Sunday, October 4, 2009

Caps Take Home Opener vs Maple Leafs 6 - 4; 14 Other Games Played In NHL Yesterday As Well

Well the Washington Capitals came out flying vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs last night, racing to a 6 - 1, lead before yielding 3 goals to the Leafs in the third period and winning the game 6 - 4. The game had a little of everything, more on that later, after a quick run down and recap of the other action around the NHL last yesterday and last evening.

Last night was a cornucopia for NHL fans to feast on and here's the results:

In the games in Europe yesterday: Chicago managed to turn things around and best the Florida Panthers 4 -0 in Helsinki, while the Detroit Red Wings were once again bested by the Saint Louis Blues 5 - 3 in Stockholm. For those of you following my thoughts with regard to Theo vs. Huet, please note, Huet did not play, the goaltender who earned the shutout for Chicago yesterday was Antti Niemi.

Here in North America:

  • The Colorado Avalanche took their record to 2 -0 -0 on a shutout by Craig Anderson when the Av's beat the Vancouver Canaucks 3 - 0.

  • The Boston Bruins rebounded from their home opener loss to the Capitals and bested the Carolina Hurricanes 7 - 2 in Carolina's home opener. Boston is now 1-1-0; the Hurricanes are now 0-2-0.

  • The Canadeans went to 2-0-0 with an overtime win against the Buffalo Sabres. The puts the Sabres record at 0-0-1.

  • Philadelphia beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 in the Devils home opener. My buddy Jim texted me from the game. he's been a Devils' STH since 1983 and indicated that it was one of the worst, if not the worst, performance by Martin Brodeur he's ever seen. If you can sense tone/mood in a set of texts, I sensed true pain. Sorry Jim, I offered to host him next week here at the VC, but alas Jim will be in sunny Rochester, NY for business when the Caps take on the Devils here. The win takes the Flyers to 2-0-0, while the Devils drop to 0-1-0.

  • The Islanders took the Pittsburgh Penguins to a shootout last night, but couldn't close it out and get both points so Pittsburgh earned a two points with a 4-3 win. The Penguins start the season 2-0-0 but they haven't looked as crisp as they did when they finished last season with the Cup in their outings against the Rangers and the Islanders. The Islanders start the season at 0-0-1 and are ahead of the Devils in their division as the season gets underway.

  • The Rangers bested the Ottawa Senators 5 - 2 in their home opener. Scotty has the dope on it here. The win takes the Rangers to 1-1-0; the Senators are now 0-1-0. If Ray Emery doesn't blow up in Philly this season, he alone might have more wins then the Senators, unless they figure out how to transform themselves into a team versus a "line" post Dany Heatley.

  • The Atlanta Thrashers beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 6 - 3 in a Southeast Division match up. It was the first game of the season for either team. While it's too early to tell anything, this could mean my prognostications on Atlanta and Tampa Bay will need to be revisited later this month as far as who finishes where in the SE Division. Of course last year the Thrashers beat the Caps and had 7 goals in their opener and where did that get them?

  • The Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Minnesota Wild 2-1 in regulation. It was the seasons first action for both of these Western Conference clubs.

  • The Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators played to a 2-2 tie in regulation before the Predators took the shootout victory 3-2. Once again this was the first 2009-2010 regular season action for either team.

  • The Calgary Flames beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-3 in regulation in what was the second game of the evening for Hockey Night In Canada. I watched the end of this one after getting home from the Caps game and it seemed like it was probably a fun one to watch. Calgary is loaded this season but the Oilers hung in there and as always watching Sheldon Sorouy tee it up is pretty cool. The victory takes the Flames record to 2-0-0 while the Oilers open the season 0-1-0 with their first loss in this season's Battle for Alberta.

  • The San Jose Sharks apparently took it to the Anaheim Ducks and came away with a 4-1 victory. Here's the Couch Tarts' take on the game. San Jose's record is now 1-1-0; it was Anaheim's first game of the season.

  • The totally focused on hockey, no outside distractions Pheonix Coyotes' handed their new coach a 6-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings in their season opener in XXX. How about them apples?

So there you go thirty teams (the entire NHL), fifteen games, in action in four countries on two continents - a pretty awesome day to be an NHL fan, at least I think. Not much worth concluding from the start of the season except for perhaps two things looking at these scores. In the Eastern Conference, if you're playing the leading teams and want to win, you need to come out as fast as they will/do, take it to them in their end, and hold them in your own end. In the Western Conference, while it is highly unlikely Craig Anderson can hold his current SV% 0.973 for much of the rest of the season, the Avalanche are a different team this season than last and will likely be in the playoff mix if the former Florida Panther stays healthy.

Now..."about last night"...

It was a fun night to be a Caps fan, my wife and I got to the VC a little late as she worked yesterday. We saw OV score the first goal on the screen behind the guy who sells programs at the F street entrance as we walked in. A minute seventeen into the game Caps 1 - Leafs 0. Per the box score Ovechkin';s goal was assisted by Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin. By the middle of the first period it's Washington 3 - Leafs 0 after Mike Knuble gets his first regular season goal as a Cap on the power play at 9:12 (assists by Chris Clark and OV); and Brooks Laich nets his third goal of the season, an even strength tally, at the 13:53 mark of the period (assists by Milan Jurcina and Brendan Morrison). Caps go to the dressing room with a 3-0.

The second period started with the Maple Leafs trying to get things going, first they replaced Vesla Toskla with rookie Jonas Gustavsson and they all stepped up their energy level. The result was Lee Stempniak of the Leafs got his first goal of the season at the 4:23 mark of the stanza. It wasn't a pretty goal the Caps allowed the Leafs to overload that side of the net and Varly committed too early, and Stempniak took what was given him. It was the result of smart, energetic play by the Leafs However, after that the Caps responded; first not letting things get away from them, and then reasserting control. The next three goals were all Caps and were all pretty demonstrative of the talent level the Washington team now possesses. At the 5:27 mark, just over a minute after the Leafs scored, John Erskine threaded a long breakout pass to Alexander Semin to spring him on a breakaway. Semin played it masterfully, score Caps 4 - Leafs 1; welcome #1 to the NHL for "Monster". Next Brendan Morrison netted his first goal as a Capital at the 10:42 mark, assisted by Mike Green and Brooks Laich. Then Alexander Semin got his second goal of the night at 16:02, a backhand in close over a pileup around Monster, the assists went to Ovechkin and Backstrom, If anything the surpirse here isn't that Semin scored twice last night, it was the nature of this second goal by the first line, it wasn't a pretty goal, it was a "greasy" battle it out in front of the net goal, and all three of these "young guns" seemed more than willing to mix it up to get the score. While over the past three seasons we Caps fans have routinely seen the strength of Ovechkin; both Backstrom and Semin have "muscled-up" over these past two seasons as well and this line isn't going to be pushed around or off the puck by anybody. Mike Green went to the box for interference late in the period (called at 17:57); it wasn't a horribly obvious move by #52, but when your team is up by 5 goals, any move using your leg to impede the progress of a breaking opposing skater is likely to get called and it was. The Caps killed off the penalty and went into intermission up 6-1.

The Leafs returned from intermission, once again determined not to be embarrassed by the Capitals. They also started to display that "gritty nature" that is often the hallmark of hockey teams built by Brian Burke. If the referees hadn't put the whistles away for the third period, and there were several calls they should have made IMHO, the Caps would have gotten at least 3 more power play chances then the 1 they were given in the third period. But again when you're up 6-1, you can't expect any breaks, and you have to stay focused and intense. Unfortunately while the Caps didn't breakdown during the third period last night, for the first about 7 minutes they didn't play "inspired hockey" either. The result? At the 2:04 mark Alexei Ponikarovsky got a goal from a wrister in close off of Semeyon Varlamov, though Varly didn't get the help he should have from his teammates and I'm pretty sure from the expressions on their faces on the jumbotron, both Mike Green and Varly would like to have that one to play over. At the 4:36 mark, Gustavsson and the Leafs got a break when, Alexander Semin opted correctly to NOT go for his hat trick and instead passed it over to Ovechkin who fired a blistering snapshot from about 30-40 feet OVER the left side of the net which was wide open. The pass and play said it all to me about this year's Washington Capitals. First Semin opting to pass corss ice to Ovechkin who had a 90% shot when he himself had a 45+% shot and second the way the first and second lines played all night. In fact all four of the Caps forward lines played well and took good shots on net last night, passing often enough to have solid puck movement without "getting too quite" much at all. In the end, this was a bullet dodged by the Leafs, at this point the game should have been 7-2, instead it was still 6-2. To their credit, the Leafs took advantage of the miss and came back with a tip in goal by Mikhail Grabovski off a shot by Luke Schenn and a secondary assist from Alexei Ponikarovsky at the 5:18 mark. Score Caps 6 - Leafs 2.

The Leafs third goal seemed to jostle the Caps heads back into the game, after that Washington responded, but so too did Gustavsson. In the third period the rookie Swede goaltender stopped all seven shots on goal the Capitals threw his way, after yielding 3 goals to the Caps on the twelve shots on goal the Caps had in the second period. That's probably cause for some optimism by the Leafs though his overall Save Percentage on the night was just 0.842 had had Ovies timing and accuracy been on for the snapshot he put over the empty net, he would have yield 4 goals on twenty shots for a SV percentage of 0.750 and a GAA of 6.00 in his NHL debut. That said the guy is huge and with just a little acclimation to the speed of the NHL game, I believe he'll be a star. The rest of the period went along with the Leafs getting away with a lot of things I felt should have been called but weren't and the Caps getting little releif in anyway from the referees. While I'll admit my angle was less than ideal it sure seemed to me that the hooking call on Ovechkin at the 10:12 mark of the period was a bad call and he was lifting Luke Schenn's stick, not hooking him. I feel the timeout that Gabby called at that time was a perfect thing to do to calm things down, and get the right matchups out there for the PK unit.

From the 17:00 mark on, Toronto played like a team possessed, you have to give them credit. The result was that at 17:57, the Leafs' Niklas Hagman scored on a ~20 foot wristshot, assisted by Mikhail Grabovski and Tomas Kaberle. In the end the final surge by the Leafs was thankfully to no avail and how the Caps did not score a seventh goal when the Leafs were playing empty net with six skaters from the 18:13 mark on, I really don't know. But in the end it was a 2 point night and the Caps start the season 2-0-0, once again atop the Southeast Division and in the running for the best record in the Eastern Conference. The Caps special teams again played well; the PK unit was perfect and the power play went 1 for 3.

The three stars of the game were 1) Alexander Semin with two goals and an assist (+1, 19:50 TOI including 0:50 on the PK); 2) Alex Ovechkin with a goal and 2 assists (+2, 22:12 TOI); 3) Brooks Laich with one goal, and one assist (+1, 16:27 TOI including 2:39 on the PK). It wasn't Varly's best night as a Capital but his play was far better than his stats would indicate and he didn't let up a goal until the Caps were up 3-0, and he didn't let one up you might want back until they were up 6-1. Further when the second and third goals the Leafs got, the entire Caps team was playing pretty uninspired hockey.

The crowd at the Phone Booth last evening was great, it was of course a sellout, and a sea of RED everywhere. In section 103 we had the privelage of hosting Quintin Laing's wife and kids and I've gotta say I don't know who is more courageous, the shot blocking "Q"; or his wife who brings a 1 year old to a game and stays the entire evening. Seriously though, you can see the family resemblence in the faces of "Q" and his son Hunter, especially when the father decides to finish his shift after he looses his helmet. Be careful out there Quintin, we need you.

Next up will be the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday evening in Philadelphia. It'll be Mike Knuble's first game back against his former team and it should be a good one. Here's rooting that Knuble gets his second AND third goal as a Capital in Phildelphia AND the Caps are the team that remains unbeaten on Wednsday morning.


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