I wasn't anywhere near as excited for this game as I normally am. No, it had nothing to do with Sidney Crosby not being there. Okay, so maybe it did. A little. But for other reasons it just didn't have the feel that it normally did; no pregame jitters simply because it was the Penguins--long a thorn in our collective side. No team gets me jonesing for a game like the Pens and yet the game seemed all full of meh.
But I was fine with that. And so were the Caps, for the most part.
Both teams went into the game bruised (extremely in James Neal's case) and battered with injuries to key players. And yet the NBC sports crew was all there with their spotlights and everything. Although I have to say even Pierre McGuire seemed a bit more subdued than usual.
Jason Chimera got what would prove to be the game winner at 15:25 of the first. The play was initiated by a brilliant takeaway from Evgeni Malkin by Joel Ward. That started the odd-man rush with Jeff Halpern who streaked down the right wing with the puck. Halpern slid it to Chimera who was all alone in front of the net. Chimera finished it off by flipping the puck over Marc-Andre Fleury's stick hand.
The rest of the game was a tight checking conservative affair until the third period. I'm not sure if the Caps were running out of steam but it seemed like they were relying on Evil Kounevil to bail them out. Thank goodness he was up to the task. That third period save on Malkin was like nothing I'd ever seen before. I thought for sure Malkin had him beat and yet somehow Vokoun managed to get in the way of his shot. Vokoun's lateral movement has been 1000% better lately and it showed last night.
There are two things that concern me. The Caps were taking an average of no less than 25 shots per game under Hunter for a time. That figure has since dropped to around 20 shots per game, not counting the loss against San Jose. This kind of output is only acceptable if the pucks go in and as we all know, sometimes they don't.
The second thing is that they had 30 shots against. That's too much for my liking, and that doesn't even take into consideration the ones that didn't make it on net. In the last 40 minutes of play, they gave up 21 shots, not exactly a big help when you're trying to hold on to a lead. Too much running around in their own zone and not clearing it out when they needed to. So there exists the very same problem since forever--getting a solid 60 minutes out of this team.
One other item of note--Tomas Kundratek was called up from Hershey to take the 6th defenseman's slot in favor of both Jeff Schultz and John Erskine. He got in a decent 11 minutes and did fine, even blocking one shot. Way too early to tell if he'll stick, but clearly Coach Hunter is looking for mobility in his defense corps.
So after all that I was pleasantly surprised when the final horn went and the scoreboard still said 1-0. But the blah feeling never went away. Of course we'll always take the two points in this perverted game of leapfrog known as the playoff race. But there's still no Nicklas Backstrom and no Mike Green in the lineup for nobody seems to know how long. As a Caps' fan you must ask yourself--was last night's one-goal output a bump in the road or just the result of a coach's good gameplan against one team?
Three games left on this homestand--six more points would be great.