Sunday, January 24, 2010

Caps 4 - Coyotes 2, A Two Point Night at Verizon Center

The Caps hosted the Phoenix Coyotes tonight at Verizon Center, I watched the game on Comcast Sportsnet as Tom had the tickets to our perches in Section 103 tonight. As expected, the Caps needed to play patient, disciplined hockey tonight to come away with a well deserved victory. It was a close game and though the Caps never trailed, the game wasn't put away until Alexander Ovechkin got the final insurance goal into the empty net at 19:54 of the third period to put the Caps up by two and the final score of 4 - 2.

The win over Phoenix was the finale to a "perfect" week for the Capitals who went 4-0-0 against a group of teams with who have a combined 111-77-17 record. In short this past week the Caps earned eight points against a set of quality opponents. If the season ended today Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Phoenix would be in the playoffs. Also, though Detroit would be on the wrong side of the tie-breaker even though in points they are tied with the current Western Conference #8 Calgary Flames, though I don't think anyone who watched it would say the Caps beat an easy opponent when they faced the guys from "Hockeytown". Four games against quality opponents - Eight points. Not a bad body of work last week at all. How did it happen - solid team play, solid goaltending, and excellent special teams, that's how.
Solid Goaltending: During the past week the Caps got solid goaltending from Jose Theodore in the first three games: Philadelphia, Detroit and Pittsburgh. Theo stopped 30 of 33 against the Flyers and two (2) of the three (3) the Flyers got past him were when the Flyers had a man advantage and were moving the puck around well. Against Detroit, Theodore played what was arguably his best game ever as a Capital; he stopped 44 of 46 Red Wings shots on goal, and was clearly the best player wearing a Caps uniform on the ice on Tuesday night. In Pittsburgh on Thursday night, Theodore also had a solid overall night. Despite mishandling the puck and giving the flightless birds a gift for their first goal of the night, Theodore settled in and stopped 35 of the 38 shots the Penguins threw at him. Overall in those three games saw Theodore stop 109 of 117 shots for a Save Percentage of 0.932 and a GAA of 2.67. Last night twenty-one (21) year old Michal Neuvirth earned his sixth NHL win of the 2009 -2010 season and the eighth NHL victory of his young career by holding the Coyotes to just 2 goals while turning away 28 of 30 shots on goal - a Save Percentage of 0.933. So during these past four games the Capitals goaltenders have delivered an overall save percentage of 0.932 including coming up big when they were called upon to do so.
Excellent Special Teams Play: Over the past four games the Caps have scored six (6) power play goals. Six (6) in fourteen (14) opportunities. That's a 42.6% success rate with the man advantage, talk about making an opponent pay for taking liberties and making them pay for their mistakes. As good as the power play unit(s) have been these past four games, the penalty killers might have actually been better. Through these past four games the Caps found themselves short-handed 19 times but have only allowed their opponents to score twice, that's 17 for 19 or 89.5%. Detroit, Pittsburgh and Phoenix all failed to score a power play goal against the Capitals despite being given eleven (16) chances to do so. That's solid, heads up penalty killing.
Solid Team Play: Last week, the Caps have outscored their four opponents 18 - 10. Nine (9) different players scored those 18 goals for the Capitals: Mike Knuble (2), Brooks Laich (3) including a shortie against Philadelphia, Alexander Semin (2), Alexander Ovechkin (4) including a penalty shot against Philadelphia, Matt Bradley (1), Nicklas Backstrom (2), David Steckel (1), Eric Fher (2), and Tomas Fleischmann (1). That's team offense. For team defense and toughness it's a lot easier to talk about if you watched the games, but it's been there. All four lines and all three defensive pairings have been playing well. Perhaps the most telling indicator of team play is the way the TOI/game and the average time per shift numbers are looking, especially when you remove the special teams play and look at the 5 on 5 numbers. Clearly the coaching staff has a lot of confidence in everyone who's wearing a Capitals "sweater" on any given night. This is a deep, talented roster and, so far for the entire month of January, they are playing solid team hockey.

Quick "hits"/thoughts about last night's win against the Coyotes:

- The Coyotes didn't make it easy that's for sure. They were disciplined, played a steady game for a full sixty minutes and were "in the hunt" until Ovechkin iced it with his empty-net goal at 19:54 of the third period.

- One might ask how I can characterize a game where the Coyotes took eight (7) and the Caps took 5 non-coincidental minor penalties as a disciplined game. Heck I'm asking myself that as I write this, but it was, trust me, it was. First realize the Capitals didn't take a penalty until 8:56 of the second period. Then understand that two of the Caps non-coincidental minors the Capitals did take were strange. Alexander Semin's delay of game while fighting for the puck on the tail end of a penalty kill was just weird and wouldn't happen again in 99 more similar situations. Nicklas Backstrom's non-coincidental roughing call in the third period, watch the 2 minutes prior to that call and tell me it's not "questionable" in your mind. Not questionable because of what Backstrom did or didn't do, rather questionable because of the two non-calls against the Coyotes in the minute or so prior to Backstrom being sent to the box. The other three penalties against the Capitals were all good calls by the referees and sure the coaching staff will go over them with the offenders but in a tightly played game against a team like the Coyotes it would be hard to imagine a penalty free game; add the fact the referees included Bill McCreary and the likelihood gets even smaller. The Coyotes seven (7) non-coincidental penalties. I'm not in the habit of making excuses for opposing teams but five (5) of the seven (7) were for hooking, tripping, or holding - all things you do when you are trying to slow a fast skating, talented high-octane offense down. I'm not saying they were "good hockey" but they weren't total bonehead penalties for no reason. In fact the only one of those was the Ed Jovanovski roughing penalty at 12:57 of the third period when he threw a punch into the pile up in the crease, pretty much right in front of at least one of the referees; fortunately for the Coyotes at that point they killed off that penalty.

- Neuvirth looked good and confident in the net. That's just a good thing after his prior two outings. He was positionally sound, not easily shaken, and the list goes on.

- It's nice to see other defensemen besides Mike Green joining the rush. Tom Poti has been much more active these past four games. Last night the guy who looked good doing it and who doesn't usually join the rush was Shoane Morrisonn. Sha-Mo had an assist, was +1 and had a team high five hits, that's an active night for a normally "stay at home" defenseman.

- Take Mike Green's 10:08 and Alexander Ovechkin's 10:28 of power play time off the score sheet and they each had 16:43 and 12:28 of ice time last night. Other than Green and Ovechkin, only Tom Poti had over 20:00 (21:58) of time on ice and 5:11 of that was on the penalty kill. Average shift time and shifts per game, discounting those three items, was very evenly spread around - that's a good thing.

- I'll write more detailed musings on this subject sometime when I have time between now and the end of the Olympic break but in another sign "the traditional enforcer" is and should be dead I offer two things from this past week: the release of Georges Larouque by the Canadiens and the TOI numbers of those traditional enforcers when the the Caps played their teams this week: Dan Carcillo: 14 shifts, TOI 9:54; Eric Godard: 1 shift, TOI 1:12; and Paul Bissonnette: 7 shifts, TOI 4:46. Before anyone jumps me, I am not calling Carcillo a traditional enforcer and that is the root of my thoughts and current thinking.

- Final quick thought, last night Alexander Semin just had an awesome game. He was all over the place and was part of every Capitals successful scoring effort. He was solid all night, no matter what he was asked to do. It was a two point night for the Capitals as far as the standings go, it was a four point night for Semin - a goal, 3 assists, and +2. He was unselfish, played heads up hockey and did it with an energy level second to none. So I have to ask, where are all the naysayers now? I've been positive about Semin for years, I just hope he ends up staying a Washington Capital for a long time, like I have since I first saw him in a Capitals uniform.

Well next up the Caps travel to Uniondale, NY to take on the New York Islanders on Tuesday evening. The Isles have been a tough match up for the Caps this season. The Islanders have beaten the Caps once in regulation and taken the Caps to overtime and the shootout in their other two meetings this season before falling to them. Additionally, the boys from Long Island are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games, and are one of eight teams now fighting it out for the last three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference with 54 points, an overall record of 23-21-8 and are 14-9-2 at home so far this season. This will be another good one to watch, I expect Jose Theodore and Rick DiPietro to guard the nets and the Islanders to come out hungry and with confidence since they a) need the points and b) have proven to themselves they can play with the Caps. I expect the Caps to be rested and also come out ready for the battle since they had a day off today, will have a full practice tomorrow, and hopefully getting to the Island won't involve any travel anomalies. All that said, the Caps will need to continue to play disciplined solid team hockey if they expect to extend their winning streak to seven on Tuesday evening.


1 comment:

sleza said...

"I just hope he ends up staying a Washington Capital for a long time" I couldn't agree more (unless he doesn't want to move to finland to play with hifk...)

hope rest of the season will continue that way :)