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Caps Defense Stumbles; Lose to Vancouver 7-4

The Washington Capitals, after starting the season on a 7 game winning streak, are officially now on their first losing streak of the season.  Unlike the game in Edmonton, the Caps will be unable to blame this loss on “not getting the right bounces.”  The Caps may have finally put together a second period worth remembering, but their 1st and 3rd periods were downright awful, especially defense-wise.

For the first 8 games of this season, I lauded the defense.  They had been near flawless in those games.  They kept opposing offenses to the outside, created turnovers, and seemed to know exactly when to activate.  Saturday night, they took a big step back.  Against Edmonton, the lack of Mike Green was barely noticeable.  Wideman filled in perfectly with Hamrlik, and Collins managed to not screw up.  In the 3rd period, with the game tied at 4, the Caps defense fell on their face, literally in one case.  The Canucks went up 5-4 when neither Carlson nor Alzner picked up Henrik Sedin during a scrum for a loose puck.  While Neuvirth shouldn’t have left the puck loose in the crease, both Carlson and Alzner focused on the right side, leaving Sedin all alone to deposit the puck.  Less than 40 seconds later, the pairing of Collins and Schultz finally came back to hurt.  After Schultz failed to hold the offensive blue line, a puck battle ensued in front of the Vancouver bench.  The puck popped loose to Jannik Hansen and he should have been in 1-on-1 with Sean Collins.  Instead Collins tripped, allowing Hanson to rush in alone against a back-checking Ovechkin.  Collins attempted to rush back and cover Chris Higgins, but he was too late. Higgins buried the feed from Hanson.  The D would still have one more gaff before the final whistle.  In the waning seconds of late power play, Hamrlik chose to pinch in.  He missed the puck, springing Bieska and Lapierre on a 2-on-1 against Brooks Laich.  By the time Lapierre gave the Canucks their 7th Hamrlik was still in the neutral zone.

The defense is still a bit away from being where they need to be.  Even when they had a healthy Mike Green, they still were making too many errors.  It has become commonplace for Boudreau to be juggling lines when things start going south. I think we need to see more tinkering with the defense pairings.  As good as Alzner and Carlson have become, I worry that they have become a bit content.  Brouwer may have gotten some heat for Higgins’ first goal, but I think more blame needs to fall on Carlson.  Too many times this year he has wandered away from his zone.  During a puck battle, it is understandable that he wants to cheat a bit towards the puck to cut off the passing lanes.  The issue is that he goes too far.  Higgins was easily able to maneuver from behind the net to the front without Carlson even noticing.  This was the same problem that led to the game-tying goal against Carolina.  Either they need to work more on communication or they need a change of scenery. 

Do not take my attack on the blue-liners as a vote of approval for the forwards.  Aside from their struggle to create sustained pressure, they also committed all 5 penalties, from which came 3 goals.  Ward was off for high sticking (though it was an incorrect call) when Higgins scored his first goal.  Halpern took an absolutely awful tripping call in the offensive zone that led to Edler’s first goal in the waning seconds of the 1st period.  I firmly believe if it is 3-1 at the first intermission, then Vokoun probably stays in the game.  Late in the game, Ovechkin took a bad interference penalty in the offensive zone.  Even though his penalty time had expired when Sedin scored, he was barely out of the box.  Then there was the second Edler goal; the Caps had recovered the puck and were in the process of getting it out of the zone when Halpern turned the puck over along the boards.  For some reason all 5 Caps decided to stand within 5 feet of the puck, leaving the remaining of the Canucks free to find open space, which is exactly what Edler did right before one-timing it past Neuvirth.

The one positive thing I can take out of this game is that the Caps got beaten soundly.  Too many times in this league, a team can play absolutely dreadfully only to lose by 1 goal.  This can typically result in a sense among the team that it wasn’t that bad.  When a team gives up 7 goals, it is much more likely for them to actually fix the errors.  Hopefully they patch-up things soon, as the dangerous Ducks of Anaheim will pay a visit to the Verizon Center on Tuesday.  Like Vancouver, Anaheim’s line-up will make you pay for your mistakes.

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“Even when they had a healthy Mike Green, they still were making too many errors…”

That remark (falsely) assumes that Mike Green is an exceptional defender….

At any rate, who are the Capitals, REALLY? Are they the team who outscored the opposition by an average score of four to two during a winning streak against teams that played their backup goaltenders three times—(twice in the second game of a back to back contests)?  Or are they the one we saw against Vancouver who reverted to past form by running around on defense, taking poor angles to puck carriers and committing stupid assed penalties at the worst imaginable times—along with poor line changes (all of which point to poor coaching since the same things keep happening with this club over and over and over and over and over again???

Santa Monica

Posted by Clifford on 10/31/11 at 02:24 PM ET

Matthew Tate's avatar

I would not say Mike Green is on Lidstrom levels but you don’t get become a top pairing defender and Norris trophy nominee without having some level of skill.  A D-corps with Mike Green is still better than one with Sean Collins. 

As far as the other remarks, I would not say the Capitals are some team sent to us from the hockey gods so that we may see hockey at its purest.  They still need to improve but I think this team is superior to the team of 2009-2010 where they also averaged just under 4 G/G and allowed just under 3.  Although this year is still young, they do lead the league in G/G.  Also during a 3-game stretch that saw them play Florida, Philadelphia, and Detroit they outscored them 15-3.  Even if you want to say that they played 2 backups in that span they still limited some potent offenses.  As for penalties, they were the least penalized team in the league prior to this road trip. 

I agree that in Vancouver they played awfully, but I think it is wrong to use that game to define this team, just as it would be wrong to define them by the Detroit game alone.  The biggest thing is seeing how they play the next few games.  If we see more of what saw in Vancouver, then we can start wondering where the errors are. Two losses in Western Canada should not undo all the good this team has done so far.  7-2 to start the season.  5-0 at home.

Posted by Matthew Tate on 10/31/11 at 03:38 PM ET

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Welcome to the home of the F Street Faithful, run by Matthew Tate.  This is a go-to blog for all things related to the Washington Capitals.  The F Street Faithful is 5% news and 95% breaking down the news.

In the past I have written for several other sports blogs as well as the college newspaper while at  York College of Pennsylvania.  I am a graduate of York College of Pennsylvania but am based out of Southern Maryland. 

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