After the Capitals took the lead, the Canes team that existed in the first ten minutes completely disappeared. Overall, the Canes largely lost the game because of their inability to “compete” for 60 minutes, they struggled in transition, allowed some weak goals, failed to pick up open bodies in front of the net and performed poorly on special teams.
The biggest concern for me is the recent lapses in competing when the game is still winnable. Most of the season, the Canes have done a solid job of preventing goals in bunches. The Capitals had two sequences (four goals) where they scored in bunches and the Canes had let-downs. The first two Capital goals came just over three minutes apart and the third and fourth goal were only 27 seconds apart.
The emotional “let-down” and failure to compete reminded me a lot of the 3-0 loss the Kings handed the Canes on January 26th. The game was tied through 55 minutes and then the Canes gave up two goals in less than a minute—the transition game and “let-downs” sunk the Canes that night and again last night.
The Canes were very flat after the Ovechkin PPG which came on the Capitals second shot of the period. They started to make poor passes, mental errors and turned the puck over. It didn’t take long for the Capitals to make the Canes pay. They took advantage of an errant pass in the offensive zone and a bad change to quickly make the game 2-0 on a transition play. There were a few concerns on this play for me:
Lack appeared to not have much confidence at that point in the game and seemed to still be hung up on the first goal which trickled through his glove and pad. It isn’t surprising either as he had only stopped two of three shots and two more shots recently rang off the post. It looked like he was almost “shell-shocked” and it showed on the second goal. Lack was almost on the goal-line on the shot by Connolly—for a 6’6 goalie he made himself very small and gave Connolly tons of room.
My second issue with the goal was the fact that two Canes forwards were casually gliding to the bench for a change. Connolly largely was able to use his fake slap-shot and cut across the tops of the circles uncontested because of the lack of pressure on the back-check. This was a direct result of F2 and F3 slowly making their way to the bench and giving the Capitals tons of time and space.
Looking at the second sequence of let-downs for the Canes, the third and fourth goal came off of turnovers. On the third goal, the Canes turned the puck over in the neutral zone as Lindholm made a poor pass on an offensive zone entry. Nate Schmidt intercepted the pass and moved the puck to Connolly who then hit a streaking Ellers on the far-side wing. It was a poor decision by Lindholm and he should have gotten the puck deep. The Capitals had a lot of puck pressure and there wasn’t much space to make the pass either.
The second problem was that Lack again was extremely deep in his net. Despite having a strong second period, Lack still appeared uncomfortable in net and didn’t trust that his D would cover cross-ice passes. While it was another well placed shot, Lack was caught deep and beat by a stoppable shot. Most NHL goalies should not let in slap-shots from the top of the circles on the short-side—period.
The turnover problems continued on the fourth goal as the Canes turned the puck over in their own zone on a breakout play. Williams forced the turnover on an errant pass up the boards and found Johansson with a pass as he was driving the goal-line—the three Canes players got caught watching the puck and lost Kuznetsov in the slot who received the pass from Johansson and connected on a one-timer from the hash-marks.
The problem with marking bodies in front showed up again on the final goal. While the game was clearly over at this point, the Canes PK unit didn’t even appear to want to be on the ice. The most notable was Hainsey as the Capitals worked the puck from the boards and across the points—he looked like he was at public skate as he casually rotated and allowed Johansson to sit uncontested on the top of the crease. Ovechkin ripped a one-timer that Lack stopped with his shoulder, however, the puck landed right on Johansson’s stick for an easy tap-in.
Overall, these are the type of let-downs and mistakes that good teams convert on. While the Canes played a good first ten minutes and strong second period, they were too inconsistent at times and mentally checked out. It was disappointing to see, however, some of the chatter on Twitter suggested that the Canes may have come into the game chalking it up as a loss.
The main reason the controversy began was because many questioned why Coach Peters elected to start Eddie Lack. The main reason many didn’t like the decision was the fact that Lack hadn’t played an NHL game since November 6th and returned against the top NHL team. One would think that Coach Peters would have given Lack a match-up that would most likely boost his confidence, such as next week against either Dallas or the NHL’s worst team, Colorado.
While the loss wasn’t primarily on his shoulders, three of the five goals looked to be potentially stoppable and he was partially responsible. The problem was that it was the first three goals that the Canes allowed that appeared that Lack should have stopped. These goals were the defining goals that broke the Canes spirit and led up to the emotional let-downs. Despite some weak goals, I still think that Lack performed decent given the amount of time out of action.
The good news is that the Canes won’t see the Capitals again—the bad news is that as of today’s standings, if the Canes made the playoffs they would see the Capitals in the first round. Given the Canes lost three of the four games, one has to question the value of “winning” the final wildcard position.
It is also worth noting that the Canes sole win and SOL came against Grubauer. Thus, the only time the Canes competitively played the Capitals was at home and against their back-up. The Canes only scored one goal in 49 shots on Holtby and he made most of his saves look easy/routine in both games.
The Canes only play two times in the next ten days and will get plenty of time to get back to work. Both games are on the road and “must-wins” to stay in the wildcard hunt—the question is can the Canes break their road woes?