Greasing the skids

Last night's [I wrote this several days ago] Caps/Oilers game was almost a mirror image of the prior game against the Avs. This time, the Caps got the goaltending, and the Oilers didn't. The play certainly felt like it was tilting the Oilers way (in the first, it felt like the Caps couldn't manage a breakout to clear their own zone).

Further to that, the Caps only managed three shots in the first, and their Corsi and Fenwick were pretty terrible (Fenwick was 15-8). But Oleksy made a nice (if risky) keep-in thirteen and a half minutes in, and found Laich behind the play (turning around in the slot). Laich took the pass, reversed his turn, and threw the puck into the far side of the net to tie the game up.

In the second, things looked a lot better. A lot of that was the break-out looking much better (I wouldn't say it was great, but it wasn't cripplingly bad), some was getting power play opportunities, and some of it was just better luck. The first of those power play opportunities came while playing 4-on-4, when Smid tripped Grabovski. Ward won the ensuing draw (although I missed why he was taking it), drawing it back where OV barely held it in. OV tossed it over to Backstrom, who got the defenseman, Justin Schultz, hung up about standing or blocking. Backstrom slid it past him to Ward on the far side, who calmly planted it at the top of the net for the score.

That got the Caps moving in the right direction, and they played well for several minutes until the top line got another shift. And it was a dominant one, penning the Oilers in for a bit until OV got open in the slot to pound it in.

The Caps got another power play opportunity half a minute later when Wilson gamely took a stick to the side of his head, putting the normal first power play unit out. After a clean faceoff victory, it took only fourteen seconds to pot the goal off a knuckling shot from Brouwer, low in the slot.

While the announcers said that was goals on three consecutive shots, that kind of shows the weakness of shots on goal (measuring anyone other than the goalie, that is). A couple of seconds before OV's goal, he had fired another shot that went a foot or so wide to the left. Backstrom (I think) collected, before returning the puck to OV for the goal, and that certainly contributed to the goal not being in a set position.

Anyway, Brouwer's goal was the end of the game, as a competitive one.

As you'd expect, given the score, the Oilers got quite a bit more rubber towards the net the rest of the way. They did managed to claw one back, as well, with less than two minutes left. This one, I'll partly blame on Backstrom leaving his man, near the net, to attempt a steal along the boards. When he missed it, his man planted himself on the doorstep, and had an easy goal when his Oiler teammates found him.

All in all, not a terribly promising game, despite the score. The Caps' shooting percentage started to come back to a reasonable number, but they really need to start doing better in possession. Especially, their breakouts need to get better.

One other thing, it turns out that Erskine didn't play in either of the last two games. I thought maybe I wasn't the only one starting to doubt whether he's a playable option, especially against fast teams like the Avs or Oilers, but there was a mention, at the end of the game, that he was hurt. Feel better, Big John.

Schmidt did play both games, and looked reasonably decent (although I didn't notice if he was a significant part of the breakout problem). Oleksy, as noted, did pretty well (though he might have also contributed to the breakout issues).

I was glad to see that Wilson and Beagle got a few more minutes; I guess because the team was ahead, rather than playing catch-up. But more, for Beagle and Wilson, still meant only eight minutes. I'm not terribly thrilled with leaning so heavily on the top lines. Let's hope this balances a bit. Also, I'd like to see more of Latta; I think he's generally better (that is to say, outside of faceoffs) than Beagle, and shows some promise of providing offense.

I think it might be a good sign to see minutes a bit more balanced on the defensive side. The third pairing got a bit over seventeen and a half, with the top getting only twenty-one. Carlson, since he's being leaned on so heavily on the PK side, led the team but was still under twenty-two.

One bit surprise came out. The west has been annihilating the east head-to-head, so far. I believe they said it was 26-4-3, which is just insane. And the Caps have two of those victories, thinking about it. Too bad they can't feast on the "Southleast" again this year.

Well, next game is against the Rangers, on Wednesday, where Lundqvist has been considerably less than kingly, so far. Let's hope it goes well.

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