F Street Faithful
by Matthew Tate on 10/28/11 at 05:04 PM ET
The Capitals were handed their first loss of the seasons Thursday night by the Edmonton Oilers. Despite showing near-complete domination in the 3rd period, the Caps were unable to overcome a slew of penalties that saw them shorthanded on 8 occasions. Nikolai Khabibulin didn’t make things any easier for the Caps, making 34 saves on 35 shots and was spectacular when needed.
To say the Caps took a lot of penalties is a bit of an understatement. By the end of the game, the Caps had taken 9 minor penalties, 6 of which were stick infractions. They handed the Oilers 5 power plays in the 2nd period alone. The final count for both teams ended up as 9 penalties for the Caps and 6 for the Oilers. What is a bit upsetting to Caps’ fans is the fact that the Caps were whistled for all 9 penalties in the first 2 periods while the Oilers were only whistled for 3. Prior to Thursday night, the Caps were the least penalized time in the league. Only the game against Pittsburgh saw the Caps take more penalties than their opposition. In my game write-up for the Pittsburgh game, I credited the discrepancy to the fact that the Caps didn’t work hard enough to deserve power plays, while the Penguins did.
The Edmonton game was a whole different beast.
Of the 9 penalties the Caps were whistled for, I would say at least 8 of them were legit, at least by the letter of the law. It seemed that if a Caps’ player had their stick touch an Edmonton glove for a second, they were going to the box. Typically referees use discretion on those ticky-tacky calls. As far as the Caps were concerned, the referees were seeing only black and white that night. I cannot say with certainty that the Oilers’ players had moments where a stick lift found glove, but I tend to believe they did. And I will say Sutton probably deserved something in the 2nd for boarding Johansson.
The Caps have 74 games remaining in the season, most of which will not see a high number of ticky-tacky penalties go against them. However, they will see more losses if they don’t figure out this second period slump. Most of the Caps’ games this season have followed a similar script. They slightly outplay the competition in the 1st, slump in the 2nd, and dominate in the 3rd. Every game has its ebbs and flows so it is understandable that the Caps will spend some long periods in their zone. Ideally though, you do not want to spend a whole period on your heels. The Caps game plan relies on their ability to consistently roll 4 lines. When you allow a team to repeatedly wear you down in your own zone, you end up taking penalties and that hurts your ability to roll 4 lines. I can’t quite put my finger on what is going wrong in the 2nd, but something needs to change.
Oh the power play. What used to be a staple of Washington’s offense has slowly shriveled over the last 2 years. While they will never find themselves converting 25% of their chances again, they should be decent enough to score when needed. Against Edmonton in the 3rd, they needed to score. All 3 chances of the 3rd period followed the same script. Typically this would consist of strong pressure off the opening faceoff. They would establish a good cycle and usually create a chance or two. During the first power play of the 3rd period, Backstrom found Wideman on a cross-ice pass that forced Khabibulin to make an incredible post-to-post save. On the second opportunity of the period, Wideman got Belanger to go down early only to ring the puck off the post. The problems came after the first opposing clear. Once Edmonton forced the Caps to set-up on the fly, the Caps couldn’t do much. They were reduced to trying to score off the rush, which is not a good use of the power play. When Sutton went off for roughing inside of 2 minutes, the Caps needed something. What they got was a lot of standing around and, eventually, a puck being fumbled over the blueline. My main issue with Hamrlik fumbling the puck was that he shot it back in, forcing the Caps to exit the zone while Edmonton could just sit with it. With less than a minute to go in the game, the Caps could not afford to allow the Oilers to kill off 15 seconds. I could go on for days about the power play, so check back here over the weekend for a better look.
I don’t want to make it seem like the sky is falling for the Caps. A 7-1 record is still a great start, especially when that includes wins over Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Detroit. When you get down to it, this was nothing more than a road loss to a non-conference opponent. Dennis Wideman certainly deserves a ton of credit. With Mike Green nursing an ankle injury, he was forced to go from 3rd-pairing time to 1st-pairing, and did it flawlessly. Wideman has been one of the brightest spots for the Caps in the early season. It is unfortunate that his point streak ended because he was great in that game. I also love the fact that the Caps were able to turn it up in the 3rd, even if they didn’t score. They were flying around in the 3rd. Part of me wishes it was Ovechkin who took the Smid elbow and not Johansson because Ovechkin was 1 nudge away from going into beast mode (Youtube Ovechkin Montreal 2008). You take away a few of those penalties in the 2nd period, and the game might have gone differently.
The Caps head to Vancouver on Saturday for their final game of this road-trip. Vancouver is coming off back-to-back losses to Edmonton and St. Louis on Tuesday and Wednesday. I firmly expect Roberto Luongo (2-3-1) to get the nod for Vancouver. As for the Caps, I would not be surprised to see Neuvirth get a start, but it is still up in the air as of now. I would say the same about Mike Green’s status.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.