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Caps Grind to Remain Perfect; Down Penguins 3-2 OT

On more than a few occasions in the past few seasons, the Caps played in some ugly games.  These were games in which the team seemed to lack any sense of offensive consistency or chemistry.  Needless to say, these typically ended up as a mark in the loss column.  Last night’s game against the Penguins had all of the makings to be one of those games.  The Caps were out-shot 41-19 last night, including 18-3 in the 3rd period, where the Penguins tied the game late.  They spent prolonged periods of time simply trying to get the puck on the Penguins’ side of the ice, usually only to dump it in and change lines, as they were exhausted by the furious fore-check by the Penguins. 

Despite all of these factors going against them, this year’s Caps escaped with a win, albeit in the form of a 3rd consecutive OT.

While last year’s team found themselves trying to use their pure skill to take back control of games, this team chose to turn to a more grinding approach to break down their opponents.  They out-hit the Penguins 19-14 and killed off 5 of the 6 penalties for which they were whistled.  Instead of looking for that pretty goal, they crowded Brent Johnson’s crease and fought hard for loose pucks.  Mike Knuble’s goal might be one of the ugliest he has ever scored, but it was a result of simply getting the puck down low and driving hard to the net.  While it was encouraging to see Ovechkin screening Johnson for his 1st goal of the season, I found it even more encouraging that he was not the only Capitals making life difficult for Johnson.  As the puck trickles back to Mike Green both Ovechkin and Brouwer park themselves in front of the Penguins’ goalie.  Doing this forced the Penguins pairing of Martin and Michalek to accompany Ovechkin and Brouwer, placing 4 bodies between the puck and the goalie.  Even if Ovechkin’s deflection/Green’s shot had been stopped by Johnson, there would have already been 2 Caps there to clean up the garbage.

The unfortunate reality is that all the grinding goals in the world don’t make up for the parity in shots.  Even though the Caps managed to produce 2 goals from out of thin air, the real story is that they only conceded 2 goals on 41 shots.  That is one hell of a bounce back performance by Vokoun from playing against Tampa Bay where he allowed 5 goals on 28 shots, including some absolute howlers.  His start against the Penguins looked like it would be a repeat as he seemed slow from post to post on a cross ice feed that culminated in a James Neal one timer.  Something clicked with Vokoun at that point as he settled in and reeled off 36 consecutive saves before Neal beat him again on the power play late in the 3rd period.  The only issue that should be raised with Vokoun’s performance was his rebound control.  On more than one occasion, Vokoun made a save only to have the puck land right back in the slot.  Luckily there was usually a Cap there to send it away.  Vokoun still has a way to go before the fan base accepts him as the de facto starting over Neuvirth, but it was a step in the right direction.

It is hard to say whether or not the power play fixed itself after the poor performance against Tampa Bay, as they only saw one opportunity and it was not until the extra frame.  As a fan it is easy to blame the refs in that situation.  The thought usually is that it is impossible that the Penguins were not committing penalties and that the refs must have been ignoring them.  The real truth is that the Caps rarely had enough pressure to warrant the Penguins to take a penalty.  Most penalties in the NHL are a result of one team getting tired and trying to cut corners to get the puck.  If there was a team that was dominant, it was not the Caps.  A perfect example is the boarding penalty Laich took.  Mike Green loses his stick which leads to furious pressure by the Penguins, and Brooks Laich takes a penalty.  The unfortunate truth is that the Caps would have gotten more power play chances had they actually generated enough consistent pressure to warrant one.

Then there was the fight that has had the hockey world buzzing.  If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend taking a look, provided you don’t pass out at the sight of blood.  I understand why Beagle decided to go toe-to-toe with a guy who has fought over ten times as many fights as him.  Beagle is fighting for a job every time he gets a sweater.  He is in a situation where he has to do whatever he can to prove that he is worthy of playing every game.  Unfortunately it is hard to play if somebody breaks your jaw, which Asham very well could have done.  As of now, Bruce has said that Beagle has only a fat lip.  The controversy occurred after the knockout.  As Asham skated to the penalty box he made hand gestures similar to that of WWE’s CM Punk, which translates to “Go To Sleep.”  To make that kind of gesture as a man lay unconscious on the ice is just downright classless, but in the end, we all need to calm down about it.  There is no way that, at that moment, Asham knew to what extent he had damaged Beagle.  All that was probably going through his mind was that he just did something that energized his team as they fought back to tie the game against a bitter rival.  When Beagle finally did get up, Asham gave him a stick tap and later admitted the lack of class on his part in his post-game interviews.  At some point in this season, a Caps player will most likely cross the line.  The last thing the players or the fans should want is to be seen as hypocrites when we defend them.  Remember when Crosby and the Penguins chose not to condemn the majority of Cooke’s actions only to get up on the soap box when Crosby was hit by Steckel and Hedman?  Let’s not put ourselves in that boat too.

The Caps certainly have a lot to fix this season but it is nice to see them come away with 2 points in a game in which they deserved none.  On Saturday they return home to play an Ottawa team that was trounced 7-1 by Colorado last night.  Hopefully we will see Bruce tinker with some things to help improve the offense. 

Side note: There is a chance I will be attending Rochester Institute of Technology’s game against St. Lawrence on Saturday, so the recap of Saturday’s game will probably be a bit delayed.

Filed in: | F Street Faithful | Permalink
  Tags: pittsburgh+penguins, washington+capitals

Comments

Lindas1st's avatar

I like your take on the Asham/Beagle fight.

Posted by Lindas1st from New England on 10/14/11 at 08:07 PM ET

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Still can’t resist pointing out that was the 15th consecutive meeting where Pit had more PP’s. The officiating is a disgrace. Interesting take by Caps post game analyst and former fighter Alan May on the tussle “I hate to sound barbaric but when you beat a guy up like that you feel like you’re on top of the world. You’re so hyped up that sometimes you do stupid things. Also very stupid for Beagle to fight when winning in the 3rd period. Caps were outplaying them in the 2nd and got dominated after the fight”

Posted by eric from baltimore on 10/14/11 at 09:34 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. 

You can follow me on twitter @FStreetTate but I must warn that I do tweet about more than hockey. You can also e-mail me at any time at overtheboard@gmail.com.