Joe B: Stuck in the middle

Joe B: Stuck in the middle
January 25, 2013, 8:00 am
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Capitals-Canadiens Highlights

The Capitals played a pretty decent first period Thursday night against Montreal.  They appeared to be much more engaged in the battle with the Canadiens than they had been Tuesday against the Jets.  The middle period, unfortunately, did not go nearly as well.  It was that 20 minutes that proved decisive and sent the home team crashing to a third straight setback to open the season. 

Michal Neuvirth received the starting nod in goal and he was especially sharp in the first three minutes of the contest.  He had to be.  The Caps once again put themselves in hot water with penalties, and were it not for Neuvirth, they would have been in a hole right from the jump.  The Czech netminder made his best save in the sequence off Rene Bourque from point-blank range to keep it scoreless.

Washington has not led at any intermission in any of its first three outings.  I got the sense that they were ready to change that trend in the second period, but I was mistaken...in a big way.

Alex Ovechkin was whistled for interference 1:51 into period two.  A mere 25 seconds later Troy Brouwer tossed the puck over the glass on a clearing attempt and the delay of game assessment would lead to a slippery slope.

Andrei Markov found Tomas Plekanec with a slick pass with just a few seconds left in the two-man advantage.  Plekanec drilled a shot past Neuvirth, his fellow countryman, to give Montreal the lead.

After Matt Hendricks was whistled for a dubious goalie interference call, the Canadiens would come right back with another power-play goal only 57 seconds after the Plekanec marker.

Markov had never scored a goal against the Caps prior to this evening, hard to imagine with all his talents and willingness to crowd the crease.  He rotated well down from his point position, made a silky transition of the puck from skate to stick, and buried his third goal in the last two games to make it 2-0. The Caps had several opportunities to clear the puck on that penalty-kill, but a failure to do so has led to their downfall several times already in just three games.

Four minutes later Montreal captain Brian Gionta was left alone, cruising in the slot to convert a feed from Bourque at 8:39.  Josh Gorges would pile on with a long-range blast that zipped past a screened Neuvirth with only 1:39 remaining in the now thoroughly messed-up middle frame.

The boos raining down from the stands at Verizon Center were justifiable.  The team lost the energy-level it appeared to have in the opening period.  They demonstrated a body language that might lead some to question the amount of effort they expended. 

I think the players on the Caps will be the first ones to tell you they have been playing too much on the perimeter in the first week of this season.  There seems to be nowhere near enough “net-front” presence or a willingness to drive to the net.

When he’s at his best, Montreal goalie Carey Price has a way of making tough saves look easy.  He made 30 saves against the Caps to pick up the win, but few of them came through traffic or screens.

Joey Crabb would ruin the shutout attempt of Price with 2:23 to go in regulation.  Jason Chimera made a nice pass from the end boards to find Crabb, who released a quick shot from close range.

The Caps get right back to work Friday night in Newark, New Jersey, against a well-rested group of Devils, the defending Eastern Conference champs.

Read more Capitals analysis in Joe B's blog