Backstrom Takes a Shot
courtesy of Clydeorama
With a minute to play in the game, it did not look good for the home team. Trailing the Anaheim Ducks by a goal, the Caps had pulled the goalie for an extra attacker in a last ditch effort to to tie the game. They needed a heroic effort and Nicklas Backstrom responded to the call. He snagged a long rebound and beat the diving goaltender to tie the game at 4-4 with 42 seconds left in the game. Minutes later, Backstrom scored again in overtime for the win, causing the Verizon Center to explode in jubilation.
It was not all so pretty. The Caps were back on their heels for the first 30 minutes as the speedy Ducks controlled both the tempo and the puck. Anaheim, who had scored only six goals in the previous four game, managed to score two goals on Tomas Vokoun in the first period and another early in the second to take a commanding 3-0 lead.
Laich Skates With Puck
courtesy of Clydeorama
But the Caps “checking line” of Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich and Joel Ward kept pressing and started the comeback for the Caps. Ward squeezed the puck between the legs of Anaheim netminder Jonas Hiller at the 13-minute mark of the second period. Minutes later, Laich found Dennis Wideman pinching down for a one-timer to close the gap to 3-2.
Anaheim scored again half way through the third period on a power play goal to make it a 4-2 game. But the Caps kept coming. Troy Brouwer took a long shot from just inside the blue line that Hiller mishandled with his glove. The puck flipped up over Hiller, landed in the paint and trickled into the net to make it 4-3 and pave the way for Backstrom’s last minute heroics.
What is up with the shuffling?
The Caps found success early this season with four consistent lines and three set defensive pairs. The power play has been more effective this year as true defensemen filled the point positions, ensuring better puck control at the blue line. But ever since the Caps fell behind in Edmonton last Thursday, coach Bruce Boudreau has departed from this successful formula.
Last night Boudreau shuffled his forward lines and defensive pairs seemingly at random. In years past, Boudreau has often tinkered with his lines when his team falls behind in a game, looking for a spark. But the degree to which he is shuffling his line-up smacks of desperation and cannot instill a sense of confidence in his players. As if to reinforce the point, the one line that has stayed together – Chimera/Laich/Ward – was the line the lead the comeback.
On the few power plays the Caps got last night, Boudreau again put a forward at the point … with predictable results. The Caps were unable to contain the puck in the offensive zone and mustered only three shots in six minutes of power play time.
Hockey is a high speed game where timing and anticipation matter. When lines play together consistently they learn to communicate and anticipate each others’ moves. This is even more true for defensemen playing in their own zone, where a miscue can lead to the puck in the back of the net.
On defense last night, Boudreau broke up his shutdown pairing of John Carlson and Karl Alzner, and shifted Jeff Shultz to the right side to play with Alzner (presumably to face the Ducks top line). None of the pairs have played together consistently. There were many miscommunications and turnovers, including two that lead directly to Ducks goals.
The Caps showed tremendous hustle and individual effort, particularly by Backstrom. It was enough to win last night. It is a credit to the players that they were able to pull it off. But once again, it was too many individual stars, not enough teamwork. Boudreau has talked about the team concept over the last year, about having a system. It is not yet evident that he believes it himself.
The Caps head back out onto the road this weekend facing the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Islanders. Their next home game will be next Tuesday against the Dallas Stars.
An astute analysis of the lines. Wish Boudreau would read this piece because it might be helpful to him.