Saturday, February 03, 2007

Insert Funny Title Here

This was supposed to be an offensive showdown.

I tuned in today expecting a high-scoring affair, with teams trading goals so often that the scoreboard would more closely resemble that of the Superbowl than a hockey game. After all, it's the Penguins and the Capitals. Neither team's defensive line is particularly strong and both teams have high-powered offenses.

Ovechkin and Crosby are there. Semin and Malkin. Young guys, budding superstars, and prolific scorers all. It wouldn't have been surprising to see each one of them get at least a goal if not two or three.

So a 1-0 game? With only one point registered by the aforementioned group? Shocking.

Every loss to the Penguins is painful (I might have mentioned that a time or two). Yet somehow this game doesn't leave me with the same ache as, say, the Florida game. I don't want to punch things. I don't want to jump off the ledge. And I certainly don't have the desire to watch football.

In games like this, where both teams play well, sometimes you just don't come out on top. The Caps didn't lose because they were turning over the puck an abnormal amount of times or leaving Olie out to dry. They didn't lose because they weren't playing a physical game or because they couldn't get scoring chances. They limited Pittsburgh to just 20 shots on net, a season low for the Caps. It was, in essence, a prime example of how sometimes a 1-0 game can be more thrilling than a 7-6 game.

There are times when the whole team is playing badly and others when they all play well - it's nice, they're so close that even their slumps and rocky games are perfectly timed with one another. At times like this it becomes difficult to single out individuals who particularly stood out at either end of the spectrum. Nevertheless there were a few key players that should be mentioned for their efforts today:

- Milan Jurcina - We really couldn't have hoped for a better debut by the newest Capital. Paired up with his old Providence teammate Shaone Morrisonn, the two created a highly effective duo that was key in keeping the Penguins' top line off the board. He made some great defensive plays and did all the little things, as well - taking the body, blocking shots, throwing the well-timed poke check. I'm sure some of it was adrenalin, the excitement of a new team combined with the desire to create a good first impression. But if he performs at around the same level for the rest of the year, our young defense may start to look a little stronger.

- Zednik/Gordon/Pettinger - After only one game together since Zednik's injury, these three have started to show some good chemistry in both their offensive and defensive play. Obviously you need your defensemen to be solid against players like Sidney Crosby, but the defensive responsibility also has to extend to your forwards - this line certainly rose to the challenge, crowding Crosby and his linemates and basically giving them no room to work. Throw in the fact that they created some good scoring chances as well and we may have found a checking line that will stick.

- Marc-Andre Fleury - I know, I know...argh. Look at it this way...if he had to perform well, it's only because the Caps forced him to do so. They threw 30 shots at Fleury, many from around the net; they jumped on rebounds and had a few shifts where they really seemed to put pressure on the young goaltender; they got odd-man rushes and took advantage of them. Today, though, Fleury would be up to the task and threw a donut up on the scoreboard. For that, he deserves some recognition.

All in all, I liked the way the Caps came out and played all game long. They weren't dominating the Penguins but certainly had the edge and could have been up by a few goals were it not for the efforts of Fleury. The defense was stellar, something I don't think I've said in a long time (if at all). Olie was sharp but was spared his usual shooting gallery, facing only 19 shots. Ovechkin may have seen his point streak snapped, but the Caps responded in kind by keeping Crosby from adding to his own point totals.

In each of their 6 meetings, the Caps-Pens matchup has been all about Ovie and Sid the Kid. Who would score more, who would finish the night with more points, and of course the most important one - whose team will pick up the win. Pittsburgh continues its dominance over the Caps, but for the first time the overhyped duo was kept silent.

So there's some good stuff here. The Caps can come away from Steeltown knowing that they played a good game and have no reason to be ashamed of this loss. There will come a time when the Caps will win games like this, but in the meantime they can at least carry the momentum of today's performance into tomorrow's Superbowl Sunday matinee against our old friend Brendan Witt and the Islanders.

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