March 14 2014 09:14PM
If there's one thing I remember from the 2013-14 Vancouver Canucks season - other than the Roberto Luongo trade, Ryan Kesler wanting out, Alex Burrows needing 68 games to score his first goal, and Henrik Sedin finally missing a game (..fine, it's a longer list than I initially thought) - it'll be all of the moral victories they took home. If you got points for those sorts of things in the NHL, the Canucks would be right up there in the Presidents' Trophy picture, like the good ol' days.
I bring it up because they managed to rack up another one of 'em on Friday night in Washington, in a game which they lost by a 4-3 score to a mediocre Capitals squad despite a hurried 3rd period comeback. Despite the battle and resolve they showed in the final frame to charge back, all they have to show for their efforts is another loss. That's now 22 losses in their past 29 games, as the team now already has more regulation losses (29) than it has had in any season since '07-'08 (the last time they missed the playoffs).
"Well, you have to be a realist." Those were the ever-so-wise words by philosopher (and now proud owner of an NHL goal) Nicklas Jensen, following a moral victory that failed to get the team any points.
The Caps opened the scoring in the first after Jason Garrison was caught admiring Jason Garrison's lack of wherewithal in the defensive zone. I don't blame him, it was hilariously mesmerizing. I think we need to have a discussion about Jason Garrison, though. Here are his ice-time totals over the past 7 games: 17:31, 16:15, 16:24, 14:24, 18:28, 16:38, 12:46.
He's basically a 3rd pairing defenseman who plays on the 2nd unit power play at this point. I think there's reason for concern with him, and after being quite high on him heading into this season (even if it was from more of an offensive production, fantasy pool point of view), I'll readily concede that I was wrong. He's slower than a glacier out there already, which is a problem since he's about to turn 30 years old and is on the books for a $4.6 million cap hit for the next 4 seasons. Just something to keep in mind moving forward.
In the preview for this one I mentioned how I was looking forward to seeing Zack Kassian and David Booth play with a pivot who wasn't named Brad Richardson, because I strongly believe we'd be looking at their seasons differently had they been playing with someone more offensively capable. Particularly Kassian, whose stellar passing has often gone unnoticed due of the black hole it has dipped into far too often. If you don't believe me, check out this beautiful pass he makes to set Schroeder up for the goal that made it 1-1 (also, while we're at it let's give some love to Dan Hamhuis' bowling ball routine that made it all possible):
The next two goals were scored by the Washington Capitals, and were assisted by
Tom Sestito Top Sixtito. The ironic part about that moniker I started, is that it was initially sparked by a running joke about how the team was having so many injury problems that we'd start seeing him be a fixture in the top-6. But now, the joke has evolved into a reality - he's doing everything he can to ensure that the Canucks pick in the top 6 come the draft.
Washington's 2nd goal came with the man advantage following an ill-advised hooking penalty by the man that the Capitals' broadcast team described as "a penalty waiting to happen". Sestito has 24 PIMs more than anyone else in the league (and 47 more than 3rd place), so that's not a terribly wrong description.
The problem in this instance was that Washington has the 2nd ranked PP in the league, and the main key heading into the game was to stay out of the box. They're a mediocre 5v5 team, and they're horrendous on the PK, so by giving them that opportunity you're basically giving them an out. It didn't take long for Ovechkin to score his 45th of the season.
While Evgeny Kuznetsov's brilliant pass definitely played a major role in the goal that made it 3-1 Washington, it was only really made possible by Sixtito's casual defensive effort on Tom Wilson. You can actually see the moment where he realizes he's out of position, and gives it his all to get back and cover him.. but it's too late.
The effort in the 3rd period by the Canucks, who entered the final 20 minutes trailing by a seemingly insurmountable 2 goals, was admirable. They pressed hard for some goals, and the Capitals turtled up like we often see teams do in such situations (though this was a little extreme, as they failed to register a single shot on goal in the opening 10:18 of the period).
Here's Higgins setting up Matthias to cut the deficit to 1:
And then just 3 minutes or so later, here's Nicklas Jensen's 1st career goal to tie it up at 3:
Let's get to Higgins first, who set both goals up. He's now 4th on the team with 38 points on the season, and 2nd in goals with 17. With Ryan Kesler and Daniel Sedin both out, it's at least feasible to believe that he'll wind up being either 1 or 2 in both categories by year's end. Considering the type of tough minutes that he plays, and that he hasn't missed any sort of significant time (yet), does he finish on the short list of candidates for the Cyclone Taylor Trophy for the team's MVP? He's probably right up there with Kesler and Hamhuis at the moment. At least for me.
As for Jensen, he's doing a fine job of making the people who were pleading to see him up with the team for months now look smart. He topped 20 minutes on the night, registered 4 shots on goal, and put that beauty of a wrister home past Halak. If nothing else watching him develop and hit new levels will make the final weeks of this predominantly lost season redeemable.
I say that because Mike Green's goal on the first shot of the 3rd period for the Capitals made it 4-3, and wound up being the game winner. With this regulation loss even the most irrationally optimistic fans out there need to start admitting to themselves that this isn't the year.
The Canucks wound up dominating the overall shot differential battle at 5v5, but that was due to score effects more than anything else. In the 28 minutes of "score close" situations, the Capitals out corsi'd the Canucks 30-24. As you can see from the chart above, the landscape significantly changed in the 3rd period once the Canucks went on to have 16 unblocked shot attempts to just the 5 by the Capitals.
Eddie Lack stopped just 17 of the 21 shots he faced in this one, and in 6 games since the Roberto Luongo trade, he now has an .877 save %. Forget the fact that many of those goals against have directly stemmed from horrendous breakdowns in front of him. It's six games. Just as it was too early to be proclaiming him the next big thing following his impressive 20 starts prior, it's silly to jump to conclusions following this rough patch.
Even the best, most established and reliable goaltenders in the world have wild fluctuations in their numbers, so it's something that just comes with the territory. I get that the "there's a difference between being in the shadows and being the team's number 1!!" crowd has a leg to stand on because of the aforementioned numbers, but let's try to remain rational here. He could just as easily string together a couple of stellar starts in the next week.
Feelings. You'll need to wake up at Noon PST on Sunday, for what'll surely be a massive group therapy session filled with tears, hugs, and memories.