Y’know, sometimes I think teams tend to play different when they are missing a star player. I know that seems like an obvious statement and you may be thinking “well of course they play different; they are missing their star player.”
Yeah, you would expect a drop-off in production, but the Caps seem to play pretty good in the absence of Alex Ovechkin. They won four out of the six games he missed. He returned this week and they have lost two out of the three games he played in since his return.
Now this isn’t an indictment against Ovie; He scored a goal in two of those three games. His teammates however have not played as well since his return.
My thought process is that these guys knew they were going to have to “carry the load” without Ovechkin, but now that he’s back, “we can relax a little bit.”
I think there may be a mindset among players that when their superstar returns, things are going to be easy. They won’t have to try as hard because they got the league MVP back. This past week seems to illustrate my point. The Rangers game last Tuesday was the toughest game on the Caps schedule last week. They were in New York, and the Rangers always play tough versus the Caps. They went into MSG and beat the Rangers.
This weekend however, they were at home versus a struggling Canadiens team, and then on the road versus a Leafs team that had only won three other games this season. The Caps lost to both.
Now I know they have enough players injured that it accounts for roughly a third of their bench roster, but c’mon, our back-ups aren’t exactly chopped liver. They can play well; they just didn’t.
I’m hoping that losing to the Leafs is a wake-up call to those who thought they could come out and just “go through the motions” and leave it up to Ovechkin to win it for them.
And with that, let’s get to some recapping.
Tuesday, November 17th, @ New York Rangers – With the Caps down 1-0 to New York, it was Matt Bradley who gave the team the spark it was looking for when he took on Aaron Voros of New York (see the fight here at Hockeyfights.com – http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/88826). It was a rare fight for the Capitals since they jettisoned Donald Brashear in the offseason and it was certainly one of their bloodiest of the season. Many can argue whether Bradley “won” the fight, but it was Bradley’s goal late in the third period that was the game-winner as the Caps rolled past New York 4-2.
“Ouch” just doesn’t do it justice – Quintin Laing is known to give up his body for the shot-block, but when he dropped to block a shot from Michal Roszival, he managed to catch the puck with the left side of his face. The full force of Roszival’s slapshot broke Laing’s jaw and he will miss several weeks while he drinks his meals through a straw.
Hardhat Honors – After each game, the players give a red hardhat to the player who they felt worked the hardest in the game. This night the Caps had to choose between Laing who broke his jaw blocking a shot, and Bradley who though bloodied by a fight and stitched up scored the game-winning goal. The Caps elected Brads, and he deferred to Laing.
Friday, November 20th, vs. Montreal Canadiens – I’m still scratching my head about why Coach Boudreau elected to rest goal-tender Semyon Varlamov for this game. I might understand if he was putting in Jose Theodore, but Theo was gone with a family emergency and the Caps had just called up Michal Neuvirth to replace him. Neuvirth got the start. Now I’m not pinning this loss solely on Neuvirth, because the Caps in general played like they really didn’t respect the Canandiens. There was no sense of urgency as they let the game slip away. By the time the Caps did start skating like the game was on the line, they were down 3-1 late in the third. They lost 3-2.
Introducing; John Carlson – With their first pick of the 2008 NHL entry draft, the Washington Capitals selected defenseman John Carlson. With his proud mom in attendance Carlson did not play like a baby-faced rookie but like an NHL vet, even ringing a shot off the post. Don’t worry, Mom, he’ll get his first NHL goal soon enough.
Saturday, November 21st, @ Toronto Maple Leafs – Now ordinarily, I include stats and fun facts after a recap of each game. Not this time. The Caps played miserably MISERABLY against this Leafs team. They didn’t skate, and to make up for it, they didn’t pass well either. It seemed like nearly every pass was either too far ahead, or just behind the player they were aiming for. These either lead to turnovers in the neutral zone, or would throw the players offsides. Were it not for the inspired play of Semyon Varlamov, the Caps would have lost this game early in regulation. They carried a 1-1 tie into the shootout, and failed to register a single goal. It was the worst performance I’ve seen from the Caps in as long as I can remember. Caps lose 2-1 in the shootout.
Where are we? – The Caps gained three out of a possible six points last week. They are:
13-5-5 (31 points)
1st in Southeast Division – Caps 31 points, Tampa Bay is 2nd with 25
1st in Eastern Conference – Caps 31 points, Pittsburgh is 2nd with 30
3rd in the League Overall – San Jose is first with 36, followed by Chicago with 32, Caps with 31 and Pittsburgh with 30
Coming Up – The Caps continue their tour of the Northeast division starting tonight as they stay in Canada and face the Ottawa Senators (11-6-3, 15th in the league). They come home Wednesday to face Buffalo (12-6-2, 11th in the league), and return to Canada on Saturday for a rematch versus Montreal (11-11-1, 22nd in the league).
The Caps need to wake up and play a better game tonight or it’s going to be a long flight home with a very unhappy Coach Boudreau…