Last night the Washington Capitals were defeated 2-1 in the seventh game of their first round series with the Montreal Canadiens. They lost three straight games in one of the biggest opening round upsets in Stanley Cup Playoff history. I am sure the fans in Washington are looking for someone to blame for this loss. Here is a look at some of the keys to the loss by the Capitals.
In seven games he gave away the puck 12 times. Also, on the winning goal he slowed his skating enough to allow Dominec Moore room to pick up the loose puck. This allowed Moore the time and space he needed to score the eventual game winner for the Montreal Canadiens, and complete the miraculous comeback.
Firstly, his cross check for the penalty in the Canadiens zone that led to a Montreal four on three power play was needless. That is an example of a player trying very hard to make something happen and becoming frustrated.
Secondly, on the winning goal, while he did take his man out of the play, he also lost the battle for puck possession along the boards in his own end. This led to Maxime Lapierre being able to make a great play to Moore for the winning goal.
Thirdly, while he did put up respectable totals in hits (18), and blocked shots (17) during the seven game series, he had nine giveaways and only two takeaways. He also had 12 penalty minutes and only three points. These numbers show why he was not selected to Team Canada for the Olympics this season.
He put 62 pucks towards the Montreal goal during this series, while 18 of those pucks missed the net entirely. Out of the 44 shots that did make it to the net, none of them turned into goals.
Semin was largely a non-factor in this series, with only two points and an even plus minus rating. Much more was expected from a player who potted 40 goals in this regular season.
Semin is also entering the final year of a six million dollar per year contract. Will the Capitals try to sign him long term? Should they try to sign him long term after a no show performance in this year's playoffs? Or do they trade him for someone that will play with more sandpaper.
If it was my choice I would trade Semin in the offseason for a player that can still score 30 plus goals, but plays much physical. This would help the Capitals overcome their playoff disappointments in next year's playoffs.
While he had respectable numbers through the series with five goals, five assists, and 26 hits, he was unable to make his teammates better. At times he reminded me of Pavel Bure taking the puck from behind his own net, all the way down the ice and through the other team, and then taking a shot. Alex has the skill to do this but it does not win a series for his team.
Many of the shots he was getting were low percentage shots. I did not see him get to the slot to fire a shot many times last night. He seemed to be using the same move over and over. He would come down the left wing and cut across the middle, high in the Canadiens zone, trying to use the defenseman as a screen to take a shot. Needless to say this tactic did not bear fruit for the Capitals.
He was also losing battles along the board to the likes of Josh Gorges. Alex should be using his big body in the corners of the offensive zone to win those battles, and bring the puck to the front of the net. At least last night he did not seem willing and able to go into these areas and come out with the puck.
Ovechkin is a great player, but I think the team would be better served by choosing a different captain. Since the "C" was placed on his jersey he has not been the same dynamic player as he has in the past. I believe he is better served by not being put into a leadership role. But I have been wrong before, and I would not be shocked to see Alex come into next season with a vengeance.
Hal Gill and Josh Gorges
Hal Gill was a monster in this series blocking 31 shots. He also effectively handled some very speedy forwards in Ovechkin and Semin very admirably. He was a very valuable member of the Canadiens in this first round series, and proved that he can play against the best in the world and be very effective when it matters.
Josh Gorges has also begun to step forward as a leader to this Canadiens team. Prior to game seven he went to Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Kirk Muller and asked what he could do to help his team win and be a leader. He then spent some time with Muller going over the things he would need to do to achieve this.
Throughout the series Gorges had 20 blocked shots, while he and Gill formed a very effective shutdown pairing.
Where credit is due and looking ahead for the Montreal Canadiens
Overall, the Canadiens simply out worked and out willed the Capitals in this series. They won the majority of the battles in the trenches (along the boards, in the corners, in front of the nets, etc.). Much credit should go to Jacques Martins and his coaching staff for formulating a game plan that effectively shut down the highest octane offense in the NHL this season.
Also, much credit is deserved by the architect of the current team on the ice, former General Manager Bob Gainey. He proceeded to make a dramatic change in the team he had on the ice this past off season. Ridding the team of its long time captain Saku Koivu and enigmatic star Alex Kovalev, while bringing in Stanley Cup winners in Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. Also Mike Cammalleri was brought in to provide offense from the wing for the club.
Does this Canadien's team have what it takes to defeat the reigning Stanley Cup champion in the Pittsburgh Penguins? I do not believe they do, but look for the series to go much like the Penguins vs. Senators series went. The Canadiens will provide a pushback for the Penguins, but in the end the experience and skill of the Penguins will win the series in six games.