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Welcome to Caps 'Round the Clock, a blog covering the Washington Capitals and the NHL. In season, I update the Blog after every practice and on game day with Caps news and information, and then provide a recap and analysis after each contest. I also write a periodical Prospect Watch and weekly feature pieces on the state of the Men in Red and other things Capitals. And of course, I will post videos and tidbits from around the League and offer my two cents as the season wears on. In the offseason, I write a Report Card for each player, and will keep you updated on all the news about the Caps through the summer. I'm glad you're here, and hope you come back!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rapid Rewind: Out to Dry

Martin Hanzal celebrates his tying goal Monday night.
The Washington Capitals dropped another critical game tonight, falling to the Phoenix Coyotes at the Jobing.com Arena by a final score of 3-2.  With the loss, the Capitals remain five points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Southeast Division lead, as the Bolts were idle tonight. They are in danger of dropping a daunting seven points back when Tampa takes on Philadelphia tomorrow in a game that will be the first time in a long time that I will be pulling for the Flyers. The Capitals did, however, fall to sixth place in the Eastern Conference with the loss, behind the Canadiens, as the Habs have won more games than them in the same amount of games played.  At this point, it seems appropriate to look not up, but down: the Capitals are now only six points clear of not making the playoffs.  It was another very bad showing and another very bad night for the Capitals and their fans.

The first period started out well for the Capitals, who drew a power play 19 seconds into the game when Derek Morris hauled Alex Ovechkin down in the offensive zone.  The Capitals tried to set the tone early during their man advantage, and succeeded, getting excellent pressure on Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.  But the Russian was up to task, making four excellent saves in close on Brooks Laich, Nick Backstrom, and twice on Mike Knuble, and the Capitals could not make the best of their power play.  After the penalty was over, the Coyotes got a little pressure, but the Capitals defense did well to keep Phoenix to the outside and scoring chances at a minumum.  But the Coyotes kept coming, and Michal Neuvirth had to be excellent to stop Taylor Pyatt in close about 9 minutes in off a great cross ice pass from Shane Doan.  As the period continued, though, neither team was able to establish any sort of offensive rhythm, and the game's pace slowed considerably.  But late in the period, both teams tried to get a little jump back, and the Coyotes got a great chance inside 1 minute, but the back checking of Mike Knuble on Ray Whitney saved a goal for the Caps.  Washington then made one last rush up ice with 20 seconds left, but nothing came of it and the first period ended with the teams deadlocked at 0.
The Coyotes got off to a good start in the second, hemming in the Capitals with a good forecheck, but the defense once again held Phoenix without a shot early. The Caps then drew a power play at the 3:47 mar, and again got great opportunities early off the sticks of Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich.  But again, Bryzgalov stood tall with some miraculous stops to keep the Capitals off the board.  After the expiration of the man advantage, the game began to settle into another boring stretch.  But the Capitals finally got a break almost halfway through the first period when Marcus Johansson got a dirty goal by going to the net for a 1-0 Caps advantage at the 8:36 mark.  However, as has been the depressing case recently, the Capitals gave it right back, as Martin Hanzal converted on a broken play to equalize for the home side just 49 seconds later. The Capitals, trying once more to kick-start their stagnant offense, began to pressure the Coyotes full force again, but Bryzgalov continued to keep his team in the game with excellent saves.  The Caps were then awarded another power play, but once again had a simply disastrous man advantage with poor zone entries and no pressure on a Phoenix penalty kill ranked 22nd in the NHL.  Scott Hannan then took a bad offensive zone roughing penalty, and the Coyotes were awarded their first man advantage at the 17:17 mark.  And Phoenix took immediate advantage, as Ray Whitney beat Michal Neuvirth just 26 seconds into the man advantage for a 2-1 Phoenix lead.  But once again, the Capitals were given an opportunity to get back in the game with a power play 30 seconds later, and once again, they were shut down by the brilliance of Bryzgalov who made several great saves to keep the Phoenix advantage at 1; the 2nd period ended with the Coyotes up 2-1.
The Coyotes owned the early stages of the third period, as Michal Neuvirth had to be outstanding early on Radim Vrbata to keep the Caps's deficit at one.  Soon after, the Capitals were gifted another man advantage at the 2:11 mark, but again could not get anything past Bryzgalov as their total futility with the man advantage continued.  And just as the power play expired, the Coyotes got a 2 on 1 up ice that saw Vernon Fiddler (WHO?!) cash one on Neuvirth to increase the Phoenix advantage at the 4:24 mark.  But the Caps refused to go quietly, and Matt Bradley brought the Caps within one only 40 seconds later off a scrum in front.  Now realizing their plight, the Capitals tried to break through the Coyotes defense in earnest, but simply kept getting turned away.  The Coyotes countered with several good rushes up ice, and Neuvirth had to be solid to turn them aside when they did get shots off.  As the final frame wore down, the Capitals tried to spend more time in the Phoenix end, but were unsuccessful again in beating the Russian wall standing in the Phoenix cage.  With 2 and a half minutes left, Nicklas Backstrom took a four minute high sticking penalty, which not only robbed the Capitals of one of their best players (right?) but also severely hindered any comeback attempts.  The remaining two and a half minutes carried out just like the Capitals' season: good chances that were once again wasted by their ability to finish, and the visitors lost their third straight by a final score of 3-2.

Observations:

One word - pathetic.  The Capitals' imperative road trip is off to a terrible start with another terrible game from the Capitals.  They had a chance tonight to make a big statement tonight against a hot Western Conference team.  Nope.  I cannot even single out a player, because they were all so insufferably bad except the fourth line.  Sasha?  Skating in circles.  Ovie?  Missing wide open looks (again). Backstrom? Dumb penalty that killed any comeback attempt.  Back to the drawing board, again, for a team that is running out of chances.  The four games in the next six days will decide the Capitals' season.  Either they rise to the occasion and they turn it around, or they roll over and they die.  And if they die, Bruce goes with them.

Michal Neuvirth had an OK game, the first time that he has not had a good one since he came back from his groin injury.  He was great a couple times, but could have stopped at least one of the goals and did not look very comfortable in goal. The loss was not his fault, the pathetic power play and offense was, but I expect we will see Semyon Varlamov in Anaheim on Wednesday night.

Mike Green was a late scratch from tonight's game with what Bruce Boudreau called "inner ear trauma."  My foot.  Green is almost certainly still feeling the after effects of the Brooks Orpik slapshot that was introduced to his temple two weekends ago.  He flew, which usually worsens concussion symptoms, and skated twice in the last 48 hours, which could have worsened his condition as well.  This is a loss that the Capitals absolutely cannot afford, regardless of his lack of points this season.  Greenie is their best defenseman, and those do not come around easy.

The Capitals are enroute to Orange County and will practice in Anaheim tomorrow before taking on the Ducks on Wednesday night, a game that is unbelievably important for them.  That one is scheduled for a 10 P.M. ET puck drop.

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