Capitals Hangover: Three and Out

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If you’re awake and reading this, turn off your computer or mobile device and go back to bed. Chances are that you’ll need a few more hours to sleep off last night’s clunker, a 5-2 loss to the Calgary Flames that ground the Washington Capitals’ three-game winning streak to a screeching, stinking halt. It was one of those games where nobody seemed to be themselves, right down to Aaron Volpatti scoring goals. We saw players skating as mere shadows, hollow shells of the men they once were, to whom we’ve grown so fond. Help us, Obi-Wan Kuznetsov. You’re our only hope. Those of you still with us, kindly set phasers to kill. We’re going in. Hope you brought your rainboots.
  • GOALTENDING CONTROVERSY OMG U GUYS. Braden Holtby logged his fifth loss of the season, despite seeing only 12:48 of ice-time. Little Holts from the Prairie got the hook just over halfway into a lackluster first period. Holtby registered 11 saves on 14 shots, which would be a fairly high number for a team that doesn’t average about 34 SA/G. Pants on the ground.
  • Hold up, hold up. I’m not done talking about goalies. Holtby gets pulled in the first period, yells at things, Neuvirth takes over, and most would be apt to write the swap off as an attempt to sway momentum. Happens all the time in hockey. But wait just one darn minute. According to reputable rumbings, it was Neuvirth who was rumored to have been considered for the start, and not Holtby. However, the hot hand was fed, and Holtby answered the call. And then got pulled. CONSPIRACY… 

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  • I’m not finished! Consider, if you will, Holtby’s methodical pre-game rituals. Consider the creature of habit that the NHL goaltender must be, the machinist of a man to whom we’ve grown accustomed in Holtby. And finally, consider the part of the game that Team Neuvy hates to hear: Braden Holtby is the starting goalie for the Washington Capitals. All preparations aside, all backward-capped, faraway-eyed stick taping taken out of account, goaltending is still the most mental position in all of sports. In theory, a coach could leave the starting job a mystery, designating the nightly netminding duties via a game-time decision, in hopes that both goalies have prepared themselves as if they’ve already been assigned the role, and wouldn’t that be nice? But it’s not how it works in the NHL, where the starting goalie may be a more clear-cut position than that of the head coach. Any and all wavering in that regard can have quite the adverse effect on a goalie’s fragile psyche, with great potential to throw him off his game.

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  • You didn’t think I’d go on about goalies forever, did you? Oh, you did. Well.
  • Aaron Volpatti notched his first goal of the season, taking a far more difficult route than needed. He fanned on a shot attempt with a gaping net, but the ensuing gust of wind guided the puck through Ramo’s five hole. Puck luck be damned.
  • On the subject of awkward firsts, Nate Schmidt recorded point number one of his young NHL career as the consequential rebound off his blast from the point led ultimately to aforementioned goal. Congrats, kiddo.
  • Marty Erat was a minus-4. How…enigmatic of him.
  • Alex Ovechkin’s torrid goal-per-game pace suffered a setback, despite the winger firing off 10 shot attempts. However…
  • Six of the Great Eight’s shots were blocked, and four missed the mark altogether. As a squad, the Caps had 18 attempts blocked and missed the mark on 11. In contrast, the Flames fired far more efficiently. They registered 33 shots on goal, with Washington blocking a meager seven attempts. Seven shots were missed. Although the final score may suggest otherwise, this was a winnable game for the Caps. Those who dare ask why they lost need not look much further than right here.
  • In eight minutes of power play time, the Capitals managed only seven shots, and hit paydirt on none of them. This game saw a continuation of Washington’s possession woes, as the Caps struggled to control the puck on the man advantage.
  • Those who stayed up saw a definitive flow to the momentum in Calgary. The key to last night’s failure was the Caps’ inability to take advantage of said momentum. The Flames, on the other hand, could have ridden their red-hot start to a victory, but chose instead to sweep the leg. After a relentless forecheck resulted in a turnover and a goal from Jason Chimera, this could have been a whole new ballgame. But Mike Cammalleri struck a mere 48 seconds later, notching his first of two goals on the night and chasing Holtby in the process.
  • That’s not to say that Washington didn’t do their fair share of shooting themselves in the foot, however. The Caps began the third period on the power play, down by one, and with plenty of momentum to stage yet another comeback. It was Cardiac Caps time, and the Flames were right where we wanted them. But then the power play expired, with Washington again gaining no ground. Despite somewhat of a deflation in energy following yet another fruitless man advantage, the game didn’t appear completely out of reach. And then Mike Cammalleri slipped a softie literally through Neuvirth from damn near close to below the goal line, and everybody turned on Saturday Night Live.
Okay, that didn’t go as planned. Good news: with two games remaining on a Western road swing, the Caps have managed to take two of three, and four of the last six. Bad news: they’re back below .500, and we’re looking at another 10 p.m. start on Monday. Here’s to hoping Torts gets stuck in Customs.