Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Caps 4 - Lightning 2; Caps Tied For First In Southeast Division

Ovechkin Ends "Drought" With Score In Third;

Large, Boisterous Monday Night Crowd Has Very Enjoyable Evening

Well, all I can say is WOW! First off a SOLID "2 Point Night" - that's what it was. Last night's nationally televised NHL Game on Versus was the game held at Washington, DC's Verizon Center and it was a very, very good "testament" to why more people ought to become NHL fans. Per the game summary a crowd of 17, 932 attended the game; the crowd included me and one of my USMMA college friends, Rob. Rob and I started last evening off by have a very nice dinner at the bar at Clyde's. I mention this because as we were finishing up our dinner Nicklas Backstrom's father and a group of his friends and family came in to gather and have a drink or two before coming over to the game. Rob and I made it over to the Phone Booth earlier enough to catch the warmups from our seats in Section 103 and I noted Pappa Backstrom did as well from his seat in 102. However, it did appear that a good part of the "Backstrom Party" decided they needed to provide CLyde's with a larger economic stimulus package and didn't arrive until just before the National Anthem. In any case, I digress, back to the WOW - game.

Quick summary: Olie Kolzig returned to Washington, got a short, dignified tribute on the jumbotron during the first major stoppage of play, and then got peppered by the Caps for three goals in the first while his teammates pretty much let the Capital's "Young Guns + 1 (Tom Poti)" do so. After that the Caps played pretty defensively in the second period. Unfortunately at one point they got back on their heels on a Tampa Bay power play and Brent Johnson gave up his first goal of the night and several us in Section 103 lamented for him since the way he's been playing he deserves a shutout. During the third period Caps "ace" Alex Ovechkin ended his goaless streak at nine (9) games when he was set up masterfully by young guns Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom. All six goals scored by both teams "were good ones - no softies". Both Tampa Bay goals were scored on the power play and the four goals given up by Olie Kolzig were all goals where he didn't get much help, if any, from the team in front of him. Every Capital in the game was +/- 0 or better, Poti, Tyler Sloan, Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, and Mike Green finished the evening +2. In addition to Ovechkin, the Caps other goals were scored by Tom Poti, Mike Green, and Eric Fehr. The Caps accomplished their mission (proving they could establish themselves early and control a game "start to finish") when the first period ended with the score 3-0. Even more emphatically the Caps' first two goals came on their first two shots of the game. The best player on the ice for the Caps last night though was the game's number one star: Brent Johnson. Johnnie stopped 34 of 36 shots.

More Details follow below.
Last night, the Caps came out for the start of the first period apparently determined to show the world that, despite letting up four goals so far this season on an opponent's first shot, they can establish themselves in the first period and control a game from start to finish. Even though the Lightning tallied the first four (4) shots of the game, Brent Johnson stopped them all with "routine saves", if there is such a thing at the NHL level of play. Then on the Capital's first shot of the game at 8:20 of the first period, with the "energy line" on the ice, Defenseman John Erskine made a solid outlet pass to Donald Brashear. Brashear carried the puck down the ice to the right side faceoff circle hash marks, stopped and did a move Caps fan's are more accustomed to seeing from Alexander Semin or Michael Nylander, got himself enough breathing room to put the puck right on the stick of Tom Poti, who, as they say, "put the biscuit in the basket." The goal was Poti's second of the year and matches his goal total through 71 games last season. The play was truly beautiful, and really goes to show the depth of offensive talent the Capitals. The Capitals second goal followed a short while later, on their second shot of the game. At the 9:55 mark, Nicklas Backstrom found Alexander Ovechkin at the left circle faceoff dot who when two Lightning defenders moved toward him, dished the puck deftly over to Mike Green who was following up as he often does on the right side. Green then put the puck past a "naked" and frustrated Olie the Goalie, his fifth tally of the season. Caps 2, Lightning 0.

The Capitals then "took it" to the Lightning for the remainder of the first period, they had several other solid scoring opportunities and Kolzig responded sometimes with a little help but often alone in keeping the Bolts within striking distance. Then at the 16:24 mark, in a setup that looked like it had probably been played out at least several times on the ice sheet in Hershey, Pa, Dave Steckel and Brooks Laich setup Eric Fehr who had no problem putting a laser beam into the open side of the net. Once again on the Caps third goal, it was solid, while the Lightning did have defenders in the zone they were nowhere near Fehr and had left Kolzig to fend for himself. Finally after the Caps third goal the Lightning tightened up their play and started to go to the net on Johnson. However, it was too little to late. Even though in the second period the Lightning outshot the Caps 18-6 and outscored them 1-0, Brent Johnson came up big when he needed to do so and the Caps never let the Bolts get too much momentum. Also, after the second intermission, it seemed as if the Caps once again began pressing their opportunities and forcing the play as much or more than the Bolts.

From a shots on goal perspective, the Caps and the Lightning each had 12 in the third period. Scoring wise the Caps opened the third period scoring with an even strength goal at the 15:54 mark from ... wait for it .... "CAPS GOAL AT 15:54 OF THE THIRD PERIOD BY NUMBER 8, ALEXANDER OVECHKIN." Jeff Schultz sent an outlet pass to Alexander Semin, who shot and Ovechkin blazed it by Kolzig to put the Caps up 4-1.

Later in the period at 17:51 Caps Defenseman John Erskine was whistled off for roughing, on a call that never would have been a penalty even a couple of years ago. Erskine was simply clearing the crease and mixing it up a little, "old time hockey style" with the Lightning in traffic. Like the marginal calls against Caps Left Wing Donald Brashear in the second for high sticking and the uncalled for "unsportsmanlike conduct" he, an alternate captain got for objecting to that call against him, it was a penalty that I call all part of Bettman's ruination of the sport. Hockey is a physical, contact sport and if Mr. Bettman really wants to see more goals scored he should do two things: 1) outlaw "the trap", and b) further restrict the size/width of a goalie's equipment. Instead he and his band of henchman at NHL headquarters want to outlaw or otherwise hamstring good, solid physical defensive play. Once again in the final two minutes of the game the Caps found themselves shorthanded and despite a pretty good night for the Caps penalty kill unit, yielded a goal to Gary Roberts, his second of the night. The game ended 4-2, with Barry Melrose, smartly and classily NOT pulling Olie Kozig while he was down three and two goals respectively.

The three stars of the game were:
3. Eric Fehr, 13 shifts, 10:13 TOI, 4 SOG, 2 Hits, 1 goal, +1 for the night - truly a solid
outing and demonstrative of the promise he has for the future.
2. Tom Poti, the 31 year old defensman, logged 21:04 of TOI in 27 shifts including 5:57 of PK time, had 2 SOG, 1 goal and was +2 for the night. Poti was only on the ice for one of the Lightning's two power play tallies and with 3 points in the last three games is playing far above his 2007-2008 offensive production and on track to have similar TOI and +/- numbers.
1. Brent Johnson: Johnnie had a save percentage of 0.944 turning away 34 of 36 Lightening shots. The only two goals he let in were when the Caps were a man down and in heavy traffic. His play in the second period when the Caps seemed to set back slightly on their 3 goal lead and were outshot 18-6 was even more excellent than his play in the first and third periods.

A couple of side notes, interesting facts and other thoughts related to last evening.
- 1. I'm just no longer a fan of Steve Eminger. When he was a Capital, I felt he had the promise and could maybe one day even be on par with a guy like Mike Green. After last night, I've decided he just doesn't have the character or class to ever reach his athletic potential. When he got frustrated in the second half of the game he just played lazy and dirty. For the life of me, watching from my seat in the stands in the right corner, lower lever, I have no idea how he wasn't called for at least three minors for holding/slashing and yes interference.
- 2. Contrary to what I've seen written elsewhere in the blogsphere - NONE of the goals were Olie Kolzig's fault and while the ultra-competitive Kolzig always wants "every one of them back" and occasionally, even at age 38, makes super-human saves, it's hard to see how he could have stopped any of the Caps goals even with a second chance. I couldn't agree more with Barry Melrose's reported quote when referring to the skaters on his team: "If I’m those guys, I can’t look Olie in the face. Probably the biggest game he’s played in years and they show up and do that for him. Those guys should all be hiding their eyes when they walk by Olie Kolzig tonight.”
- 3. My friend Rob, a Redskins' season ticketholder commented very positively on the size of the crowd, the energy level of crowd and the large % of fans in the stands with Caps Jerseys, particularly Red Sweaters. I couldn't agree more and note that an attendance at just shy of 18,000 folks at a Monday Night game against a Southeast Division Team when it's not April with the Caps fighting for that last playoff berth is indeed a positive commentary on what the Caps are doing right and how much the region is embracing these Capitals, this Coach and it's management. For my professional sports entertainment dollar there is no better value to be had. - 4. When the game was over, the Caps found themselves with a 1/2 game lead for the Southeast Division lead, tied at 18 points with the Carolina Hurricanes but with a game in hand. This situation should make for an interesting Wednesday Night @ the RBC Center in Raleigh, NC when the two team next meet. So far for November, the Hurricanes are 3-3-0. The Caps are 3-1-1 so far in November including a 3-2 win in regulation at Verizon Center in DC on November 5th.
- 5. For the game the Caps as a team were +20 on the night; they out hit the Lightning 20-15; and they were 51% in the faceoff circle. But statistically they lost the SOG category 36-30 and the giveaways/takeaways battle. The Lighting had 12 giveaways and 16 takeaways, while the Caps had 22 giveaways and 5 takeaways. Tampa Bay also has 17 blocked shots to the Caps 8.
- 6. So far on the season counting last night's victory the Caps have 18 points in 14 games. From a points available - points captured perspective that is 0.643 hockey and on pace for a 105 point season. That's not as great as it sounds given that so far this season so many games have ended in "3 point nights" that it may take as many as 100+ points to make the playoffs. However, it's infinitely better than being on pace to compete for the lottery pick like the Caps were on pace to do last season at this point in time.

Next up: Coralina Hurricanes, at the RBC Center, in Raliegh, NC, tommarrow night. I'll be "Rockin' the Red" from my seat in the ol' den in Bristow, VA.

LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

1 comment:

DMG said...

While I wouldn't classify Eminger's play as dirty, I do wonder if he's having an identify crises. He was tagged as an offensive defenseman early on in his career and hasn't put up great offensive numbers in the NHL and I wonder if his sometimes overagressive play is trying to establish himself as a more physical, stay at home defender.

As for Kolzig, he had no chance on the fourth goal and the third one was a nice play. As I said, I don't think you can point to any of the first three as examples of plays he "should" have made individually but, well, I will say this: I played the vast majority of my competitive hockey as a goalie and if I had let in three goals on shots like that from those spots in one period, I would be embarrassed.