Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Most Dangerous Lead in Hockey

Photo courtesy of AP
In the pre-2005 NHL, a two goal lead was known by that moniker; in the high flying days of the post-lockout NHL it might as well be known as the "you're going to blow it" lead (of course in the Rangers' case, that lead is actually a five goal lead, but that's a topic for another day).

Twice in the last two games the Caps have jumped up to 2-0 and gone into the third period with a lead, and twice in the last two games they've blown it. Only this time was more devastating, as it not only resulted in a loss but also gave a point (and eventually two) to the conference rival Islanders - a team they're battling with for the eighth spot.

You have to wonder at what point this team will learn how to take a lead and - this is the tricky part - hang onto it. Saturday night in Tampa they got away with a brief moment of less than stellar play and managed to salvage the win in regulation on the back of a quick retaliatory Semin goal. Tonight they weren't so lucky, and while one would assume that would be a wake up call for the team, it's happened too many times this season to hope that will happen. Part of it is a byproduct of the high risk, high reward style of play they've enlisted...but part of it is pure sloppiness and it has to stop.

For the most part the Caps didn't look all that bad. After a somewhat flat start to the game they jumped out to a lead on a pretty breakaway goal by Semin and then padded the lead with a nice power play deflection by Brooks Laich, his 10th goal of the season. There was sloppy play throughout by both teams, lots of pucks bouncing over sticks and turnovers galore, but the Caps took a two goal lead into the locker room after one.

Enter our old friend Miroslav Satan. Raise your hand if you knew the second Joe B. mentioned Satan's efficiency against the Caps that he was going to score. The curse of the commentator strikes again.

The tying goal...well, it's hard to even discuss it. Just a really unlucky play that caught Olie a little out of position but not so much that you can completely blame him. He was big when he had to be tonight and it was unfortunate, but it always seems to be that kind of goal that does it in the end to the Caps.

As for the individual Washington efforts, there were a few that deserve mention. Brooks Laich had some jump in his step and had some great chances, while the whole line of Laich, Gordon and Brashear was very effective at hemming in the Islanders and wearing them out while generating chances. Matt Pettinger continued his strong play and picked up his first point in a month, a heads-up play that sent the puck to a wide open Semin. Green was flying around all over the place and Morrisonn is starting to look much more like himself with some great defensive plays in his own right.

And then there was Ovechkin, who played his third straight game without registering a point. He looked much better than he did over the weekend if not still a bit sluggish, but he also was marked very well by Martinek and rarely had much room to maneuver. When he did get open he owned DiPietro - and you can still hear the resounding clank of a hat trick of posts ringing into the wintry DC night.

So mark it down as a loss, a messy one at that, and only the fourth loss at home in the last thirteen games. Since Tampa Bay decided to also be completely useless tonight by falling in overtime to Buffalo, 9th, 10th and 11th place stay exactly the same as they did before puck drop. Everyone inches a little closer to idle Philadelphia and the Caps get the slimmest of margins over Atlanta, but no one moves, no one leaps, and the race is still on.

The good news? The "loser" point that seemingly is the topic of so much discussion lately will actually come in handy, as it at least lets the Caps keep pace with the Hurricanes. They remain two points out despite Boston failing to win in regulation last night and the Caps failing to finish off the Islanders tonight, and they still have two games in hand - three after the Canes and Thrashers meet tomorrow night.

...a game I think we'd all rather ignore because there is no good outcome.

It also makes Saturday's twilight game all that much more important, because while it won't allow the Caps to leapfrog the Canes it will at least give them to again draw even. We're talking big, huge, major importance surrounding this one, and it wasn't exactly something to sneeze at before. The Caps cannot afford to fall too far behind at any point, and a four point deficit is much more daunting than two.

So settle in for a bit, we've got another two days of idle torture before the Caps are back in action Saturday evening. Lots of games coming up tomorrow night with potential ramifications for the Caps, as the Islanders take on the Lightning, the Bruins play the Panthers, Toronto and Buffalo face off, and the Sharks try to salvage their road trip against the slumping Flyers.

And of course, the Canes and Thrashers meet for a Southeast Division no-win situation in Raleigh. Go...anything in regulation.


Victor said...

Hey, what happened to the pigeon?

D.C One Timer said...

I could not believe it last night. As went into Overtime, I thought to myself "Even if we win this, it's still disappointing". Giving teams like these a point (or two of course) is dangerous. I think a lot of us thought this could have been a convincing Caps win. Apparently not... You are right on the nose-given the standings, the opportunity with the games in hand, and the fact that Carolina beat us last time-Saturday is huge!

Mark said...

Speaking of the "curse of the commentator," I listened to the shootout on the radio. "It's all up to Kolzig now.." (curse 1) "...Comrie, 0 and 2 in shootouts..." (curse 2)