Sunday, November 16, 2008

Late Post - Great Hockey Weekend Ends With Caps 5 - Devils 6 (SO)

[ed note: Pardon the late posting on this, I got back from my sojourn to Prudential Center at 4AM, and I did not lug my laptop up and back with me opting instead for the trusty "moleskin" note pad, which made my friends Jim, Brian, and Mary look at me slightly weird. But hey its not like Brian and Mary didn't already think Jim and I were a little weird for being enthusiastic about the idea of taking trains in the wee hours of the morning just to see a hockey game. Also, two other editorial notes, Prudential Center is something the Devils got right - it's a great venue to watch a hockey game and the concessions actually have food I would eat again. That said, for dinner we opted for the world's best Portuguese food and perhaps the best eating out value in the NY/NJ Metro area in Newark's Ironbound district. I'll have a post on the game day experiences Jim and I had both in DC and Newark on another slower hockey day. The seats Jim has are in the "Goal Bar" or "Goal Zone" another thing Prudential Center does right. They have similar sight lines to what I'm accustomed to in Section 103 at the Phone Booth but are about 6 rows higher up. You see the goals at your end great and have a good view of the excellent "Jumbotron" to see the details of goals at the other end of the ice. Now onto my recap and thoughts for the game.]

Well last night's game in Newark's Prudential Center was another heart-stopper. To avoid anymore suspense - it was a one (1) point night for the Capitals who are 7 - 1 - 2 in their last ten games. All in all it wasn't a bad way to start a five (5) game road trip. Further despite having 1o goals scored in regulation and 1 shootout goal, it didn't seem like the reason for the goals were poor goaltending or even exceptionally loose play by the skaters on either team. The game was pretty intense and ended in a 5 - 5 tie when Alexander Ovechkin scored his second goal of the game with 1 second left in regulation. In a confused scrum on the Devil's "doorstep", the puck came right to Ovechkin, who was all alone to the left of the wide-open Devils net. He slammed the puck home before racing to Capitals' bench to celebrate while a video review confirmed that the puck crossed the goal line before time expired. Then game then went to 4 - 4 overtime where the Caps outshot the Devils 2 - 0 but Scott Clemmensen stopped both Caps scoring attempts taking the game to a shoot out. In the shoot out, the Devils started with Zach Parise put on an excellent deke that got Jose Theodore going the wrong way and yielding the goal to the Devil's leading scorer. Clemmensen then blanked Viktor Kozlov, Ovechkin and Boyd Gordon (Theodore stopped the second shooter for the Devils - Patrik Elias) to seal the victory for New Jersey and stop their winless streak at four.

While that summary cuts to the chase there was lot of action and great hockey leading up to "Bettman's Gimmick" last night. As the Cap's didn't "blow out" the Devils on Friday night at Verizon Center, even though the Devils are battling though numerous injuries and are without future Hall of Famer, Martin Brodeur, there was at least some trepidation when looking ahead to last night's back end of this Home & Home affair. The Devils came out playing hard and scored first at 1:09 into the first period when Jeff Schultz got caught and left Jose Theodore all but naked for David Clarkson to be well fed by John Madden on a play started by Jay Pandolfo. It was a very pretty play, well executed by the Devils and poorly read by Schultz and Mike Green. There was nothing short of a miracle that Theodore could have invoked to avoid being down 1 - 0 "right out of the gate." While it will be painful to look at again, it was a wonderful North - South "old time hockey" play all the Caps should review since it was definitely an example of NOT getting too cute by the Devils. The Devils kept up the pressure for the next three and half minutes then at the 4:05 mark Theodore robbed them and the Caps started to turn things around, however at the 4:40 mark Milan Jurcina got a Delay of game penalty for puck over the glass. For the next minute and a half the Caps Penalty Kill unit was excellent and somehow they actually turned things around and exerted some pressure at the Devils end of the ice at time. At the tail end of the Devils power play, in order to not get overpowered or be out of position, at the 6:34 mark the Devils' Brian Gionta was whistled off for hooking. The Caps went on to a power play of their own at the 6:40 mark and were a team with a purpose. At the 6:59 mark, Tomas Fleischmann banged in a one timer off a great pass from Nicklas Backstrom to tie the game at 1. At the 7:55 mark Tom Poti took a penalty for interference that the Capitals successfully killed, but for the rest of the first period the game was a tightly played contest. From the Devil's first goal on, David Clarkson was "in Jose Theodore's face" all night and it was infrequent when the Devils didn't have someone in the low slot; seven of New Jersey's 13 shots in the first period, including Clarkson's goal were from this preferred offensive position. While the play for the second half of the first period was pretty even, at about the 17:00 mark both team's "kicked it up a notch" and their top players made a push to go into the dressing room for intermission ahead. First at 16:20, Theodore had to make a pretty tough save on a wraparound attempt by Patrik Elias then at the 17:00 mark, ex-Capital, Danius Zubrus made a great feed to Zach Parise who fanned from a little over 10 feet out in front of Theodore. That miss by Parise allowed the Caps to respond. Starting at about the 18:20 mark it was the Caps turn to try and go into the first intermission with a lead. The first line of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Kozlov, along with Tom Poti and Tyler Sloan got setup in the Devils' zone and moved the puck around well creating a lot of pressure until at the 19:09 mark Alexander Ovechkin tipped in a laser beam slapshot from rookie Tyler Sloan after he received a nice setup pass from Nicklas Backstrom. The period ended with the Caps up 2 - 1 but not before Jose Theodore needed to preserve the lead by robbing Brian Gionta at 19:56 on a nice wrist shot from, you guessed it, the low slot.

The second period started with the Devils' Dancers showing some skin. Throughout the entire first period these lovely "Jersey Girls" were covered pretty much head to toe in black Lycra pants and red satin "sweat suit tops." However, at the start of the 2nd they shed the satin tops and had red sequined halters and bare mid-riff. Apparently, this might be an effort to exhort the crowd to cheer more and the Devils to "harden up" their defense. One wonders when the Devils' management will take the final step and install "brass poles" on the stages these lovely fans, cheerleaders, etc. preform on. In any case, apparently this ploy worked because once again the Devils came out flying and on a mission. At 00:41, Devils' veteran Jamie Langenbrunner scored on a 33 foot slapshot that Jose Theodore no doubt would like back. The play was started by Travis Zajac who sent an outlet pass to Zach Parise who found Langenbrunner open in the high slot. For his part Langenbrunner let loose a blistering slapshot from about 30 feet out for his third goal of the season to tie the game at 2 all. At the 2:29 mark, Mike Green go a two minute minor for hooking and for the next minute Jose Theodore was the Caps best penalty killer, then at 3:27, Theodre had less then perfect rebound control and sent the puck into heavy traffic in front and to the wrong guys, so Zach Parise, Travis Zajack and Patrik Elias made him pay for it, with Elias netting his 6th goal of the season. While, the goal might have been avoided had Theodore not let the rebound go, you also have to give as big an assist to the Caps penalty kill unit on this one since at the time of the original shot "the box" had totally broken down and there were seven players and the puck clustered into the low slot in front of the Caps goal. That said, it's probably still another one JT60 would like back. In any case the Devils found themselves up by a score of 3-2 and once again on the powerplay as Boyd Gordon had pulled down Parise during the scramble and score by the Devils. The game continued to go back and forth and Theodore seemed to shake off the goal as he made a couple of nice saves on the Devils second power play of the period. At about the halfway mark of the 2nd the Caps second line turned things up a notch after Elias' goal and put some pressure on Scott Clemmensen but he responded. For all intents and purposes, the Devils owned the first 10 minutes of the second period until Caps Defenseman John Erskine put a big hit on Clarkson at the 10:17 mark and that seemed to get the Caps going a little. Even then the Caps did not dominate the Devils but they did keep up with them for the second half of the period. At 11:09 Colin White retaliated for a legal hit on him and was sent off for cross checking. During the first half of the powerplay Michael Nylander was out with the unit and they were totally ineffective. For the second half of the man advantage, Nicklas Backstrom was with the unit and they worked very well together however, the Devils penalty kill was solid and they survived the man advantage with their one goal lead in tact. At the 14:41 mark Theodroe made a great save on a wraparound attempt by Zach Parise to stave off some more solid pressure by the Devils. At about the 16:00 mark the Devils Anssi Salmela rode Michael Nylander off the puck in the Caps end just to drive home what a less than stellar performance Nyls is having in this game; fortunately Tomas Fleischmann came back to help out and avert any potential resultant scoring chance for the Devils. At the 16:43 mark Viktor Kozlov stepped into the faceoff circle after a faceoff between Nicklas Backstrom and John Madden resulted in a "draw" and left the puck sitting just to the left of the right faceoff circle "dot." Kozlov threw a solid wrister from about 20 feet out at the Devils goal and caught Clemmensen off guard knotting the game at 3 all with his second goal of the season. For the rest of the period things stayed pretty even, notably for the last shift of the second period, as with the last shift of the first, the defensive pairing out for the Caps was Sloan - Poti. It sure seems, that like George McPhee noted earlier this week, Tyler Sloan is up with the Caps because he deserves to be there, NOT because of salary cap considerations.

The third period started out with both teams working hard to establish themselves as the team to beat, in other words lots of hitting. However, neither was able to overpower the other. Then at the 6:06 mark Patrik Elias found himself in the clear on a 1 - 0 breakaway. Elias didn't waste the opportunity, he skated down the left side and unleashed a blistering slapshot from the middle of the faceoff circle that basically overpowered Jose Theodore's glovehand for his seventh goal of the season and second goal of the night putting the Devils up 4 - 3. About a minute later, Milan Jurcina blew his coverage on a play that fortunately the Devils David Clarkson made his only mistake of the night on and failed to capitalize upon, else the Caps could have easily been two goals down. At the 8:11 mark the first line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Kozlov again put "the bicuit in the basket," this time it was Backstrom scoring, his 2nd of the season, from Kozlov and Ovechkin. Then at about the 11:20 mark the Devils just basically started to swarm in the Capitals end making the Capitals just look, well ... stupid. Theodore made several good saves but couldn't hold the puck and draw a faceoff to cool things off. The Devils kept up the pressure until Brian Gionta found himself with the puck, you guessed it in the slot, and a fairly open net as Theodore was still coming back over from the peppering he had faced on the other side of the ice. The speedy, accurate Gionta didn't waste the opportunity putting the Devils up 5 - 4 with his third goal of the season. The score looked like it would hold up as the game winner until Ovechkin potted the tying goal with one second left and Theodore on the bench for the extra skater. Unfortunately for the Capitals, Clemmensen didn't let the late goal shake him and was perfect in the shootout, while Theodore yielded one to Parise. All that said, the Capitals captured three out of four possible points from the Devils this weekend and start out a five game road trip with a point against the usually stingy boys from New Jersey.

Final notes: while neither Alexander Semin, Shoanne Morrisonn or Sergei Federov played, both Semin and Morrisonn skated during the pre-game warm ups that has to be a good sign. The fact that Morrisonn may be ready to play, and Tyler Sloan has played over 21:00 each of the last two games means the Capitals once again probably have a few options available on defense, even if Federov isn't ready to come back for Wednsday's game in Anaheim. While Viktor Kozlov had a fairly good night skating with Ovechkin and Backstrom, there were times when it seemed he struggled to keep up with the two "young guns" and seemed inconsistant. If Kozlov wants to stay there he has to play "full bore/game on/skating hard 110%" every shift the entire shift. Prior to this game I felt the right guy to put on the right wing if Semin wasn't there was Eric Fehr. Now I'm convinced Coach Boudreau got it right, it's Kozlov, but like we saw with Backstrom during the first 17 games of the season, Kozy probably needs 4 - 6 games to play himself into the level of shape he needs to be to keep up with them. By the way, that level is basically "superhuman" on a scale of 1 to infnity. Both OV and Backstrom have now shaken their "slow starts"/"slumps" last night OV had 2 goals and an assist for 3 points and Nicklas had a goal and 4 assists for 5 points. Over the past ten games OV has 5 goals and 9 assists in the last 10 games and 8 points in the last 3 games. Backstrom has 10 points (2 goals & 8 assists) in the last three games. The worst defenseman on the ice last night did NOT wear a Capitals "sweater", it had to be Colin White of New Jersey. Thought statistically While ended up +/- +1 with a point for his assist on Elias' second goal of the night, he was also on the ice for the Capitals powerplay tally by Tomas Fleischmann and was frequently victimized by the Caps. However, Scott Clemmensenn frequently saved White, he owes "Clemmer" at least a beer if not three or four. Though the Caps salvaged a point and now go west for the next four games of this five game road trip, they need to take a good hard look at these past two games. The Caps didn't play their best hockey at the defensive end of the ice and three of their next four opponents: Anaheim, San Jose, and Minnesota have similar games and weapons to the Devils. The Caps need to do a better job of keeping the slot clear and denying opponents so many quality scoring opportunities. On Friday night and last night the Devils got of over 30 shots on goal and over 10 each night from "the slot" or otherwise high percentage locations "down low."

Next up the Anaheim Ducks in Anaheim on Wednsday night.

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

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