Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Win That Almost Was But Then Wasn’t

Well, you really can’t get much closer to winning without actually winning, can you? Last night’s 11-round shootout loss to Florida could be seen as basically a grossly exaggerated version of every barely lost / almost-won game the Caps have played this season.

Before we go into full-fledged panic mode again about back-to-back losses and only two goals in those losses, consider that the 2-1-1 record the Caps sport in the last four games (all under Bruce II) easily qualify as the second-most-successful stretch the team has had this season. That’s progress, folks. Wouldn’t we all have loved to see such a record as they were, say, dropping four straight a few weeks ago (or five straight just last week)? The second standings point would have been nice, but why not celebrate the one just a little?

In the first period, yes, they were a tad…lethargic. It wasn’t until Matt Bradley, he who seems increasingly eager to engage in a donnybrook, got into it with Garth Murray in the second period did the building and the team really wake up. That fight energized the Caps and their fans in a way that the Kiss Cam couldn’t just moments beforehand (seriously, in all the Caps games I’ve attended, I’ve never seen such willful noncompliance with this compulsory snogging gimmick). Alex Ovechkin put on some serious pressure (and a number of his 11 shots) shortly after the fight, and Chris Clark brilliantly stole a clearing pass and scored not long after that.

Even though the power play went 0-for-5 (including that maddening OT power play), there was still improvement to be noticed from weeks past, in that the Caps for the most part managed to keep the puck in the offensive zone. Very little bumbling around in the neutral zone or running back behind Olie to retrieve a cleared puck. Mike Green also continues to show that he will be Sergei Gonchar (with a slightly bigger defensive conscience), as he has a growing penchant for sneaking down the wing on the power play to unleash a one-timer. His scoring-chance-producing coast-to-coast burst was a nice touch as well.

We can also be encouraged by the way the Caps fought back from a deficit four times: once in regulation from the 1-0 hole, and thrice in the shootout with the game on the line. The final Brian Pothier attempt couldn’t quite tie the game yet again, and the several potentially game-winning shootout efforts just didn’t have enough to get past the surprisingly resilient Tomas Vokoun, but it was a valiant effort nonetheless. And it brought home a standings point, a disturbingly rare feat so far this season.

Finally, we should mention Olie. In the third period especially (and the shootout) he was at his acrobatic, stretching-across-the-goalmouth best. It was hard to see all the gritty details from Section 403, but on at least two occasions it seemed that pucks 100% destined for the back of the net never found their way there.

There were a fair number of fans wearing Sean Taylor jerseys at the game, a nice visual tribute to go along with the honor the Caps paid to the Skins’ safety before the game. A number of vendors outside also had freshly minted Taylor hats and shirts. Speaking of which, Bucktown Skins Fan has put together a very nice simple design for sale on various clothing articles, with proceeds going to whatever fund/charity is ultimately set up in Taylor’s memory.

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