- Matt Hendricks, whom head coach Bruce Boudreau called (Photo: Associated Press)
The Capitals made a small piece of history Saturday night. For the first time since Bruce Boudreau was appointed head coach of the team on November 22, 2007, the Capitals lost a fifth game in a row, a very close 3-2 decision at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche that could have easily gone the other way.
Just two days after calling out several of his offensive stars by name after a listless 3-0 loss to the Florida Panthers, Boudreau was at peace with his team's performance Saturday night.
"That looked more like our team out there," the Capitals coach said. "We made three mistakes and they scored three goals. That's what happens when you're not playing well, or [in our case] are in a slump."
It wasn't a total moral victory for Washington Saturday. The Capitals will no doubt be waiting anxiously for word regarding a possible suspension for the struggling Alexander Semin, who committed an abysmally foolish cross-checking penalty early in the second period, drawing blood from Avalanche defenseman John-Michael Liles and earning himself a game misconduct. The Avalanche scored what proved to be the game-winning goal on the ensuing five-minute power play.
"He extended his arms," Boudreau said matter-of-factly. "I don't know how hard he hit him. [Semin] got cross-checked a couple times and he retaliated. [Liles] was bleeding, so they had to call it five minutes."
That not-insignificant blip aside, the Capitals did carry the play for long stretches, and only an effort of sheer determination on the part of the Avalanche prevented Washington from tying the game on one of their several close-range opportunities in the third period. The Caps wound up outshooting the Avs 42-26, but that total does not take into account the 27 shots blocked by Colorado (Washington only blocked nine) and the 15 other shots that missed Craig Anderson's net entirely (Colorado only had eight of those type of shots).
"I thought we had a pretty good game," said Eric Fehr, who found himself grafted on to a new fourth line with Matt Hendricks and Boyd Gordon. That line was one of the best-performing lines on the ice, with Hendricks scoring an inspired power-play goal and Fehr and Gordon putting in an honest shift of which they need not be ashamed.
"We've had some tough breaks during this stretch," Fehr continued, "but I think it's great the way we stayed strong in the third period. It felt like we were in their end the entire third period, but just not able to put one in. It felt like we had some good energy."
That energy was matched as well by the top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble. Ovechkin threw himself into the game right from the start, giving and bouncing off checks like the physical marvel that he is. The captain also showed his dynamic speed and skill in setting up Knuble's 250th NHL goal in the first period, nutmegging Ryan O'Byrne with the puck before flipping a shot on net, where Knuble, poised in his usual spot in front of the goal, was able to deflect it out of mid-air past Anderson.
"It's a nice round number," Knuble said of the milestone. "You know, one day you'll look back on it, and I suppose it's better to have 250 [goals] instead of being in the 240s somewhere."
Knuble was much more serious when talking about the Capitals' chances Sunday night against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. "I think if we match that effort from tonight [tomorrow], we'll come out on top." It's not the easiest ask in the world. MSG, while not exactly a house of horrors for the Caps (who've already won there once this season, on November 9), does specialize in the weird and wild when these two teams get together. That November 9 meeting, for example, saw John Erskine score one of the three goals he's recorded so far this season.
However, given the fact that four of their five straight defeats have come on home ice, the Capitals seemed amenable to the idea of a quick Sunday road sojourn.
"It might be nice to get away from all this," Knuble admitted, referring to the pressure and expectations that have mounted with each tough loss this week.
"It'll be good to get on the road, play an ugly game, and hopefully get two points," piped up Fehr, who'll no doubt be hoping that things don't get any uglier for his team, especially with regard to the Eastern Conference standings.
My Three Stars
Paul Stasny-Scored the game-winning goal and got the primary assist on the other two Colorado goals. The second primary assist was a thing of particular beauty to set up Ryan Wilson for the goal that put Colorado in front to stay.
Matt Hendricks-It was hard to argue when Boudreau called Hendricks Washington's "best player on the ice." Made a nuisance of himself in front of Anderson and scored a great goal to pull the Caps back to a 3-2 deficit.
Kevin Shattenkirk-Scored Colorado's first goal and provided Stasny with a beautiful pass from the halfboards for Colorado's third.