Ready for the Garden

Well, the Caps came out firing tonight. Nobody seriously dominated the game, or even a period. But the Caps had a very nice power play in the first, culminating in OV getting the puck in the high slot with nobody on him, and he put the one-timer into the top corner. I'm not sure how many shots they had, but they had excellent puck movement that kept the Rangers flying all over the rink.

The second period went much the same as the first; back and forth with nobody really controlling the game. The Caps got the only goal, when Backstrom deflected Carlson's shot from the half wall over to Chimera, who was making a back-door cut. Chimmer had an open net, and put it in.

The penalty killers also did an excellent job, killing off a four-minute high sticking call with minimal fuss.

The third period was much more tense, as the Caps got very little offense. But they did have a two-goal lead to protect, and thank goodness for that. Because the defense bent and bent, and finally broke with fifty seconds left. I was a little surprised there was no goaltender interference call on that, as Hagelin was straddling one of Holtby's legs in the crease, but no such luck.

Still, that was the only break against the Caps in the game, so we'll take it.

Again, Holtby was brilliant (and better with rebounds than last game), as was Lundqvist. The Caps could have easily scored at least two more goals, if Henrik hadn't made some amazing saves (and that doesn't count OV's shot that rang off the crossbar).

So there was a lot to like about the game. What wasn't to like? Too many shots allowed: thirty-one on net plus another twenty-four blocked. Way too many giveaways: eighteen on the game. Too many penalties taken: three minors in addition to the double-minor.

There was one significant surprise: Beagle was scratched in favor of Halpern. That certainly makes sense, insofar as it wouldn't be too helpful to have both playing. My guess is that Halpern has been injured, and the team was being coy. It was good to see him back, when he wasn't getting kicked out of the faceoff circle. Also, the high-sticking double minor was his. Ugh. Still, I did feel better with him in there than with Beagle.

Other guys who played very good games? The entire fourth line, which did a great job of bottling up the Rangers top line. They were hitting, playing in the offensive zone, and working hard for the entire game. Chimmer not only had the second goal, but drew the penalty that led to the first goal, and got several other good scoring chances. Backstrom had a good game in every facet of play.

Looking at the big picture, though, after thirteen playoff games this season, the Caps still haven't managed to win a single game when they've been behind at any point. This, to my mind (and in spite of what the talking heads keep saying), is a significant indictment of Hunter. Without checking, I think game five against the Rangers is the only game in which the Caps have taken a lead after falling behind (though they have equalized quite a few times).

Despite the number of games won, I'm definitely still not sold on Hunter. I think he's been mostly lucky, and most of that luck has to do with the play of Holtby. That isn't something that can be credited to Hunter; he hasn't magically made Holtby a better goaltender.

Basically, every game has become a coin flip, and the Caps have won just about half of them.

The one good thing I'll say about the Caps, under Hunter, is that they haven't gotten down on themselves when they've lost. But I really can't think of anything else positive to say.

If the Caps could actually win one or two games decisively, especially if it didn't require Holtby to play out of his mind again, I'd be a lot more sold on Hunter. But record in one-goal games in the least reliable indicator of team skill, and the Caps have lost the only game decided by more than one goal. So there hasn't really been any indication that the Caps will keep winning. Even if they do make the third round (heck, even if they win the Cup, as long as their games continue as they've been), I still won't feel too good about the Caps chances going forward.

Anyway, enough dwelling on the negatives; game seven is coming up on Saturday. We'll see if the Caps can make the Conference Finals for the third time ever. Just win, baby.

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