Monday, November 19, 2007

A Loss, But Third Period Could Bring Us Hope

Revised stats: Alexander Semin has still played in 100% of the games with DCO in attendance, yet the Caps have now only won 50% of such contests. The former point is the one we will concentrate on now, because for a short while it seemed that the return of Semin (and a fully healthy team) would (and still could) save the Capitals’ season.

Semin looked good off the bat, sending a crisp cross-ice pass to Matt Pettinger for an almost-quality chance on his first shift. The early good times continued (much like the early season) with an impressive Niklas Backstrom scrum-inducing drive to the net that also very nearly developed into multiple scoring chances.

On numerous occasions, Semin looked utterly unencumbered by the former ankle injury, lending credence to the Coach Hanlon decree that Semin was 100% healthy. After some vintage Alex Ovechkin ice-dancing through multiple defenders drew a penalty, Semin’s body-torquing kept the puck in the offensive zone. Happy memories of early October were again ushered in as there was consistent pressure on the power play.

Semin’s ice time was listed as 5:28 for the first period, though during the intermission Bobtimist Prime and I commented to each other that it seemed closer to 7 or 8 minutes. Maybe it was his constant presence around the puck and time logged on the power play that made it seem longer, or maybe just our complete lack of sense for time.

The penalty kill, also heralded in those glory days of yore (remember 12-for12?) came through in a timely fashion. Brooks Laich, undeterred by two closing defensemen, calmly settled a misbehaving puck and shot a bouncing wrister into the net for a shorty. It was to be the last positive moment for quite a while.

As anyone who was at the game or who saw the game knows, things started getting…restless towards the end of the second period. Chants of “Fire Hanlon”, at first as disorganized as each Caps rush up the ice, gradually grew in intensity. Just moments after more masterful Semin dekes, spins, and offensive creations almost resulted in a Caps goal, and just a few more moments after Kolzig’s heroic stand on a 3-on-2 Panthers break kept the Caps within 1, Florida struck and the fans’ brimming frustration poured out.

The chants found some organization and coherence during the first several minutes of the third period as the Caps struggled to find theirs, reaching a crescendo when the Panthers went up 4-1. But when Semin struck on a superbly sublime deflection at 8:14, it momentarily silenced the optimism-haters and brought us the most intense and inspired Capitals play in weeks.

The next Caps goal seemed inevitable, and one member of DCO was heard to mention to the other that perhaps Semin had saved the season with a slice of his stick through the air. Chris Clark brought that closer to reality with his power play goal. That gave the Caps two goals in the third period from key players who have been injured for significant stretches this season, and it seemed that, at last, with everyone together and the brief, awkward, 2-and-a-half period re-getting-to-know-you phase was over and the team could get down to business, tie the game, and win.

It didn’t happen, but the bigger question would be: can it still happen? Can they build on the third period play that was sparked by Semin’s goal, a goal that came as Caps fans all throughout Verizon Center were ready to turn on the team in a fashion unseen since the end of the Cassidy/Jagr era.

It was, to say the very least, a sullen Caps locker room afterwards. Several questions referenced the late third period spark the team finally found, and while the players seemed to be burdened by the immediacy of another loss, that half a period is something they can (must?) build on starting Wednesday if a true revival is to begin.

Last week we implored the Redskins to look to the Capitals and their shocking road win in Ottawa as precedence for shocking the Cowboys on the road. That didn’t quite work out, but now the two teams are in curiously similar situations. Both are seemingly reeling, but both are also coming off of losses that contained potentially inspiring late-game near-comebacks.

We’ll have more tomorrow, including why we still cannot join the burgeoning Fire Hanlon bandwagon.

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