Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Capitals 10 - Bruins 2 - YES, You Read the Score Right

The Capitals, disappointed with the result of their last game, a 3-2 loss in regulation to the Toronto Maple Leafs, came out of the locker room flying for their game against the Boston Bruins. Thirty-two seconds into the game, recent trade deadline pickup Matt Cooke scored his first goal as a Washington Capital. The Capitals early surge of energy carried through into solid play and the Caps overpowered the Boston Bruins for the entire first period. For the first twenty minutes, the Capitals scored 6 unanswered goals, ensuring their happy fans received free wings before the end of the first period. Adding to the euphoria, Washington’s sharpshooter, Alexander Ovechkin, tallied a hat trick before the period was over notching goal numbers 50, 51, and 52 on the season during the period. But perhaps Ovie’s best play was the assist he got setting up his playmaking center Nicklas Backstrom for the rookie’s 10th goal of the season in the second period. The Great Eight also had an assist on a power play tally by Brooks Laich early in the third period. With his three goals and two assists on the night, Ovechkin extended his goals scoring lead over countryman Ilya Kovalchuck and regains the point scoring lead over countryman Evgeni Malkin.

The Caps scored 6 goals in the first period, three from the NHL’s leading scorer and three from a portion of the game the Capitals haven’t always seen this season, “secondary scoring”. Trade deadline pickups have apparently allowed Coach Bruce Boudreau to put together a number of third and fourth line mixes that have some offensive punch in addition to the solid defensive play they’ve exhibited most of the season. The keys to these changes, in the game against the Bruins, were Sergei Federov AND Matt Cooke. In Federov, the Capitals have retained the services of a solid veteran center, replacing the injured Michael Nylander in the lineup, who can match-up with and shut down an opposing team’s number one center. Federov also brings the mindset of a champion and the experience of a superstar who’s been there, done that to steady the Capital’s “Young Guns” down the stretch. In Cooke, the Capitals seem to have gotten the player they had hoped the traded Matt Pettinger would be for them. (Since the trade “Petty” though scoreless is +/- 0 and is clearly also energized getting his shots and “mixing it up” for his “hometown” Vancouver Canucks so things might work out for both teams on this deal.) Since joining the Caps Matt Cooke has logged an average of 11:21 TOI and against the Bruins he was +/- +2 and had three (3) points with 1 goal and 2 assists. Even though Cooke only logged 18 shifts and 10:21 of ice time against the Bruins, he led the Caps in Hits with 4 and seemed to provide a spark and raise the energy level every shift he was on the ice. Matt Bradley certainly enjoyed his shifts with Cooke as Bradley was also +2 on the night with three (3) points: 2 goals (both assisted by Cooke) and 1 assist (on the goal scored by Cooke). Could this be a start of something new – “the Matts”? In any case, the juggled lineup with “the new pickups” have been super in two out of three games and solid, though outplayed in the loss to Toronto.

A game like the one against the Bruins is hard to write about succinctly because simply too much happened. In addition to all the scoring, basically everyone played and I mean everyone – all four Goalies who dressed saw ice time. In what would be the only low point for Washington, Christobel Huet did not return to the ice for the third period. After stopping 20 of 22 shots in the first two periods, Huet was apparently injured and the Caps staff opted to play Olaf Kolzig for the third period. Versus reported Huet had back spasms and back pain at the tail end of the second period. While Kolzig played well during the third period, and the Caps have a third, solid Goalie in Brent Johnson; Washington’s stretch run will likely go easier if Huet’s pains reside and he is available for continued duty. Duty in between the pipes was a “rotational affair,” Tim Thomas started the game but was pulled after the Caps went up 4-0 in favor of Alexander Auld. Thomas, who last week had a GAA of less than 1.00 and went 3-0, returned to the net for the second period when the Caps were up 6-0. Boston’s All Star Goalie then played the entire second period yielding 2 more goals to the Caps, came out for the third period gave up another tally when he didn’t squeeze his “5 hole” shut tight enough for the second time in the evening. In all Thomas played a total of 36:30, gave up seven goals in 24 shots against before being replaced Auld for a second time. Auld finished out the game and gave up just one final goal to Matt Bradley on a beautiful setup from Mike Green on a power play that would have taken divine intervention to stop.

Another highlight for DC’s pucksters against the Bruins was their “special teams” play. Washington scored four power play goals in 7 tries, while the penalty killing unit allowed the Bruins to score just one in 7 tries by the Bruins. As you would expect during a 10-2 victory, the Capitals fared well in the +/- stats category, the only Caps not on the positive side of the ledger were Sergei Federov, Alexander Semin, and Brooks Laich since all the Caps goals they were on the ice for were power play scores but were all on the ice for the one even strength score by the Bruins. Another area the Caps excelled in during the game was shooting percentage, not coincidently 8 of the Caps 10 goals came from shots taken “in the slot” and the majority of shots were from high percentage areas. If there can be any down-side to a game like this for the victor, it can only be that the two teams will meet again Saturday evening in Boston, and the Bruins will certainly be highly motivated to “even the score”. The statistics from this game, basically speak for themselves – the three stars of the game were: 1)Alexander Ovechkin (3 goals, 2 assists, 5 points, +3); 2)Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points, +3) and 3)Matt Cooke whose play was as previously described. Next up: the Sabres in Buffalo on Wednsday – LETS GO CAPS!!!!

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