Saturday, December 12, 2009

Caps vs. Hurricanes Recap/Caps vs Leafs Look Ahead

Last night was a two point night for the Capitals though I doubt many who watched the game came expecting to see the one that was played. There were some pretty plays and you can't say the Caps didn't deserve to win this one, at least I don't think you should say that; however, if the Hurricanes had won their second road game of the season last night that too wouldn't have been undeserved on their part either.

The Hurricanes got out to a 2-0 lead in the first period on two "interesting" goals. I think we've all watched Jose Theodore enough now to know he is a fiery competitor and there is no goal, he wouldn't want back. That's probably especially true of the Hurricanes second goal last night, scored by Eric Stall, when Theo didn't play the left post tight enough or tall enough. That said, unlike some other's who have commented that the second goal was on Theodore, I'd say it was only partially on Theo.

However, let's start with first things first. The guy who had the worst game, at least the first 60:30 of it, last night for the Capitals had to be Mike Green. The official score sheet shows him at +/- even on the night with his GWG and 5 SOG, 3 hits and 2 blocked shots, but no giveaways. Don't get me wrong, I love Mike Green as much as the next Capitals fan or more, but even in his post game interview with Lisa Hillary he said he didn't have a good game. In the post game talks, Coach Bruce Boudreau said Green was having a bad night until somehow, like all great players, he found a way to do something great. Green's talent is only really exhibited by the fact that in spite of what I'll describe below, he managed to be elected the games second star of the night. Here's Green's night in rough chronological order:

1) Pushed off the puck and taken out of the play during a 2 on 1 break by the Capitals he is on the ice but out of position and out of the play when at 2:01 of the first period Jiri Tlusty opens the scoring when during a 2 on 1 the other way his defensive partner John Erskine fails to cut off the setup pass from Brandon Sutter. Clearly not his finest moment on a hockey rink.

2) He decides that like Ovechkin, the best defense, to being targeted for "hits", is a good offense and he makes two good hits on the Hurricanes himself. He makes clean hits and his point without taking any penalties and also puts some energy on the ice. However in so doing he did find himself out of position. Overall though I'd call these moves a good point. The way the Caps play now and the fact they don't have an "enforcer" means the rest of the league needs to know Green can dish it out as well as they can.

3) At about the 13:40 mark Green is covering Eric Staal in the Caps end of the rink. Stall retreats behind the net to shake Green. Green opts to go in front of the net instead of following Staal. Staal goes for the wrap around and is initially rebuffed by Theodore. Neither Green or his defensive partner Jeff Schultz latch onto or clear either the rebound or Staal. Staal lifts the puck into Theo's mask the puck bounces off the mask and rolls over Theodore's shoulder. Score another on for the Hurricanes. You can't say Green misplayed that one but he didn't play it well either when you see where he is as the puck goes in the net. I'm not getting on Schultz either (more on that later) as even though he could have played that one better, he had another good night.

4) At 13:07 of the second period Green is on the ice with Jeff Schultz as his partner. He plays the shift within himself and Schultz passed the puck to Ovechkin with a solid outlet pass, Ovechkin passes across the ice to Alexander Semin. Semin lets loose a laser fast wrister through a screen into the net past Cam Ward from the left circle. Score Caps 1 Hurricanes 2. Nothing fancy and clearly the type of shift you expect when your team's highest paid blue liner is on the ice, but hey put one in the plus column for Mike Green so at this juncture he's only minus one on the night.

5) With less then a minute left in the second period, Green is on the ice and playing smart hockey when Nicklas Backstrom finds Alexander Semin with an awesome outlet pass behind the defense. Tim Gleason of the Hurricanes almost gets back in time to save it but Semin gets just enough of the puck while Cam Ward is in "no man's land." Ward's weak poke check puts the puck back on Semin's stick with just a fraction of a second left in the period so Semin scores his second goal of the night and knots the game at 2 all from "the paint." That puts Green at +/- even and means that he has been on the ice at this point for all four goals scored last night.

6) Green is NOT on the ice when Tomas Fleischman puts the Caps up 3-2 with an even strength goal at the 2:52 mark of the third period.

6) At the 13:30 mark of the third period, the Capitals are on the power play with Jonni Pitkanen in the box for interference. Green misplays a pass across to the point. Tim Gleason intercepts it, races down the ice and blasts a slap shot over Theo's left shoulder for a shorthanded score. As explained in this article in wikipedia that since Green was on the ice when a shorthanded goal was scored against the Capitals that would mean at this juncture of the night he would be -1. Game is tied at 3-3; Green has been on the ice for 5 out of 6 goals, 2 Even Strength by the Caps; two even strength and one shorthanded by the Hurricanes at this point. Also another less then stellar play by Green who isn't having a good night at this point.

7)The game ends tied, the Overtime period starts and for about a minute the first thirty seconds is going back and forth, then the Caps make a line change. On this ice for the Caps are Nicklas Backstrom, OV, Mike Green and .. wait for it .... John Erskine; not who you were thinking right? Me neither, I guess that's why Boudreau gets the big bucks instead of you or I. With Erskine minding the store as the backstopper. Backstrom and OV take the puck into the zone and hold it. OV passes to Backstrom for what looks like a give and go to create some space for Ovechkin. Two Hurricanes descend on Ovechkin to make sure the Caps #1 sniper doesn't get the GWG. Backstrom passes the puck though traffic and finds a waiting Mike "Game Over" Green who has joined the rush in the low slot. Green puts a solid, goal scorers wrist shot into the open side of the net past Cam Ward's right shoulder for the Game Winner at even strength. That goal made Green +/- even on the night.

Last note on Mike Green - Boudreau's post game comments ring true, and he did get the GWG in the end, but would you like the MSM voting last night have given him the game's second start of the night over Cam Ward who stopped 36 of 40 shots including robbing several Caps a couple of times last night - not the least of which was another laser wrist shot by Semin for what would have been a hat trick? In any case if the award for Star of the Game is for the guy who was most notable and most involved, both positively and negatively in last night's game, there is no argument that Mike Green was one of the top three. Again not getting down on him, just emphasizing how important it is for a guy who generally plays 25:00+ per game to play well.

On a related point if you are wondering why John Erskine was out there for the GWG in overtime, then you should watch this game. It was one of Erskine's best efforts, he finished the night legitimately +1 as he was on the ice for two Caps goals Fleishmann's and Green's after failing to cut off the pass from Sutter to Tlusty during the Hurricanes' first score.

Other Caps who had great games: Semin once again munched on the Hurricanes. Ovechkin and Backstrom both had solid outings and the SOB line was very good; OV had two assists and missed on one he'd definitely like to have back and would normally score on. Mike Knuble had a good night, but his game sense and timing were a little off coming off his injury. However, he had two good chances that he'd normally score at least one of last night. Jeff Schultz had a very good night, with an assist finishing +1. I am no longer at all anti-Schultz, in fact I am now por-Schultz. He is one of two guys I feel on the team who totally compliment Mike Green when paired with him, the other being Shaone Morrisonn. Mathieu Perrault - the score sheet show #85 at -1 on the night, with 1 assist, 3 SOG, 1 takeaway and a 29% face off winning percentage. Perrault's, the energizer bunny, assist and takeaway so overshadow the -1 and the FOW that it bears mentioning. Fleischmann's goal was the result of Perrault's effort, determination and smart play, this guys brings so much to the team in so little TOI, you have to love him.

Okay on to Toronto, tonight. Here's the short and sweet. The Maple Leaf's overall record - forget about it, they are 6-3-1 in their last ten games. The Caps have played them twice this season and are 1-0-1 against them. The Leafs are looking for their third straight home win tonight and have been playing solid hockey. Over their last ten games the Leafs have outscored their opponents 34 - 33 despite two one sided losses to Boston.

Toronto should be well rested and ready for their Hockey Night In Canada showing. The Caps - eh, not so much... apparently after last night's game the Capitals boarded their charter only to find out when it hit the runway, the plane had mechanical problems. The plane was repaired overnight and left Dulles at about 10AM this morning per Tarik, however between getting on and off the plane, sorting things out, etc, it's probably likely none of the Caps got a full eight hours sleep last night. Additionally, the Caps had an optional morning skate scheduled at 11:30AM today at Air Canada Centre that didn't happened. What all this means, we'll see. For my two cents it'll mean, what it'll mean and given this is the second half of back to back nights for the Caps and the Leafs are rested and don't play again till Monday evening in Ottawa it probably isn't much worse than it would have been. I believe that the second of back to backs means two things all the time - to win you need 1) a solid night from your defense and goaltender and 2) a couple of forwards to step up and leverage some adrenalin to make things happen, tonight I'm looking for that to be Ovechkin, Knuble and Laich.

Injured for the Maple Leafs are: goalie Jonas Gustavsson who practiced Friday as he aims to return soon following a procedure to correct an elevated heart rate. Forward John Mitchell (knee) and defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (hyperextended elbow) are out indefinitely and defenseman Mike Van Ryn is out for the season following knee surgery. The Caps are healing though still list the following as out: goaltender Semyon Varlamov, the Capitals remain without forwards Boyd Gordon (back) and Quintin Laing (broken jaw) and defenseman Brian Pothier (ribs).

Prediction: Caps 4 - Leafs 2 (hey I figure if I keep predicting it, sooner or later it'll happen and I'll look ohhh sooo smart...not really, I figure OV scores 2, Knuble 1, and Laich 1 in front of a Canadian Nationwide TV Audience and just to spite Don Cherry. I can't wait to hear his comments during intermission, what xenophobic, humorous garbage will he spew tonight?


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