So here we are...it is now down to a Game Seven. The monster known as the Montreal Canadiens refuses to die. It's not as though the Caps didn't try last night. But their lack of trying in Game Five brought them to this point. If (dear Lord God forbid) they should lose this series, that will have been the turning point. I have no idea what it is with this team, but one thing remains the same---when it comes time to go for the kill, they have a ridiculously hard time getting it done. This is a problem, but not an altogether unsolvable one.
Breaking things down, let's start with the obvious. Yes, Jaroslav Halak is hot again. Yes, he stopped 53 shots out of 54 flung his way last night. Yes he looked nuch the way he did at the beginning of the series. Not looking too good for us is it? Except for one thing--he's been solved before, and it can and will happen again with the proper game plan---more on this later.
That's not to say that the "hot goalie" problem is not one to be feared. Too many times in the past, the Caps have run into that exact problem while having an otherwise stellar series. In 1984 it was Billy Smith of the Islanders. In 1989 it was Ron Hextall with the Flyers. And need I go through the list of previously unknown goalies playing for the Penguins that turned into stars during their countless playoff series over the years? Johan Hedberg ring a bell for anybody?
We Caps fans like to say that this is a team that's different from those days. Those days where we could count on the offense to sputter when it was needed most. Surely the regular season numbers for this team say otherwise, but, as we all know, this ain't the regular season. We have seen dominating performances by the offense in this series. They've already chased Halak out of the net once, there's no reason it can't happen again.
But how does that old saying go? The one about insanity and trying the same thing? For all of the Bruce's swagger, he sure fails to find the simplest of solutions. What I'm getting at is the boys' propensity to sit back on the perimeter and take clear shots expecting them to magically elude whatever body parts are in the way. Unless it's been on a fast transition play, the crucial goals have come by hard work in front of the net. Bodies in front of Halak so he can't see. Jamming the puck towards the net and into submission. Teetering on the edge of, but not committing, goalie interference. Why haven't they done more of that instead of trying the same thing they tried all of Game Six? Could that also be why the Power Play is failing? Last night I was on the edge of my seat expecting something to happen in that two-man advantage, but nothing ever did. There's just no excuse for that, not for a power play that clicked at better than 1-for-4 over the year. More of the same there: too much tentative play, poor shot selection, too much running around and not nearly
enough traffic in front of the net.
Blah...and more bad news just came in. Looks as though suddenly starring defenseman Tom Poti will be out with an eye injury, ruining what was a decent playoffs for him. Here's hoping his replacement will be at least serviceable as his contributions on the penalty kill will be sorely missed.
Speaking of potential replacements here's some folks who should sit and their potential replacements...let's do this lightning round style:
Alexander Semin--I don't care how "close" he is. "Close" doesn't cut it in the playoffs. At the very least put him strictly on Power Play duty only as he seems to tire late in games.
Tomas Fleischmann--has been...what's the word? AWFUL. Bits of brilliance early on, but little to show for it. And it certainly doesn't help that he failed to bury that game-tying chance late in Game Five.
Joe Corvo--looks too tentative with the puck, especially on the Power Play. Will probably see more Penalty kill time with Poti out, though.
Scott Walker--I've been wondering exactly why he has not been inserted into the lineup recently. Has anyone else noticed that the Caps are actually getting outhit lately? This is the reason we got him--he will not let the game get out of hand in that way. He may not be able to put the puck in the net, but then again he might. Remember Game 7 against the Devils? You lose nothing by giving him an energy shift or five.
John Erskine/Karl Alzner---pick 'em! I don't think you can go wrong with either of these choices. Erskine provides much needed physicality and Alzner (recently called up due to the Poti injury) brings a lot of smarts to the game. But you can't have both, you can only have one as Corvo, Carlson, Morrisonn, Green, and Tyler Sloan look to get the call. Japers Rink www.japersrink.com prefers Alzner, I prefer Erskine. We'll see what happens.
Mattieu Perrault--has provided a spark every single time he's been called up. And don't you think he would be drooling at the chance to play against Les Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge? What have you got to lose? It's only the fourth Game Seven in the last three years.
So there you have it. My picks for who should sit and who should play. It's fun to play coach, but for the real thing, it can be murder. Was it just me or did Coach Boudreau just look like he wasat the end of his rope at the end of the game last night? I saw him taking questions on NHL on the Fly and he was asked what he needs to do differently to prepare for the next game, since they'd lost their last two. He looked like he'd just been hit over the head with a two-by-four. I'm pretty sure he was trying to be sarcastic, but he stammered, "That's a good question...help me out here, what do I do?" It was the worst I've ever seen him look and more proof in my estimation that this guy is probably not going to be the one to take them to the Cup.
Yes there's reason to despair and reason for hope. But that's the beauty of a Game Seven. It all comes down to one game. You can throw out any cliche you want at this point, it won't make it any less appropriate. All I know is something I've heard and said at least a thousand times--they best come out breathing fire and playing their "A" game. If they don't, everybody paying attention will know what will happen. A whole season of promise will come crashing to a halt. Not to mention the harsh reality of starting over next year answering the same questions about "Can they do it in the playoffs?" I say, don't wait until next year.
Your time is now--make the most of it.