Game 59 Review: Caps Have "Stinker" Against Avalanche

Posted by Dave Nichols | Saturday, February 21, 2009 | , , , | 0 comments »

Ever have one of those days that start when you spill your coffee in your lap, and it just gets worse from there? That's what tonight's 4-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, the last place team in the Western Conference, was like for the Washington Capitals (37-17-5-79, first in Southeast).

Case in point: Colorado got a goal from defenseman Adam Foote, who had not scored a goal in 105 games.

Goalie Andrew Raycroft shut the Caps high-powered offense down most of the night, swallowing up shots from the wings and points. Raycroft, owner of a 3.05 goals against and .895 save percentage, allowed one goal on 29 shots, and now owns two road victories over Detroit and one over the Caps among his 11 wins for the season.

And the dominance of the cellar-dwelling Avalanche was no more evident than their first goal, as Ryan Smyth had no fewer than four whacks at a puck that goalie Jose Theodore thought he had pinned against the post. Colorado had four clean wrap-around attempts, embarrassing the Capitals lack of defense almost at will.

Odd-man rushes for Colorado were the order of the day. On the Avs final goal, Tom Poti got caught in no man's land, where he was indecisive about trying to collect a loose puck; he failed to go full out for the puck and failed to get back, resulting in a two-on-one with Smyth and Wojtek Wolski, who got enough on the feed from Smyth to get the Avs' fourth goal to trickle through Theodore.

Theodore did not have a particularly strong night, though he did make a couple of nifty saves. But saying he had no help would be a drastic understatement.

But all the blame should not be placed upon the defense or Theodore. The Caps had a game plan to counter Colorado's trapping, tightly packed defensive scheme. They just didn't execute it. Most of the evening, the Caps spent futile efforts trying to stick-handle through the clogged middle, more often than not resulting in breakouts the other way.

And when the Caps were able to break free, they could not capitalize. Tomas Fleischmann twice missed wide open nets. Alexander Semin could not finish a breakaway attempt. And newcomer Staffan Kronwall missed an open net on a rebound as well.

Only a Niklas Backstrom wrist shot with 13 seconds remaining in the first period prevented a shut out. Credit Eric Fehr with drawing three defenders out of the crease, giving Backstrom all the net he needed to work with.

Neutral zone turnovers by veterans Michael Nylander and Donald Brashear led directly to Colorado goals as well.

Left to speak for his mates after the game, Theodore was candid in his assessment. "Bruce [Boudreau] said before the game that's what they were going to do: block the middle," he said. "That we would have to dump the puck and go get it ourselves. It seems that we didn't do it. We didn't listen to the game plan. They were blocking the middle so well that we couldn't get our speed, we couldn't get into the zone."

Coach Boudreau was succinct in his post-game notes.

"We had nothing; we were horrible out there," Boudreau snapped. "Everybody had their bad game at the same time. You win a lot of games in a row, you're going to have a stinker. Today was it."

Not many more questions were posed by the gathered media, perhaps still scalding form the tongue lashing Boudreau administered after the morning skate, when a reporter asked if his team "played down" to lesser competition.

"When was the last time we played down to our competition?" Boudreau asked. "We've lost two games [in regulation] in our last 14 and [the Kings] won [four] games in a row on that road trip against good teams. We weren't playing down to them -- they were playing really well. Colorado has won [two] games in a row and is desperate. Every team has sense of urgency, and it is the NHL -- there's no bad teams. Do we think we are holier than thou? We don't. We think we're a hard-working team that has had some success. That question is not a good question." --In the Room, Washington

So was the coach prepping the media for the "desperate" Avalanche? Was he bristling at the veiled notion that it's the coach's job to get his team to play through lesser competition? Or did he simply spill coffee on his slacks on his way to work?

Beating Pittsburgh on national television will go a long way in helping everyone forget this game ever happened.

Photos (c) C. Nichols 2009.