".....not exactly what they had in mind."
---Jason Smith, AllNight with Jason Smith channeling MSG network's Marv Albert
Where to begin? At the beginning of course. So I get off the light rail and jump into the van just in time to hear Tomas Fleischmann taking the first faceoff of the season. So second line gets the nod to start...ooooookayyyy.
Hey, I'm just happy the games are for real now. Nothing but me, the road, and the voice of Steve Kolbe. I live about 10 minutes from the Light Rail station, so it's not long before I'll be hearing Joe B's dulcet tones. I get about halfway there and I hear the play-by-play of Marcus Johansson with his awesome pass to find Chimera, only nothing came of it. Nice start to the game.
No, not the eventual result, I'll definitely get to that later. I'm talking about what happened to Ondrej Pavelec about two and a half minutes in. I had just pulled into my development when it happened. Of course by now everyone knows that he should be fine, but it was a terrifying 30 minutes to say the least. I only had Steve Kolbe's description and my imagination to go by as it happened. You never want to hear about ANY player, regardless of team the words "he just collapsed on the ice." I ran into my house to catch a replay or anything just to see it. I'm no rubbernecker, but I had to see it so I might be able to make some sort of half-assed judgment as to what the end result would be. Nope, they pretty much had it right--Joe B's call was not much different, Pavelec just collapsed. The alert medical staff got him off and replaced the ambulance that got him out and play resumed but, ugh, what a sickening feeling for a while there. Thank God he should be okay...though reportedly he has a concussion, presumably from hitting his head on the collapse.
Play resumes and I'm a bit concerned what effect this will have on the momentum. Less than a minute later my concerns were gone as Brooks Laich put home a nice setup from Semin and Fleischmann for the first marker of the year. So I'm thinking we're rolling again and everything's fine as long as they stick to their game and don't make too many mistakes.
Then they made a mistake. At least Fleischmann did, anyway. He tried to break out of the zone over the middle and made a ridiculously weak clearing attempt. What's worse is he knew it and showed EVERYBODY that he knew it by banging his stick in frustration while still in play. That split second lapse pretty much cost him any chance at taking the puck back from Evander Kane, who grabbed it, deked around the angered Fleischmann, and tucked in a nice wrister under Neuvirth's stick side for the goal.
Grrrrr. Well, okay it's just one goal. They can get it back. It's still early. Insert any other make-yourself-feel
better-about-your-team-when-they-screw-up cliche here. Not much else noteworthy in the first period that happened except for the scrum after an ill-advised extra tap-in from Rich Peverley (that didn't count, nor should it have). Good to see the team rush to the defense of Neuvirth so quickly. This happened towards the end of the period, so I would have thought it might have been something of a rallying point for next period. As I was to find out some 20 minutes later, not the case.
Just the opposite, in fact. They came out flatter than month-old soda left open. They had a few more shots on goal to be sure, but they just had no sustained chances, no fire, no energy...nothing. And when they did get scoring chances, they looked snakebit. Hate to say this but it was a lot like Game Seven last year where nothing would make it to the net, much less in. Craig Laughlin even said as much later on. Atlanta just seemed like they wanted it more. Andrew Ladd tips in a point shot, putting the Thrash ahead 2-1. Then came that stupid penalty-shot call from referee Wes McCauley.
Look, I know what the rule is. If you're not a goalie, you cannot handle the puck with anything but your stick while said puck is in the area of the crease, and if you do, it's an automatic penalty shot. If you want to read the the actual rule per the NHL, be my guest. Yes, on paper it looked to have been the right call. Except for one thing. Mike Green did nothing of the sort as he used a sliding motion to move the puck out of the crease with his hand. Hand passes are legal in your own zone. None of the replays seemed to be conclusive to the notion that Green had actually closed his hand around the puck, as was ruled by McCauley. Yes, I know this isn't the NFL, and I'm hardly advocating replay for every situation, but from what I saw it just didn't look to be the right call.
So the penalty shot is put away by Evander Kane, who was more than just able in this match. Take the next five seconds to collectively groan and boo at that one. As it turned out, that was the game winner, but the game wasn't quite over yet. Third period starts and goes pretty much the same way for the Caps' offensive attack. Shots blocked, shots going off target, shots hitting Chris Mason in the shoulder ad nauseum. A blown power play that had several golden opportunities missed and the game seems to be slipping away. And then Mike Knuble knocks one home off a two-on-one from a great setup by Ovechkin and good breakout pass by Green.
For those of you who happen to be reading this that just looooooooove to criticize how Ovechkin shoots first, shoots some more, shoots the breeze, shoots from the hip, you get the idea, take a note of that. Ovechkin clearly had a shot but chose to pass. That's right, he chose to pass. And chose wisely as it turns out. I'm not worried about this, but the trend seems to be that OV is more successful when he's passing rather than shooting. He didn't have a single goal all preseason. Just saying. In any case if you want to take some good away from this, I see it a sign of #8 being much more mature with his game and not trying to do it all himself as he has been wont to do in the past.
Down three-two with more than half the period left and anything can happen. Evander Kane (good Lord he was a BEAST last night) hauls down Fleischmann and the Caps go on their third power play of the night. All right gents, now is the time, ehh, ok all right, just get it back, and....all right, set it up again and....no....ok, clear the zone, shot and no wait don't shoot when the guy's laying down in front of you! Five, four, three, two, one....power play over. It's ok, just regroup and get another scoring chance and make the most of it. I hope. But....nope. Frederik Modin puts the game out of reach with five minutes left.
And it's over. Look, I'm not going to go on a long-winded rant about how badly they played, there's not really much point and it's just the first game. There will be plenty of time to panic, but it isn't now. That said, I'm not too happy about how things went down last night. I'm going to wait until about a week's worth of games have gone by to give a more objective analysis based on stats and raw data. But let me rattle off a few good things and a few bad things I took notice of last night.
Power Play-- Only three chances and they squandered all three. Doesn't give me a good feeling. Especially when "power play" is in my blog's URL.
Own-zone turnovers--Rink rust, jitters, call it whatever you want. Way too many mistakes made in our own zone. Most critical were the ones by Fleischmann and Karl Alzner that both led to goals. Gotta nip this in the bud--now.
Attitude--for a team that keeps professing their anger, I didn't see a whole lot of it past Period One. Need to come out flying and make everybody afraid of you again. That first period scrum could have been used to fire them up but it wasn't.
Penalty Kill--OK, so they weren't exactly facing the 1993 Penguins but, compared to how they usually fare, I'll take a clean four for four as often as I can get it!
Goaltending--Neuvy had some real gems when he needed to come up with them to keep the game alive. Might want to have the PS goal and/or the fourth goal back, but otherwise he acquitted himself very well.
Rookies--Alzner looked a bit uncomfortable out there. Carlson seemed okay. Johansson showed flashes of brilliance and then settled down. Overall, not a bad beginning.
Defense--We can point to turnovers on two goals as the cause. But the Ladd goal was the result of not keeping the crease clean. And the penalty shot may never have happened if something had been done about the traffic in the first place. On the other hand, Mike Green made a couple good dives to stall chances. And there was even one player who managed to finish at +1. Guess who? Jeff Schultz that's who.
Lineups--You have to wonder how long it will take for the Bruce and staff to figure out who plays well with whom and in what situation. They've got about sixty-odd games for the trade deadline and then the playoff push to get it right.
Ovechkin--Nice pass to set up Knuble on the second goal. As I said, this bodes well for his quest to round out his game. However, he still seems a bit lackadaisical on the backcheck. Leadership is still an issue as well. I'm not sure if OV feels like he's ready to just put this team on his back and just lead--by both example and attitude. Like the coaches, he's got the rest of the season to get it together.
On to game #2 and the home opener against the Devils. Hoping it'll be much better!