Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Hill Becomes More Steep

Capitals 0, Thrashers 2
Scoresheet - Wash Post

This was an important game. The Capitals had a chance to control their own destiny by putting some distance between them and Atlanta. That was until Kari Lehtonen shut the Capitals high scoring offense down. The Capitals' high power, dynamic offense was snuffed and shut out. Atlanta didn't even have Ilya Kovalchuk in the line up. The Caps couldn't win a game they needed badly needed too. Instead it's Atlanta climbing the Division standings and the Caps sputter back to .500 and still 3 points behind.

After the high powered and inspired performance by Alex Ovechkin the game before, the Capitals couldn't get it into gear. The Caps led in shots 36 to 12, but it was only one goal that decided the Capitals' fate. Todd White scored mid way through the third and the Thrashers clamped down the defense and added an empty netter to put the Caps away.

This loss hurts. You would think after the way Ovechkin played a couple of nights before that this team would come out inspired, instead of flat. Ovie had a wide open net early in the first but shanked it wide of the net. After that Lehtonen played well enough to get the shut out.

The Capitals still have trouble closing out big games. Ovechkin is not the only player on this team, but the way his teammates are performing it seems like he is. The Caps seemed too tight, too wound up, too unenthusiastic at times. Instead of the Caps leaping ahead, they are pushed back farther. Lucky for them Carolina lost their game to Pittsburgh and is now tied with Atlanta, but the Capitals are still 3 points shy of both.

Credit Atlanta with some strong strategy. They played a slow, plotted, New Jersey-esque trap and sat back to wait for their chance. They clogged the neutral zone and had 3 players back at all times. They waited for a neutral zone mistake to take advantage and they beat Olie Kolzig. Kolzig only faced 12 shots making 11 saves.

If the Caps go on to miss the playoffs for yet another season, remember this loss. That is how important this game was to the Capitals. When any team as a chance to take points away from their division foes they have to in order to make any head way in the standings. The way this season schedule is set up, every division game is like a playoff game from now until the end of the season. The Caps must win these games, or it's an early exit.

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