Friday, February 20, 2009

Avalanche 4 Caps 1

Let’s see if we’ve seen this movie before.

A bad to mediocre Western Conference foe comes into Verizon Center. The Caps are coming off an emotional win and a stretch of strong play. Said Western Conference team spends half the game in the Caps offensive zone and the other half on odd-man rushes or on the power play. Other than a few inspired stretches, the Caps look like they’re playing a game of shinny. Then they get flustered and try to force plays which only makes things worse. Then when they finally turn on the effort a little, the opposing team’s goaltender makes a beauty save or two and the Caps lose a game they should have won easily.

This script was played out Friday night. The antagonist was the last-place-in-the-West Colorado Avalanche. If it seems familiar, that’s because this movie has also played on the following dates:

Jan. 9 vs. Columbus
Jan. 13 vs. Edmonton
Feb. 5 vs. Los Angeles

By this point, I have no clue why this team lacks focus at home against opponents like this. Why they do not realize that these teams always play a modified trap because they cannot handle the Caps speed through the middle? And why does the team not realize that they won't be able skate through four guys lined up like bowling pins across the blue line?

Yet, it’s always the same and it's always the same guys: Mike Green, Sergei Fedorov, Alex Semin, Michael Nylander and (ducking thunderbolt) Alex Ovechkin. The first four are the worst offenders at skating the puck to the blue line and losing it, leading to an odd-man break. They’re not the only ones of course, but they seem to do it more than the others. Ovie isn’t as bad but with him, more often than not what happens is, the team will play poorly, get down a few goals and get frustrated. So Ovie tries to take it upon himself and skate it through the whole team. You love his attitude, but this isn’t basketball, especially when the other teams are usually assigning two guys to stop him every time.

Just some other quick hitters about this one:

Epic Fail- Let’s just come out and say it, the line of Nylander, Brooks Laich and Matt Bradley sucks. Don’t get me wrong, I love Laich and Bradley. They’re the kind of blood-and-guts guys teams need to win in the playoffs. But they are totally miscast with Nylander even when Nyls is playing well. When Nyls is playing terrible, like has all season, the line has no chemistry, can’t score and is a defensive liability. Other than that, they’re great. I’m sure George McPhee would love to move Nylander, who’s $4.5 million salary looks more and more like an albatross, but who the hell will take him? Especially when he’s been in Bruce Boudreau’s doghouse all year? I'll give Nylander this: he’s certainly joined the Kevin Hatcher All-Stars as one of my least favorite Caps.

The lack of focus- I know I said this in the opening but it just needs to be reiterated. Look, this is a very good Caps team. When the team has played as good as it has this season, it’s hard to nitpick. But the fact that they can play so well against the Boston’s, Detroit’s and New Jersey’s of the world and so poorly against teams like the Avs is just downright mystifying. Bottom line is, you have to bring the Detroit effort EVERY NIGHT, not just when you play Detroit.

Missed open nets- Steffan Kronwall & Tomas Fleischmann both pulled a “Tikkanen.” Semin had a classic “All Swedish, No Finnish” move where he skated through the Colorado D and missed the net.

Pass- Jose Theodore kept this team in the game for 2 periods. With all the odd-man rushes and offensive zone pressure Colorado had, this game could have been a lot worse. Theo did not however, have one of his better 3rd periods. The goals by Wojtek Wolski and Tyler Arnason were stoppable.

- Nick Backstrom was the Caps best skater all night. He was controlled yet aggressive and looked like he at least gave a crap, even trying to pick a fight with Wolski at the end.

- Viktor Kozlov please get healthy. This team really needs your size, skill and corner work. As Japer’s Rink wonderfully put it, Kozzy is your classic Lebowski guy. He ties the thing together. If nothing else, his return would mean Boudreau can send Nylander to the “Healthy Scratch” list.

So we’ll see if the Caps can get it back together again on Sunday afternoon on NBC against Pittsburgh. Game starts at 12:30 p.m. For now, say goodnight to the bad guys.

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