Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Stars are Producing, But Heart is the Issue

The Caps won a must win game versus the New York Islanders tonight. They played with more desperation, but it is not encouraging that this team cannot rise to the level of intensity that characterizes teams that win playoff series and Stanley Cups. The knock on the Caps have been that their top stars, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, have not performed and they must make lots of noise if the Caps are to be successful in the playoffs.

Ovie’s playoff stats of 33G-31A-64P puts him at just over a point per game although his last couple of playoffs have not been as productive as the years 2008-2011 when he had 41 points in 30 games. He’s also plus-9 over his 62 playoff games. Ovie, however, shows up for the playoffs and this season is no exception. He’s hitting and he’s a force on the ice.

Nicklas Backstrom, on the other hand, is 18G-31A-49P in 61 games, with anemic production during his last three playoffs of 13P in 29 games. Those stats for the #1 center are not good enough for the Caps to hold a shiny silver cup, but his first star 3P performance in game two and his overtime game winner tonight is what the Caps need.  Both Ovechkin and Backstorm scored and assisted on each other’s goals.

The stars are producing, but heart is the issue. Do the Caps want to win enough to throw it all out on the line? That’s not evident, at this point. Other teams slugging it out in the playoffs, right now, seem to have more heart than the Caps. The Caps seem to do enough to get by and that’s not good enough to win a Cup. They will play a strong game in game 2 to lose game 3 in horrendous fashion 15 seconds into overtime, when New York Islands John Tavares threw the puck at Washington Capitals goalie, Braden Holtby, multiple times, and the last one squeaked past the goal line. That shot sent the Caps to a 1-2 deficit in their first playoff series in two years. It felt like a huge letdown after Nicklas Backstrom finally tied up the game 1-1 at 13:54 in the third period.

In game one, the Caps were outmatched mentally and lost the game 4-1. They showed jitters early, but never stopped making stupid passes in the neutral zone or everywhere else on the ice during their 11 giveaway night. On a night Holtby felt ill, the Caps should have been able to help him out, but they could not stop helping the Islanders out instead. It was not a good start to the playoffs.
In game two, it took the Caps until 11:26 in the second period to score after the Islanders already scored two goals. This game started with Cal Clutterbuck when the 4th line grinder, who scored his first NHL goal against the Caps (he’s one of many, many players with that dubious honor), scored on an odd man rush at 5:14 in the first period. The Caps first goal came courtesy of Karl Alzner and Nicklas Backstrom netted his first point on his way to a much needed three point night.

In some respects, the Caps are winning some battles, for faceoff wins and hits, but in other respects, they are losing, grit and perseverance, for instance. The intensity of the hockey being played in the NHL and the heart of the teams playing, right now, is crazy versus Caps-Isles. The difference is palpable.

Let’s go Caps!

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