Sunday, February 03, 2013

A Better Game Than You Thought

The score was lopsided. A 6-3 score makes it sound like a rout by the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Washington Capitals on Superbowl Sunday afternoon. A tale of two teams, one struggling, the other cruising along and the end result was a three goal deferential. From the tweets following the game, the casual observer might think this was a dismal loss for the struggling Capitals.

That was just a sampling of the some tweets after the game. Some used harsher language. But as head coach Adam Oates said in the opening tweet there, the Caps did play a good hockey game.

ESPN even alluded to as much in an article that pointed out that it was a better game than the score may have indicated:
A veteran scout observing Sunday afternoon’s rivalry game between the Penguins and Capitals sounded almost relieved in his evaluation of the play after two periods. Like, he’d been waiting too long for a game like this.
“This is the first good hockey game I’ve seen this year,” he said.
The first period saw two teams playing hard pressed, hard hitting but not dirty hockey. Even a friend of mine texted after the Caps' second goal "What a game!" then, "This blows!" after the final decision.

Let's put aside that the Caps are struggling to find identity, the softies that Braden Holtby wanted back, and the close but no cigar power play. The Capitals did dictate the play for long periods of the game. They were making progress on a team that played the night before. Bury a few of those chances or make good on the second opportunities and it is a different hockey game.

Where do the Capitals go from here? Obviously Oates found some positives from this game to exploit.

"We made a couple of mistakes but other than that I thought we played a good solid hockey game," Oates said after the 6-3 loss. "There are things we can do better, and we will address that. But I don't look at the game as one that got away from us because we weren't playing well."

The system, a hybrid of a team defensive style that adds an aggressive forecheck, often kept the Penguins pinned in their own zone for long periods of time. The Capitals seem to also be using their defensemen far more and better than they ever have in the offensive zone. Grinding down low and popping the puck back to the point seems to create some space for forwards to reset or crash the net.

What the Capitals lacked today were second chance opportunities off of those point shots and making good on those chances. By getting into the gritty areas, working hard for bouncing pucks and cleaning up sloppy rebounds are areas that can only help the Capitals going forward.

"We needed more bodies around the net," forward Troy Brouwer said. "We didn't have very many second opportunities. It was one and done."

Today that system showed that even a team with little identity can hold up and even push a team on their heels that clearly has good chance at a run to the Stanley Cup. As players get more use to the system, the better in the long run it will be beneficial. It is the growing pains of getting there is what the fan, more so the casual fan, is frustrated with.

"No one plays a perfect game," defenseman John Carlson said to reporters following the game. "If we stick to what we have been taught, it clearly works."

It is not a measuring stick of how good this team is playing with a team like the Penguins. Not at this point of the season. The Capitals have to better adapt to their system. But when the system is working, it takes extraordinary efforts by the opposition to keep this offense and power play at bay.

"[The Caps] are a dangerous team, they showed that today," Penguins' allstar center Sidney Crosby said. "They created a lot of chances and we definitely, at certain points, had to play good defense..."

Penguins' head coach Dan Bylsma praised the efforts of his penalty killers Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik when the Caps seemed to press and tired down the Penguins with the extra man attack. Former Cap and Pens net minder Vokoun talked about how the puck movement on the Capitals' power play was starting to wear him down as they moved the puck. There are bright spots to look at that better gauge where the Capitals are headed.

"We get a lot of chances and create a lot of offense but we need to just put the puck in the net," Caps' forward Wojtek Wolski was quoted. "When we do get those opportunities, there are chances to change the game, change the momentum. We haven't capitalized."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I felt like this as well. I wasn't happy with the final score obviously, but I thought the Capitals played pretty good and I was surprised by the negativity online.