Last night the Washington Capitals took on the Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center, the Caps retired Hall of Famer, Right Wing, Mike Gartner's number 11. [ed note: As I wasn't feeling well, I watched the game on Comcast instead of attending, though it looked like a great game, I'm sure given the sellout crowd, my physical presence wasn't missed. The CSN coverage seemed it's usual, pretty good, though it does limit your perspective.] At the end of regulation, the final score was Capitals 4 - Maple Leafs 1, in short it was a two point night for the Caps. It was another two point night and the third win in a row for the Caps at Chinatown's Verizon Center. The Capitals are now 15-1-1 at home on the season, are currently atop the Southeast Division by 10 points, and sit alone in second place in the Eastern Conference with 49 points. In the NHL's Eastern Conference standings, the Capitals are now 9 points in back of the Boston Bruins who beat the Atlanta Thrashers 2-1 in Atlanta in tonights only other Eastern Conference action. m
Both Mike Green and Jeff Schultz returned to the Capitals lineup after multiple game absences tonight. They predominately played as a defensive pair and this was apparently an effective way for Coach Bruce Boudreau to manage both of their playing time, as they work their way back to mid-season shape. Through the first period each players respective Time On Ice (TOI) was: Green -7:44 ; Schultz - 6:44. During the second period their respective TOI was: Green -8:12 ; Schultz -6:13 . In the third period, Green had 5:57 TOI and Schultz had 5:34 TOI. Overall through the entire game Green had 21:53 and Schultz had 18:31 TOI; Green finished with 2 assists, 4 blocked shots and was +2 on the night, Schultz had 2 blocked shots and was +2 on the night as well. Clearly, their presence in the lineup helped against Toronto and it will only be even more valuable on Tuesday night in Buffalo when the Capitals try and make it four (4) wins in a row against the Sabres. Mike Green came out "firing on all cylinders," and made an impact from early on. At 14:06 of the first period Green "rang the bell" by hitting the post on what otherwise would have been his first goal after his hiatus with a really sharp snapshot. Unfortunately just under 20 seconds later, the Caps gave up the puck to the Leafs and Niklas Hagman got a nice bounce when the puck came through three Washington Capitals onto his stick and he put the puck past Jose Theodore to put the Maple Leafs up 1-0. Then right after that, in another of this seasons,really bad calls, the teams found themselves playing 4-on-4 hockey, instead of a Caps 5 on 4 power play, because according to the referee felt Jose Theodore was guilty of diving when he was tripped up by Lee Stempniak. How this conclusion was arrived at since Theodore never went all the way down to the ice and was back in position within less than two second is anyones guess. However, as the evening progressed and it became clear that the Caps were a better 4 - on - 4 team than Toronto tonight, Caps fans stopped worrying about wether it was a 5 on 4 or 4 on 4 situation.
The one disturbing thing of note through the period for the Caps was the Maple Leafs were playing a more physical game then the Caps and using that to create opportunities. For example, at the 16:51 mark Nik Antropov basically decked Michael Nylander as he entered the Leafs zone, took the puck and led a solid breakout that turned into an odd man rush for the Maple Leafs and then crowded Jose Theodore when he made the stop. Brooks Laich did step in to the fray after the stop but Antropov had a clear size and attitude advantage. Donald Brashear was sent out for the next shift tried to get something started with the Maple Leafs but none of the Leafs wanted to take him on, and they continued to "finish" their plays and checks a little late for the remainder of the period.
Jose Theodore probably would have liked to have another chance at Hagman's goal but he played well all night and kept the Capitals in it a couple of times during the first period. For example, or perhaps most pointedly at 18:02 mark of the first stanza, Theo robbed Jeremy Williams, to keep the Caps just one goal behind. The save was a solid one but the Maple Leafs probably should have never had that particular scoring chance. The only reason they did was because once again they "out-muscled" the Capitals. The Caps did respond and tried valiantly to tie the game up before the end on the first period, but it was to no avail. At 18:30, the Caps first line set up nicely and had another scoring chance but they failed to "get in Vesla Toskla's face" like Antropov and the Leafs were doing at the other end of the ice. Once more at the 19:20 mark the Caps had another scoring chance turned back by Toskla, though again they didn't really get a second or third shot on net. If they had done so, maybe that scoring chance would have gone in. After one last save, at 19:50 by Jose Theodore when Milan Jurcina gae the puck up to the Leafs, the period ended Caps 0 - Maple Leafs 1.
The Caps didn't play a bad period of hockey though at this juncture it did seem worrisome that they hadn't ended the period leading on the scoreboard. Had they run into a hot goaltender who was going to steal a game for his team? After all they were playing well enough to be tied or winning the game. The statistics at the end of the first period were:
- SOG: Caps 12, Maple Leafs 10;
- Hits: Caps 3, Maple Leafs 8;
- Goals: Caps 0, Maple Leafs 1.
It seemd the major differences were the Maple Leafs were playing a much more physical hockey than the Caps and Vesla Toskla had robbed the Caps a couple more times than Theo has robbed the Maple Leafs.
Through the second period, the Caps played a much more physical game by a fair measure and the results were noticable both while watching the game and on the scoreboard. At 6:39 of the second period, Mike Green was called for interference and the Maple leafs got their first power play opportunity of the game. During the next two minutes, Karl Alzner was all over the place and the Caps killed of the man advantage very effectively. During the period, the Caps had a lot of good first chances, but they needed to get grittier, and make stopping their scoring chances harder for Tesla. Tesla had a solid game, no doubt, but through the 11:07 mark of the second period with the score still 1-0 Leafs @ 11:07, and the second period SOG Caps 7, Leafs 6, the Caps were making him look even better by giving him a fair amount of room to both play the inital shot and manage the rebounds. Indeed through that point the Caps first line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Kozlov were being well handled by Leafs and tightly played by the Leafs. then at the 12:06 mark, it was the Caps chance to go on the power play as a result of an interference call on Pavel Kubina when he stepped in between Donald Brashear's legs. This time the Caps power play unit quickly got control of the puck and the ice, set things up in classic fashion, moving the puck laterally with Brooks Laich setting up on the doorstep. Then the play went Mike Green to Nicklas Backstrom to Brooks Laich. Laich then took the puck across the front of the crease from the right post, and used the room the Leafs gave him to put the puck nicely into the left side of the net when Toskla couldn't follow him fast enough. Tie Game 1-1 at 12:54 of the second period, lets' go Caps.
After the Caps tied the game they worked hard to try and take the lead. There were several times when they worked hard and got their noses dirty in those attempts including at the 15:40 mark when the third line of Brooks Laich - Dave Steckel - Eric Fehr dug hard and went for the gusto but Toskla denied them once more. That attempt was quickly followed up by a nice patented Mike Green rush at 15:45, as well as another nice Mike Green rush and scoring attempt at 16:30 that was foiled once more by Toskla. Then at the 18:02 mark another 4 on 4 started after Chris Clark mixed it up a little with Jonas Frogren - it appears that "the Captain is back" since from the replay it looked like Frogren was trying to take some libertties with him along the boards, so he figured he wanted to mix it up to make sure the Leafs understood he wasn't going to let that happen in his house without retaliating. It was during this second 4-on-4 of the night that it became apparent the Caps knew how to use the open ice as well or better than the Maple Leafs. First at 19:05, with Michael Nylander and Ovechkin out as forwards for the Caps Nylander made a nice play and scoring attempt but shot it wide of the net. Then at 19:45, in another of those at least once game moments when he shows why he alone is often worth the price of admission, Alexander Ovechkin decided he wanted to make something happen and lays two quick solid hits on the Leafs in their own end, causes the Leafs to turn over the puck to backstrom who puts the puck back to Ovie. Ovie then missed that attempt but five seconds later ends up with the puck in the neutral zone, comes back into the zone at 19:50 and he uses Ian White for the screen and puts the puck past Toskla 5-hole before Toskla can squeeze the door shut. The Caps 4-4 quartet on the ice at the time was Ovechkin, Backstrom, Laich and Green; a pretty awesome array of firepower and puckhandling skill given all the injuries to their opening day line-up. The period ended with the Caps leading 2 - 1 and owning all the momentum. The top level second period statistics were: SOG Caps 12, Maple Leafs 6; Hits Caps 5, Leafs 2; Goals Caps 2, Leafs 0. Score: Capitals 2, Maple Leafs 1.
The Capitals in general and Jose Theodore in particular played the third period like men on a mission, a mission for two points. For example, at 1:25 Mike Green tries to get too cute with an outlet pass that was too long by a zone, turned over the puck, but Theodore stepped up and made an excellent first save on Tomas Kabrele and made sure there was no rebound. Then at 3:59, Milan Jurcina gives the Maple Leafs their second 5 - on -4 power play of the night when he was whistled off for a weak, inadvertant hook, However, the Caps Penalty Kill unit is superb and allows Toronto only one shot on goal, successfully smoothering the Maple Leaf power play. After that the Caps try hard for an insurance goal to no avail. At 8:25 Toskla robs the Caps again, when Boyd Gordon and Brooks Laich dig hard and manufacture a solid, gritty scoring chance. Then there were a couple of times when it seemed the Caps got some "divine intervention" to stay up by one goal. For instance at the 9:25 mark the Caps got a lucky break when the Leafs hit post and Ghrobovsky and Hageman couldn't finish it, most Caps fans watching had to be thinking at that point something on the order of "Whew, thanks for that clear, Jeff Schultz, better a little late then never." At the 10:35 mark, the teams got to play another 4 on 4 when Sean Collins was whistled off for interference and Andre Deveraux was called for diving, in a call on Deveraux that could easily have been a make-up call for the Theodore diving call in the first period. That 4-on-4 passed without incident.
The one possible piece of bad news from the night for Caps fans occured at the 14:45 mark. Play was stopped with Matt Bradley down on the ice after he missed a check and found himself down, and apparently out, on the ice. Bradley left the game after that and per Tarik El-Brashir's blog "Word on Matt Bradley is that he's "ok" after going head first into the boards in the third period, but no one seemed very sure of his status. We'll have to wait and see what tomorrow brings."
With the Caps up by just one goal the Leafs played them very tightly throughout the third period, hoping for a mistake Washington. However, the next mistake was by the Leafs when at 15:43, the Leaf's normal go to defenseman Tomas Kaberle gave up the puck in the Leafs zone, the Caps got real gritty, and Brooks Laich made them pay when he scored his 10th goal of the night (unassisted.) Score 3-1 Caps. They needed that goal at this juncture.
Down by two goals, Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson pulled goalie Vesla Tesla at the 18:45 mark and for about 20 seconds the Leafs mounted excellent pressure on the Caps with their extra skater. The Caps responded well thought with nice protection on Theodore and the goal. Theo stopped the puck and held to force a faceoff in the Caps end at 19:16. After the faceoff the Capsgot control of the puck and Backstrom sent a nice cross ice pass to Ovechkin on the right boards. Ovechkin apparently tried to slow up and get the puck to Laich so he might get the first hat trick of his career but Tomas Kaberle responded pretty quickly and that option really wasn't available to the Caps superstar so he netted his second goal of the game, his 25th of the season to ice the score Caps 4 - Maple Leafs 1.
It was a good night for the Caps in general and Brooks Laich, Alexander Ovechkin and Jose Theodore, the three stars of the game, in particular. Next up, the Sabres in Buffalo on Tuesday night.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!