Sunday, April 20, 2008

Caps Live to Fight Another Day!

The Caps did what they had to do to stay alive yesterday - they beat the Flyers 3-2 in regulation. In fact, through the first forty minutes of the game they pretty much dominated the Flyers. If not for super goaltending by Flyers goalie Martin Biron, the score could have easily been more lopsided. During one 20+ minute stretch the Caps limited to the Flyers to just one shot on goal.
Significantly, two of the Caps three goals came on the power play, the Caps power play production in games 1 - 3 had been relatively anemic. Before their two power play tallies in the game 4 overtime loss, the Caps power play was 2 for 15 (13.334%). In the last two games the Caps power play has been 4 for 10 (40%). Making the more penalty prone Flyers pay for their infractions and playing a disciplined game, avoiding the "Sin Bin" themselves, will likely be one of the continued keys to success for the Caps, as the Flyers work hard to keep Alexander Ovechkin bottled up. The move of Nicklas Backstrom down to Line 2 and Federov up to Line 1 seems to have opened things up slightly for line 1 while not adversely affecting the productivity of "the other Alex" - Alexander Semin at all these past two games. In game 5, Line 1 Linemates Alexander Ovechkin -Sergei Federov-Viktor Kozlov all were +/- +1 and had solid games. AO and Federov each had over 20 minutes of ice time last night; Federov scored an even strength goal and the trio combined for 11 of the Caps 26 shots. Ovechkin was held pointless however had 6 shots and was credited with 3 hits. Game 5 was a physical affair - playoff hockey at it's best. The Caps were credited with 44 hits (hit leaders were Donald Brashear - 7 hits in 6:52 of ice time and Dave Steckel - 5 hits, 4 takeaways in 15:06 of ice time) while the Flyers had 38 hits on the evening (led by Scott Hartnell with 7 hits in 15:58 of ice time). Those watching the game know the Caps had the momentum and intensity throughout the first and second periods of Game 5, they were clearly the more intense team. Unlike the heartbreak of game 4 where the Caps often outplayed the Flyers but couldn't seem to convert that into a lead for any length of time before being victimized by the sudden death winner in the second overtime by Mike Knuble at 6:40 of the second OT, last night the Caps took the lead at 7:31 of the first period and held it throughout the game.
Game 6 is in Philadelphia tomorrow night. Fans should expect it to be just as intense, if not more so, as last night's game. Flyers winger Mike Knuble is out for the rest of the series after injuring a hamstring last night. Knuble has been fairly productive for the Flyers so far this series - he has 2 goals, 3 assists and is +/- +3. The Flyers scoring leader is Danny Briere with 5 goals, 4 assists and a +/- +5. Briere has been his usual elusive self and is often found camped out nearby the left goalpost at the bottom of the slot or just outside the crease. His knack for being there during Flyer power plays has been most annoying to Caps defenders and troublesome for Caps goalie Christobel Huet. Both goalies, Christobel Huet for the Caps and Martin Brion for the Flyers, have played exceptionally well. Huet's Save Percentage for the series has been 90.2% overall, with a GAA of 3.14 including game 3 which was a bad game for the Caps and their goalie (Flyers 6, Caps 3). Brion has been outstanding throughout all five games thus far, his save percentage is 89.8% with a GAA of 2.59 including a 2-0 shutout of the Caps in Game 2. While the Flyers have been relatively successful in containing Caps superstar Alexander Ovechkin, during game 5 it appeared the Caps have adjusted and other Caps forwards are making the Flyers pay for their focus on the "Russian Rocket".
Entering Monday night's game, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau will be looking to dispense the same "elixir" he gave the Caps before last night's first and second periods. Even with a home ice crowd behind them, the Flyers will need to work hard to ensure the Caps don't bring forward the same momentum they had in game 5. While Knuble's injury will complicate things for Flyers coach John Stevens, the balanced Flyers offense (7 players with 20 or more regular season goals) is resilient. The Caps need another big game to bring the series back to Washington for game seven. It's a position the Caps seem to have grown used to since December ("win or die"), also if Ovechkin gets another game with 6 shots, 2 missed shots and 1 attempt blocked it's hard to imagine he won't net a goal (or two), even with Brion playing as well as he is. In the meantime, the Caps are showing a pretty balanced attack themselves so far in these playoffs. So far in 5 games 10 different Capitals have scored - Defenseman Mike Green leads the Caps with 3 goals, while Alexander Semin and Nicklas backstrom each have two goals, seven (7) other Caps including Alexander Ovechkin and Sergei Federov each have one goal. The last two games of the series have proven the Caps were and are a championship caliber team, as much as any other Caps fan here's to hoping for a Game Seven at the Phone Booth on Tuesday Night and here's to hoping Philadelphia Sportswriter Phil Sheridan is correct. LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!

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