By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau canceled practice yesterday and instead called a series of meetings and video sessions at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. There was, after all, much for Boudreau and his players to dissect after Sunday's 2-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
The Capitals were routinely beaten to loose pucks by a more determined Flyers team and out-shot (41-24) for the first time in nine games; the previous eight were wins.
The power play was ineffective, going 0 for 6, and Flyers goaltender Martin Biron had an unobstructed view of virtually each shot, while at the opposite end of the rink, Capitals goalie Cristobal Huet was knocked down twice and forced to contend with Flyers skaters in front of the net. Also, star winger Alex Ovechkin, frustrated by the smothering defensive attention he received, was limited to five shots despite nearly 27 minutes of ice time.
That's a lot to fix before Game 3 at Wachovia Center tonight. But if the Capitals hope to regain their edge in the series, and advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 10 years, they must show marked improvement, especially since it can be argued the Flyers were the better team in five of the six periods over the weekend, the third period of Friday's 5-4 Washington victory being the exception.
"We have to play with a sense of urgency," Boudreau said. The Flyers "played with it and we didn't. We were a very complacent team. The playoffs are not a place where you can give 70 percent. You have to be 100 percent committed to winning."
The Capitals' complacency was apparent from the outset. They were awarded four power plays in the first period, but instead of shooting the puck and crashing Philadelphia's crease in a search for rebounds, Ovechkin and Co. loitered on the edges, passing back and forth, waiting for the perfect opportunity. In all, Washington mustered eight shots in 10 minutes 13 seconds with the man advantage on Sunday, dropping to 1 for 9 on the power play in the series.
"You want to have traffic, especially when you run into a hot goalie," winger Matt Cooke said, referring to Biron, who has shutouts in three of his past four starts going back to the regular season. "You have to make it tougher for him, for sure. On the power play we didn't have much traffic. He's proven that when he can see it, he does a pretty good job of stopping it."
Forward Brooks Laich has displayed a willingness to crash the crease and has enjoyed some success in that area, but outside of his efforts, generating a persistent presence in front of the net -- on the power play and at even strength -- has been an ongoing issue for the Capitals since captain Chris Clark injured a groin tendon in November. Clark skated on his own yesterday and plans to travel with the team, but doesn't anticipate playing in Games 3 and 4.
"We would like to see every time there's a shot on net, that people plant themselves in front of it," Boudreau said, before adding, "but that's a lot easier said than done."
Crowding the crease and flustering goaltenders is a Flyers trademark. On Sunday, Huet was knocked to the ice by Scott Hartnell and Daniel Brière, and judging from Huet's reaction to the contact, he was momentarily distracted, at the very least.
"They try everything," Huet said. "The are a team that crashes the net well and they try and get in your face. I have to try to keep my cool and let the ref do his job and make the call when it's there."
Asked why there was no retribution for the contact, Boudreau said: "With Hartnell, we had a penalty and I thought the Brière thing was incidental. If you're up four goals, that's a different story. But if you've got a two-goal differential there, it's a fine line between protecting your goalie and losing the game. Cris is a big boy. He's not getting hurt. When the time comes, if it's necessary, guys will take care of things on the ice."
As for Ovechkin, he scored the winner in Game 1, but Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen and Mike Richards's line has done an admirable job neutralizing the NHL's leading scorer. Ovechkin has had precious little space, and he hasn't used his linemates particularly well.
"He didn't touch the puck too much," Boudreau said. "Alex had a pretty mediocre game for him. He'll get back to it. When he plays like Alex, he's pretty hard to stop. Every team for 82 games was putting guys on him. And it's no different [with the Flyers]. He's just got to fight his way through it. He's done it in the past, and he's got to do it again."