I haven't really felt like writing about the last few Caps games, but I haven't missed any of them.
The Islander game last Tuesday was very frustrating. The Caps actually played quite well, and were doing very well possessionally, but they had two early breakdowns in defensive coverage (no excuse for leaving someone alone at the near edge of the faceoff circle, and they did it twice) that led directly to goals. Then, they clawed their way back and tied the game up in the second (a beautiful effort from Ribeiro, and a good point shot from Carlson).
It was pretty good play from there, well on into the third, but then Greenie had quite an adventure trying to get control of the puck (he missed it with his stick, then with his foot), gave it up right next to the net, then watched the Islanders feed it in front for the deciding goal. Very frustrating all the way around, especially at home against a lower-ranked team.
You give up points like that, you force yourself to need to beat one of the better teams later in the season, which is not a position you want to be in.
Then they had several days off until playing Buffalo last Saturday. That was certainly an exciting game, and one that really got off on the wrong foot (especially annoying as Hendricks was interviewed before the game and talked about how important a strong start is). They had a bad play along the left half-wall which allowed Ehrhoff to walk in alone, and Holtby couldn't stop the shot over his shoulder (one he would definitely like back).
A minute into the second, Leino brought it in the zone, fed to Ennis on the right, then crashed the net and cashed in on the rebound.
All this time, the Caps were actually playing pretty well, but were not able to cash in on any of their (many) chances. But on the next shift after that goal, Ennis tripped Johansson to give the Caps a power play chance, and OV found the twine with a wrist shot from his normal position.
But things got worse eight minutes later, as Leino tipped in a Foligno shot to restore their margin. That was where the period ended, and you could be forgiven for not guessing that the Caps were the ones with the 2:1 advantage in shots in the period.
A couple of minutes into the third, the Caps faced another short-handed situation when Carlson flipped the puck over the glass, and you could definitely feel that they needed to hold to have a chance in the game. Brouwer certainly felt that way, and when he saw Laich getting to the puck in the zone, he bolted for the far goal. Laich saw him, and fed a long pass between the defenders to give him a breakaway.
Troy received it without issue (really, it was a beautiful pass) and put it high, blocker side, into the net to cut the margin in half. Play continued, back and forth, with the Caps having the better of it but unable to even the score until they pulled Holtby with a minute left.
With the extra attacker, they kept the puck in the zone for quite a while, working it around until Greenie got a slapshot off from the point that went off the post, off the back of Enroth's shoulder, and into the net to tie it with half a minute remaining. Unsurprisingly, both teams played to keep that standings point into overtime.
Alas, a DVR snafu kept me from seeing most of the overtime, but I caught the end of it, before it went into the shootout.
The shootout started the Caps way, with Buffalo electing to go first and having Pominville stopped by Holtby. Hendricks went next, with his normal move. He didn't get much more than a flinch from his normal fake, but still managed to stay half a step ahead of Enroth until he put the puck over Enroth's leg and into the net. Holtby then stopped Ennis as well, and things were feeling good.
I was actually looking forward to seeing Ribeiro or Wolski (who somehow made it out of Oates' doghouse for a game, and playing ok in very limited minutes), but OV got the call.
I usually prefer to see OV sweeping wide on his attempts, but he only went a little wide this time. But it worked out as he managed to find a tiny gap going over Enroth's stick in the five hole to give the Caps the two points.
Quite a finish to the game.
That left the Caps in Philadelphia on Sunday, with both teams in the second half of back-to-back games.
Things started well for the Caps, with them controlling play, and getting the first goal from a really nice tip-in from Backstrom. From there, things were pretty seriously downhill for the Caps as Talbot put a rebound past Holtby and Read scored on a breakaway (sprung by Giroux).
That was it for the first period. Though pretty heavily outplayed through the second, the Caps did manage one good moment as Laich found Green coming out of the box at the end of a penalty. Green took the pass cleanly for a breakaway, and put it past Bryz's right shoulder to tie the game.
The Caps power play wasn't for quite a while. It came up empty in the first and second, and was looking pretty bad through the first minute of a double-minor to Voracek (who took unkindly to a hard, but clean open-ice hit Oleksy put on Giroux). But Giroux tried to get a little too fancy before clearing the puck, and hit OV's skates when he tried. That left the puck dribbling out a little to MarJo, who stepped in and put it over Giroux and into the net.
Just twenty-six seconds later, Carlson got his point-to-half-wall pass to OV perfect (he'd put it into OV's feet with that pass a number of times recently) for the one-timer that Bryz had no chance on.
That's where things stayed for another six minutes, with the Caps having the two-goal advantage but getting outplayed pretty seriously. That's when Giroux scored, sixteen seconds into a power play, to cut the margin in half with about seven minutes left. I hate to say it, but it was a very nice play with good puck-movement.
But the one that was the real dagger came with only nine seconds left (shortly after a very questionable icing call, and with Bryz on the bench), as a seeing-eye shot from the point eluded everyone and snuck into the very edge of the net.
As if that wasn't bad enough, the Caps couldn't even manage a shot in the extra period, before Fedotenko's wrister from just outside the paint, with 94 seconds left, found the back of the net.
Man, that was a depressing way to end. Up two with eight minutes left... I imagine their odds of winning, at that point, were about 85%. Ugh. Again, quite a finish to the game, but not in a good way, this time.
The only positives are that they did still get a point out of that, and the non-Caps games over the last four or five days have gone about as favorably as possible for the Caps.
So if the Caps can beat the Canes tonight, they'll be in pretty decent shape. If Winnipeg also loses to the Islanders, they'll be two points behind with two games in hand. And regardless of what Winnipeg does, that would put them a game ahead of the Canes (although the Canes will have a game in hand as well).
This is, pretty much, make-or-break. If the Caps lose and Winnipeg wins, I think the white flag needs to go up. Carolina and Winnipeg can't keep playing as badly as they have the last week or two. But if the Caps win, then things aren't looking too bad.
But I still feel like they're going to be within a point of making the playoffs, one way or the other. I'm really worried that they'll miss by a point or two, not get any taste of the playoffs and be in horrible position in the draft. We'll see.