was too late to make up the difference, despite skating the ice like demons possessed. Alex Ovechkin tried to single-handedly skate through the fire for the Caps tonight, running four consecutive shifts late in the third to spark something for the struggling offense, and they just couldn’t convert their chances.
The Caps leapt ahead in the first, able to convert a near miss in front of their own net into a goal of their own off the stick of Matt Hendricks. The Caps went goal line to goal line in short order and turned the only solid play of the period into a 1-0 lead. The first period could be best summed up by the brilliant energy of the Canucks, who outshot the Caps 2:1, and had a number of 2-on-1 chances down in the Caps’ end; only some strong luck and a good period by Semyon Varlamov kept the Caps knotted at one.
The Canucks are still the best in the NHL and skated like it tonight. They made the Caps pay for their errors all evening, and an uncovered Alexander Edler near the blue line cost them late in the first and lead to a tie game as he launched from the far side to the near post and snuck it in past Varly.
For a team that has been throwing strong performances out in the 2nd period all season, the Caps folded like so many chairs in the second. Their listless offense made mistake after mistake and misplay after misplay. Vancouver was a constant presence in the Caps’ end, and to underscore the difficulties on offense, the Caps struggled to get the puck out of their own zone. Daniel Sedin and Christian Ehrhoff made the Caps suffer for their failures in the 2nd, notching a power play goal after a pointless roughing penalty, and a poke away from Chimera toward the end of the 2nd gave it to Sedin alone in the neutral zone.
Second line center Marcus Johansson looked more like a beleaguered center for D.C. United on Friday night than he did for the team defending the President’s Trophy, until he picked up a one-timer goal in the third to bring the Caps within one halfway through the third on a gorgeous one-timer. Where the Caps struggled worst tonight was putting together their offense. They skated a lifeless first and second, and quietly acknowledged that after the game. Nicklas Backstrom said afterwards, “The first two periods we didn’t come out and play the way we wanted. You can’t do that against good teams like Vancouver.”
It took until the third period for the Capitals to wake up and play like a team that’s worth of a playoff slot. “I think we played our game in the third. We got to do that for the full 60 minutes,” were the words of Matt Hendricks, and he was absolutely right. The Caps were lackluster for a solid 45 of the 60 minutes tonight, and it wasn’t until early in the third that they would begin to pick up the energy that they needed to make the offense work.
So much of the Caps’ struggles lie in their inability to make the right move at the right moment, it’s like they’re just a click slow, just an instant behind. Until they can find that moment where thought coincides with action, and motion aligns with focus, they’re going to have a rough road to the playoffs and beyond. So much of their play on the ice looks as if they’re spending too much time thinking about what’s next while not moving to make the plays that will create their scoring opportunities.
It’s brutal to watch, and coach Bruce Boudreau was frank after the game, “we aren’t telling them to sit back. Every coach in every league will say the same thing: when you are struggling scoring goals, the only way to get out of it is to shoot the puck.” At times even the crowd got in on that, with several opportunities late in the 2nd and early in the 3rd, the crowd shouted in unison as the Caps just lagged, “SHOOT IT!” By then, it was too late.
Much as it was, Friday night, for the Capitals.