Washington 4 Ottawa 3 (OT)
Daniel Alfredsson. Scored a goal, registered an assist, was in mid-season form skating wise, and ultimately generated the majority of the chances the team got, it was another solid effort from Alfie. His finish still doesn’t look to be where it needs to be. This is where he needs better linemates. Peter Schaefer does a lot of good things along the boards and in his own end but is lacking that explosiveness that made him so effective last season. Dean McAmmond can skate like the wind but he’s just not, night in and night out, a second line center. Point being, Daniel Alfredsson needs more to work with.
Anton Volchenkov. It might seem foolish to suggest that Alexander Ovechkin, who scored two goals including the tying one, was shut down, but relatively speaking, that’s what Volchenkov did. Now, truth is, there is no way to shut down A.O. entirely. He’s too good, too explosive a player for any rationale person to think he can be made a complete non-factor. What you can only hope to do is minimize the damage he does to you, and a big reason Ovechkin didn’t dominate was because of the fine play of Anton Volchenkov. He was all over A.O. anytime the sophomore touched the ice (how was Glen Hanlon not trying harder to avoid this match-up?). He was physical, blocked shots, and managed to stay with Ovechkin. Talent wise, Ovechkin vs. Volchenkov is a horrible mismatch of the David and Goliath variety, yet Volchenkov managed to come out of it for the better. Simply not being embarrassed by Ovechkin is an accomplishment.
Martin Gerber. He gave up four goals, so I’m sure some trigger happy fans will be quick to point the finger, however, can you really fault him on any of those goals? Two of them were powerplays goals and all four were deflected and were a result of the defence not doing a better job of neutralizing Capitals skaters who roamed free in front of the net. Gerber fought the puck a little bit in the third, and the rebounds were juicier than I would have liked, but he made the big saves when called upon. I’ve seen some say it’s time to hand the reigns to Ray Emery entirely but I don’t think Gerber’s play has warranted this. If you’re gonna go with Emery because, for whatever reason, the team plays better in front of him, so be it, but I don’t think Gerber has been any more inferior for the last little while than Emery.
Another inconsistent effort that leads to a collapse. The first period, the Sens came out like gangbusters. They were all over the Capitals, outworking them to every puck and driving hard to the net while remaining committed to the defensive side of the game. Once again though, that 3-0 lead, the alleged worst lead in hockey, did them in. They got up three goals and stopped skating as hard and didn’t keep the foot on the gas, allowing Washington to get back into the game. To their credit, Washington didn’t give up, and got a lot of momentum out of their goal late in the first to make it 3-1 and then were bailed out by Brent Johnson in the third. When Washington made it 3-2 you could see the lack of confidence the Sens are currently crippled by rear its ugly head. Ottawa is beating themselves as much as any opponent is, and that’s a dangerous position to be in. If they were losing because the other team was outplaying them while the Sens were giving 100% effort, then I’d take this losing streak much better. But that’s not what is happening. They’re losing to inferior teams who are outworking them, and it’s become completely unacceptable.
Chris Phillips brainfart. I sympathized with him on Saturday night but the tripping penalty with a minute left in the third period was not characteristic of a usually ice cool veteran. Is the pressure getting to him? Washington was all over the Senators and it felt like they would score but Philly has to know better than to make such a costly error. He’s a leader on this team and sets the standard for the rest to follow.
Special teams. We’ve gotten used to the powerplay letting us down, but I was thoroughly disappointed by the play of the penalty killing unit, who’ve been one of the few consistent brightspots throughout the season. If the PKers had been better, Ottawa would have come away with the two points.
Tom Preissing & Christoph Schubert. The third defence pair struggled badly. It seemed like every time they got tapped on the back and leaped the boards, something bad happened. I don’t think they track this statistically, but it sure felt like each shift saw them pinned in their own for the majority of it. Schubert in particular had a bad night. He fumbled with the puck more often than not and took two pretty bad penalties, one of which resulted in a goal.
Washington looked completely out of it and at one point it sure seemed like a blowout was imminent. But they stayed with the gameplan, maintained a strong effort, and got a massive boost from an unlikely source in Brent Johnson, who came in in relief of Olaf Kolzig. Brent Johnson apparently thought he was Dominik Hasek, as he was making pad saves like the Hall of Famer in his prime.
The Sens were trying to blow the game wide open in the first five minutes of the second period. They had a half dozen prime, golden scoring chances and Johnson stonewalled them every single time. This lit a fire under the asses of the Caps, who realized they had a goalie in a once-in-a-season type zone in between their pipes, allowing them to open it up, take more chances, and thus claw their way back into things.
I talked about Ovechkin, who despite a gladiator-like effort from Volchenkov was still a factor, but the Caps also got great games from the other Alex, Alexander Semin, Chris Clark, and Matt Pettinger up front while their defence unit as a whole is MUCH better than they appear on paper. A unit who’s top four consists of Brian Pothier, Jamie Heward, Mike Green, and Shaone Morrison might not strike fear into you, but they sure brought their A-game from the second period on and outmatched a much more skilled Ottawa forward core.
The Caps continue to plug away, get better, and be a difficult W. I’m sure times are tough for fans of this team but they should take solice in two facts: 1) they’re going to be very good very soon and 2) they don’t quit. When a team is undermatched, that’s all you can ask for.
A pretty big trade or a pink slip, I think. I'm not panicking as much as most of you are, but I have to think the top brass can sense the level of discontent and they'll do something, even if it's not necessarily the right move.