Saturday, October 13, 2007

New York State of Mind-Boggling

It's hard to say that a goalie who gets shellacked for 7 goals is your best player, but that was certainly the case tonight. Brent Johnson, taking the second of back to back games, faced 53 shots and amazingly enough made this game look a lot closer than it was. Setting aside the one softie that squeaked in between his pads and the post - uh, flush to the post, Johnny, that's goaltending 101 - he was close to brilliant for long stretches of the game and deserved far better.

There was a handful of shifts where the top two lines looked like the top two lines. There were some good shifts by the 3rd and 4th liners. There were continued improvements in Mike Green's game (including a goal and an assist) and an Ovechkin goal to momentarily shut up the boobirds at HSBC Arena. There were some nice penalty kills.

What are we up to, 5 or 6 minutes of good hockey there? That won't cut it.

On the flip side you have the 53 shots allowed, the 7 penalties (including two extended 5 on 3 penalties, the last of which resulted in goal #7), the odd-man breaks, the turnovers, the defensive mental blocks, the bad positioning, and the overall tilting of the ice that sent huge quantities of shots barreling at Johnny. How he wasn't huddled in the cage crying by the end is beyond me, and every single player on the team owes him a beer.

We can make the excuse that some of the penalties were weak, and they were - officiating continues to be slightly suspect around the league but I think that'll work itself out as the refs get used to the new rule definitions. But the majority of the calls were just undisciplined plays by the Caps and when you start playing like that, when you give the other team so many chances, they're eventually going to burn you. And they did. And it opened the floodgates.

We can also use the excuse that a few key players remained out of the lineup in Semin and Gordon, and their absence was definitely obvious - but this is a new team and we're supposed to have depth. Every team has injuries...good teams are able to overcome them and fight through them, and I haven't seen that yet out of the Caps.

To be fair, I do think that the guys who were shifted around to fill the gaps performed admirably, or at least as admirably as they could in a 7-3 loss. Pettinger really meshed nicely with Nylander and Backstrom, although I think we all know his skill level is just not where Semin's is and that's very obvious at times. Clark adds some grit to the top line and had a somewhat decent outing. And Motzko, the call-up from Hershey, played very well with Laich and had some good shifts, including a play that set up Ovechkin's goal.

I'm not going to say that it's still early because I think that is a bit of a cop-out. Sure they're still learning the systems and finding their chemistry...but then what was happening in the first two games? Where is the team that was making people sit up and take notice? It's in there, we've seen it, and this wasn't it.

The season is long and little issues will I'm sure in time work themselves out. But as so many people have said, 2 points now is worth the same as 2 points in December or 2 points in March. If this team is planning on making the playoffs (and from everything we heard this summer, that seems to be the case) then they have to start taking these games seriously - and for the last three games they haven't looked like they are doing that.

The Caps get a nice long break to replay this weekend in their heads over and over and over before returning to Verizon Center for a rematch against the Islanders on Thursday. I don't think anyone will be sad to leave New York after this thrilling 3-game stretch, do you?

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