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Friday, April 13, 2012

Recap 4/12 Game 1 vs Bruins

Boston  1
Capitals 0   (OT)

GWG--Chris Kelly   Three Stars: Chris Kelly, Braden Holtby, Tim Thomas

A heartbreaker...but not a dagger.  That's how I would describe last night's loss.  But we need to keep things in perspective and that applies in looking at the bad things and the good things.  As much as you want to go to the extreme and go on a really big high or be down in the dumps about it, you can't do either.  It's only game one.

All that said, let's strip down the game to nuts and bolts:

First the bad.....I don't want to say the Caps were badly outplayed for most of the game. But I'd be lying if I said otherwise.  They simply lost too many races to the puck and those they did win, they were knocked off the puck all too easily by the Bruins physical play.  That's not to say they didn't make the effort, however.  Unlike what happened for long stretches in the regular season, the intensity was definitely there.

Shot disparity has pretty much been the Caps' M.O. for a lot of the season.  But only putting out barely half your opponent's shot total will not win you many games.  In fact the Bruins put as many shots on goal (17) in the second period alone as the Caps did for the entire 61+ minutes of play.  If they have any hope of winning this series, the Caps must step up their production.

Washington may have gotten a boost from killing off six straight minutes in penalties, but it may have drained them too much.  While it is encouraging that they managed to hold off the dangerous Boston power play all night, they can't afford to put themselves in that position too many times.  It certainly kept the top two lines off the ice, robbing them of precious scoring chances.

More about the physicality of the series:  by the numbers, the Caps were out hit 40 to 29.  But that's not nearly as telling as both Marcus Johansson (twice) and Matthieu Perreault being shaken up during the game.  Both would be able to continue, but you have to wonder how much pounding this lineup can take especially if this series goes the distance.

Ovechkin vs. Chara:  Both of these gladiators gave as good as they got, with Ovechkin being credited with 7 hits and Chara with four.  But obviously you must give the advantage to Chara for last night as Ovi was held to just a single shot on net.  If this trend continues, there may not be many more games left in this series.  And the one time the Caps had the advantage when Chara was penalized for cross-checking Brooks Laich, they failed to convert, though they came rather close as I'll mention later.

And finally there was Braden Holtby, who played an outstanding game that will be certainly be discussed later.  But he doomed himself with just a momentary loss of focus in the game's most crucial moment.  And it wasn't the only time in the game where he seemed to let the pressure get to him.  There was a bad decision with the puck behind the net in the second period that nearly led to a goal.  And of course there was that roughing minor that gave the Bruins a scary 4-on-3 power play. Overtime goals have a tendency to swing or end series, and while there is still more hockey left, you have to wonder how Holtby will bounce back, if he does at all.

Now the good......while the Caps didn't exactly look like a Cup contender, they did manage to stay with the Bruins for the entire length of regulation time.  I'll admit watching them take so much punishment made me cringe, but nobody was backing down from the challenge.  If the Bruins failed at one thing last night, it was their plan to intimidate the Capitals.

They had precious few scoring chances, but made the most of them, coming ever so close on a handful of them.  They proved that Tim Thomas can be beaten if they put themselves in a position to put it away, which they would have if not for some fortunate bounces.  Of course there was that brilliant toe save off Ovechkin's lone shot that was discouraging to say the least.  This happened conveniently while Chara was in the box.

Yes it drained them, but being able to hold off a potent Bruins power play for six straight minutes plus  a 4-on-3 later on in the game was no small task.  The PK units will definitely need to keep it up for whatever remains in this series.

And then there was Holtby.... he of the 30 saves, most of which were spectacular.  Whatever nerves he may have felt early on, he shook off after the first flurry of shots.  He certainly was on all his angles and even if he may not have been, his teammates ably cleared away most of the rebounds.  As mentioned earlier, he certainly wasn't without his shaky moments, however.  And he would most certainly like to have the game winning goal back.  But as shown by his teammates' reaction afterward, he clearly has their confidence and this should in turn give him confidence.  If he can keep up this effort, the series may well turn around provided he can get some goal support.

So once again, there are both positives to hold on to and negatives to learn from.  The trick is to not delve too much into either side of things, but to learn from them.  The Caps have work to do to be sure.  More shots and more traffic in front of the net would be a good start.  Less puckhandling mistakes in your own zone is another thing to consider.  But they held one of the more potent attacks in the league to just one goal in their own building.  And more importantly, they did not shy away from the bruising handed out by the defending champs.  They can still get out of Beantown with a split and then anything can happen at that point when the series comes home.  So even though Game One might not have ended the way we wanted, this series isn't over.

Because the games are played on the ice, not in the press box.

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