Sunday, February 15, 2009

A TWO Point Day - Caps 4, Panthers 2

Ovechkin Gets Fourth Career Hat Trick
Mike Green's Goal A Game Streak Ends At Eight

The Caps-Panthers game today at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fl. started the way most folks expected, a tightly played game between two talented teams with eyes towards the post-season. The Caps wanting to send a message that after last year, they of all teams know not to look past anybody or take any lead for granted in the standings, nab two points and retake 2nd place in the Eastern Conference from the New Jersey Devils. The Panthers wanting to extend their winning streak to four and take over 6th place in the Eastern Conference from the New York Rangers. The lineup today for the Caps second game of February's Florida "Back - to - Back" was:
Forward Lines:
Defense Pairings:
Morrisonn - Green,
Alzner - Poti,
Schultz - Jurcina;
#1 Goaltender Jose Theodore took the start. [ed note: So I was off slightly on my guesses/prognostications this afternoon, Michael Nylander sat as a healthy scratch and got some rest as did John Erskine and Staffan Kronwall. It was a solid lineup to counter the hot and driven Florida Panthers team.]

The game was indeed tightly played, for the first period the Panthers out shot the Caps 11-8, while the Caps out hit the Cats 5-4. The difference was "special teams play," the Capitals penalty killers held the Panthers scoreless on their two two man advantages and the Caps power play unit went 1 for 1. At 15:38 with Panther Cory Stillman in the penalty box for goaltender interference, Alexander Ovechkin too a nice feed/set up from Alexander Semin and "walked the line" from the right point over to center ice where he used an excellent screen by Brooks Laich to zing one of the best wrist shots ever past Tomas Vokoun. The goal was Ovechkin's league leading 39th of the season.
The second period started out much differently than the first as the Caps got a quick goal off the stick of Eric Fehr at 00:30 of the period. The Fleischmann-Federov-Fehr line contiued their hot streak and Fehr continued to display his ability to light the red goal lamp. It all started when Sergei Federov took the puck out of the far left corner to in front of the net and was pulled off the his line by the defender, so he misplayed the puck. However, Eric Fehr was right there "with a nose for the net" to bang the loose puck home past a helpless Tomas Vokoun to put the Capitals up 2-0 just 30 seconds in the second period. The goal was Fehr's 9th of the season and sixth (6th) so far this month. The game continued to be a tightly played one though the Caps did take a few too many penalties. First we had the excitement of giving the Panthers a 4 - 3 man advantage for nearly a minute (0:50) at the 5:53 mark when Jeff Schultz was whistled off for holding while Tom Poti was already in the box for interference and the Panthers Richard Zednick was off for tripping. The penalty killers were excellent once again and the Panthers didn't get too many shots or clear chances though they did exert a fair amount of pressure. But then at the 12:08 mark with both teams at full strength, Stephen Weiss brought the puck all the way in and then found Michael Frohlich with a beautiful pass from the corner to the low slot that Frohlich fluidly wristed into the net past Jose Theodore. The goal, which brought the Panthers to within 1, was Frohlich's 14th of the season. Just to make sure the Capitals Penalty Kill team stayed in practice, Shaone Morrisonn decided to take an interference penalty at the 17:36 mark that pretty much kept the Caps from making a major drive for an insurance goal in the waning minutes of the second period. To be fair though it sure seemed like the Caps had more shots on net that Tomas Vokoun had to stop then Jose Theodore did during the Morrisonn penalty. Overall the period was a "tie" though the Caps seemed to outplay the Panthers or at least match their energy level at all times. Statistically the Caps out shot the Panthers in the second period 14-10 and though the Cats out hit the Caps 10 -5. Each team had a goal for their efforts and the overall score was 2-1 at the end of two.
The third period started out looking like it might be the antithesis of the second stanza of hockey. Right off the bat, Sergei Federov put the puck over the glass to rightfully draw a delay of game penalty at the 00:22 mark to give the Panthers their sixth (6th) power play of the game. While the Panthers' power play has been toothless of late, the Caps tempting of fate finally bit them and Nathan Horton capitalized on the man advantage to set Federov free at the 1:29 mark on a nicely executed effort that was assisted by Stephen Weiss and Bryan McCabe. The goal, Horton's 16th of the season brought the Panthers even with the Capitals and setup an exciting final eighteen minutes. The Caps tried to turn the heat up after Horton's tying goal but the Cats responded and kept even with them. At the 6:44 mark to keep up with Sergei Federov, Nick Backstrom did a turn of "anything you can do, I can do better" with Fedrov and also took a delay of game penalty for putting the puck over the glass from almost the same spot on the ice that Feds had done 6:22 earlier. Caps fans everywhere had to be thinking "oh noooo, Mr. Bill!!!" but the penalty killers once again did their jobs well and kept the game tied. At just past the 12:00 mark the Caps first line exerted a bunch of pressure that had folks hopping but then somehow even though neither Tomas Vokoun or Alexander Semin were in the crease, Semin got called for the Caps 8th penalty of the night for goaltender interference. [ed note: Since I'm lazy and don't want to look the rule up could someone explain to me how unless the referee didn't see the play properly how this happens? I thought since Vokoun was outside of the crease both players have a right to play for the puck and to be in the space they were in.] The Caps once again killed of the penalty though this time the Panthers did exert some pressure, both Jeff Schultz and Shaone Morrisonn got away with mistakes on the last penalty kill, thankfully and the game remained tied at two. The game stayed that way though the Caps seemed to decide they wanted to win this game when following the Semin penalty the Panthers tried to "kick it up a notch" and the Capitals responded with even more energy from everyone across the board. However, the first line really "put it all out there." At the 17:29 mark Ovechkin took the puck into the zone passed it to Backstrom who then gave the puck back to Ovie so he could put his 40th goal of the season past Vokoun to put the Caps up 3-2 with the game winner. The Caps then kept the heat up and made it hard for the Panthers to pull Vokoun though at about the 19:00 mark Vokoun got to the bench and the Panthers did a great job of keeping the pressure on with the extra attacker. Then first Alexander Ovechkin clears the puck and Panthers brought it back into the zone again. Next Ovie, got a takeaway at the top left corner of the their zone and somehow managed to clear the puck past the Panthers and just barely into the empty net for his 41st of the season to ice the win for the Capitals at 19:41, that somehow Jeff Schultz who didn't have too good a game otherwise, got an assist on.
At the end of the game, all you could probably say was ... "WOW" ... the Caps went to Florida for back to back games and came away with two pretty solid victories. Their "Young Guns" are certainly "clicking." Mike Green has had a phenomenal February so far, even today he was held off the score sheet for the first time since January 2oth when the Caps lost a game to the struggling Senators in Ottawa. As even a nearly dead Caps fan probably now knows in the following eight (8) games, Mike Green set a new NHL record for goals in consecutive games by a Defenseman. In addition to Green's 10 goals in the last nine games, league goal scoring leader Alexander Ovechkin also has 10 goals including hat tricks today against Florida and against Ottawa on February 1st. Alexander Semin has nabbed 3 goals and 6 assists; and Nicklas Backstrom has 1 goal and 11 assists (7 primary and 4 secondary) in that same nine game span.
The Caps are now 5-1-1 in February and 6-2-2 in their last 10 games. The Caps are now in third place in the Eastern Conference standings tied in points with the New Jersey Devils at 77 points. On the year the Caps now have an overall record of 36-16-5 ( hockey); their home record at Verizon Center remains at 22-4-1 ( ). The Phone Booth has indeed become a place where other teams would prefer not to play; the crowds are large (often sellout), loud, and enthusiastic - the kind of crowds that invigorate and inspire home teams. This road trip though was about taking the Capitals above 0.500 on the road. For that to happen, the Caps had to look inside themselves and then look at their Southeast Division opponents in Tampa Bay and South Florida and say - this is our division, we took claim to it last year this time and we are going to hold on to it now. Happily for we Caps Fans, we band of red clad brothers, the Capitals did indeed make that statement. The Caps took 4 points in back to back games for the first time this season, they are now thirteen (13) points in front of the second place Florida Panthers for the Southeast Division. They have also set a tone when it comes to facing their Division Rivals whom they have to face in 13 of the remaining 25 games this season. A tone that portends well for the Capitals; so far this season the Capitals are: 2-1-0 against the second place Panthers, who they will play three more times; 2-1-0 against the third place Carolina Hurricanes who they play thrice more; 3-0-0 against the fourth place Tampa Bay Lightning who they will face three more times; and 1-1-0 against the last place Atlanta Thrashers who they will face 4 more times.
Next up - the Montreal Canadeans Wednesday Evening at Verizon Center. I'll be there "Rockin' the Red" in Section 103 with my buddy Mike and texting my friend Rob, a Habs fan who lives in San Diego. It will be a good one, personally, I'm rooting for a Jose Theodore shutout, I'm all about irony.

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