Saturday, March 28, 2009

Caps Got Robbed But It Didn't Matter - They Won Anyway

Last night at Verizon Center was a solid TWO POINT night for the Capitals. Don't get me wrong, the Caps had to earn their two points, the Tampa Bay Lightning played a solid game after a rocky start. For all the hype about possible retribution, Tampa Bay tried to get back at Alexander Ovechkin and his teammates, the right way, by beating them in a physical hockey game, fairly. There was a minor matter of the Caps having a goal disallowed in the third period for "incidental contact with the goaltender." From my vantage point the contact was of a nature that was so incidental that I'm sure there might be as questionable call made somewhere sometime in the history of the rule but there probably aren't any that will be more questionable. Thus the title of this post since the final score was Capitals 5 - Lightning 3 since in the end it didn't matter the Capitals got a 2 point win in regulation over the Lightning and the New Jersey Devils finished the evening with only a one point overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, putting the Caps one point ahead of the Devils in second place in the Eastern Conference with 99 points. So now I'm watching the Villanova - Pitt game and occasionally checking the score of the Carolina - New Jersey game thinking of all things ... "Go 'Canes"?!?

To be sure last night's game, which started with the Capitals jumping out to a 2-0 lead and pretty much dominating the first period before Martin St. Louis put the 'Bolts on the scoreboard at 15:48 of the first period on a goal that Jose Theodore can't be faulted on, was "scrappy" and physical. But there really weren't any cheap shots and the game showed how close Tampa Bay is to being a "contender." Without a doubt the best player in a Tampa Bay uniform last night was Martin St Louis, but Steven Stamkos shows each game more and more how much he is "the real deal" too and former Capital Matt Pettinger had a good game as well. In the end though the Caps just had too much for the 'Bolts last night.

The "coolest" statistic of the night you ask. For me its that Nicklas Backstrom was 14 for 16 (88%) in the faceoff circle to lead the Caps in that category on a night when they were all pretty solid in the faceoff circle (59% overall). The sophomore first line center also had two (2) goals and an assist and three (3) shots on goal. Backstrom is now tied for #3 in the league in assists with Pavel Datsyuk of Detroit behind only Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, pretty good company, eh? Alexander Ovechkin had a four point night last night with two goals and two assists but Backstrom got the first star of the night while OV got the second. Defenseman Brian Pothier, who as has been well chronicled recently returned after being on the IR list for 14 months, scored the game winning goal, his first of the season and earned the third star of the game. Caps goaltender Jose Theodore put in a reasonable night's work stopping 36 of 39 shots he faced for a SV% of 0.923 and his 27th win of the season in 49 starts. Overall, it wasn't the best night by the Capitals but it was a good night. The first goal Tampa Bay scored was the result of a misplayed clearing attempt by the Caps skaters and the second Tampa Bay goal came from a shot the Theodore no doubt wanted back. The third goal was the result of a solid effort by the 'Bolts and again the five skaters on the ice will no doubt watch that section of tape and the 40 seconds preceding the goal a couple of times to understand how they got burned. However, in the end the Caps can look at the third period as an example of what they can do when they decide it's time to take control of a game, despite being out-shot by a count of 15 - 10 by the Lightning.

The Capitals are now only three points behind the Bruins in the Conference standings for first in the East. Of course the Bruins still have 3 games in hand on the Caps and the third place Devils have two games in hand on them, the Bruins and the Devils are each playing one of those games tonight. Last night's win means the Capitals finish the month of March with a 6-5-2 record (0.538 hockey) after dropping the first three games of the month. It also means Washington is 6-2-2 in their last 10 games (0.700 hockey). Much is being made relative to the motivation and drive, or seeming lack there-of by the Caps of late but from a W-L perspective, "the trend is once again our friend." The Caps have just six (6) games remaining, two against teams working to "play their way into the post season - Florida and Buffalo currently in 9th and 10th place in the Conference respectively. The Capitals other four remaining games are: the pesky New York Islanders who are playing for pride and challenging playoff teams, including Detroit who they beat tonight; a home and home against Atlanta who at 7-3-0 in their last ten games are one of the hottest teams in the league right now; and Tampa Bay one final time in Tampa who will be working hard to ensure they are not swept by the Caps this season.

The Caps seem to be on track for a 104 - 107 point season with 49 or 50 wins. That would be a pretty good bar to set and will position them well as a "legitimate contender" this year. The Devils now appear to be on track for a 105 - 107 point season and the Bruins are now seemingly on track for a 110 point season. So it certainly still appears the Capitals and the Devils are in a dogfight for second place with Boston though "slowing down" on track to hold on to the Conference lead. Last night was a good start at making sure the Caps don't get too lax during these last three weeks of the regular season while they are playing teams behind them in the standings. Next up the 15th place NY Islanders on Wednesday evening at Verizon Center...



Anonymous said...

Great goal by Pothier! A heart warming story about him.

Laich was robbed (of a goal).

The break from Friday's game to Wednesday should allow our flu ridden guys to get better.

DMG said...

I half blame the officials because I didn't see the contact and I half blame Nylander for standing in the blue paint.

Usually Frustrated Caps Fan said...

DMG: Hard to blame Nyls IMHO and as you know I'm most certainly not a big fan of his, but this season we've seen so many guys in the paint and even seen guys run into goaltenders without a call. Maybe it's because the Caps generally don't crash the net that it was noticable, but even then it looked to me that the D-Man backed Nyls up into the blue paint anyway, and the contact occured well before the goalie had to move to make the save.

DMG said...

Regardless of how it has been called recently, standing in the blue paint is going to result in the play getting called dead, especially if you make contact with the goalie. It's a pretty black and white rule and Nylander, have been in the league for 13+ years should know that.