Well it wasn't always pretty last night but the Capitals jumped out to a 3-0 lead early and then held on firmly to win against a determined Steve Mason and Blue Jackets squad earning two more points as well as their best in franchise history 51st win last night in Columbus.
Alexander Semin opened the scoring with his career best tying 38th goal of the season at the 5:54 mark of the first period, with a blistering slapshot that virtually wet through Matieu Garon, an even strength 5 on 5 goal, assisted by Brooks Laich and Tyler Sloan - Caps 1, Blue Jackets 0. Then at the 10:42 mark Tomas Fleischmann made it 2-0, on another even strength tally, when he received a picture perfect feed from Mike Knuble, while both players aggressively attacked the net; Caps 2 - Blue Jackets 0. Shortly after that, Blue Jackets starting goaltender Mathieu Garon left the game (with 11:51 left to go in the stanza) after he was knocked to the ice when former teammate Jason Chimera crashed the net, bringing 2009-2010 Calder Cup winner Steve Mason into the net or Columbus. Mason's welcome to the game by the Caps me just slightly over 1:30 later when Mike Green put his 19th goal of the season into the net while the Caps were on the power play. The goal by the highest scoring defenseman in the league was unassisted as it came when the Blue Jackets, normally an excellent penalty killing team, made a mental lapse while they were two men down on a 5 on 3 penalty kill, tried and failed to clear the puck out of their own end right up the middle of the slot. Green smartly stepped up, intercepted the puck and rifled it past Mason through a very wide, clear lane from about the middle of "the slot." Caps 3 - Blue Jackets 0. At this point you had to be thinking this was going to be a blow out filled with really nice hockey plays as both Semin's and Green's goals were highlight reel stuff. However, not to be out done and to keep his team in it, Columbus Captain Rick Nash, while still killing the second of the two overlapping penalties, got a breakout going and rushed the puck down the ice, then frankly because no one on the Caps team other tan Mike Green made a solid enough attempt to get back and back check, Nash found a streaking Antoine Vermette who scored what seems to have become the obligatory, when these two teams meet, short-handed goal by the Blue Jackets. Score Caps 3 -Blue Jackets 1.
At this point a couple things seemed pretty obvious to me, 1) if/when the Caps stayed focused and played with intensity they were clearly able to dominate as Columbus really only could field one line that could keep up with and score against the Caps and one other line that could contain the Caps first and or second line. The only other way they were able to slow things down and keep the game from getting away from them was to play the boring, damnable trap that they are so darn good at; 2) if Jose Theodore stayed on his game like he had been during the first period when he stopped 8 of 9 shots including a couple really good scoring chances, that wasn't going to be near enough for the Blue Jackets to come back and win against this Caps team. Of course there was the fear, the fear that the Caps would get bored with the game and not play a full 60 minutes. In fact at times that fear was realized and that's how over the remaining 40 minutes of the game the defensive minded Blue Jackets out shot the offensive minded Capitals 27 - 16. However, in what I hope to presage his caliber of play in the upcoming post-season, Theo was absolutely superb stopping 26 oft hose 27. The one exception was a sweet second goal by Vermette, an even strength tally where Vermette was given too much time and space on Theo's doorstep and masterfully set-up by Nash and defenseman Marc Methot to draw the Blue Jackets within a goal at the 12:17 mark oft he third period. After that it seemed like the Capitals once again clamped down and tightened up their play. The only thing the Caps didn't do in the final ~8:00 of the game to ensure their 51st win was score an insurance goal.
After the game a couple of Capitals, including Tomas Fleischmann, noted that they weren't happy with their or the team's play peciuficlly the Capitals filure to score the knockout punch and put the game away late in the first or early in the second period. Seemingly everyone in the Caps organizatin, rightfully credited Jose Theodore's play (stopping 34 of 36 for a SV% of 0.944) with driving the win. Theo's performance was also recognized with the game's first star. The second star went to Vermette who had two goals and the third to Rick Nash who had two assists.
The fact that the Caps won and I still totally agree with the MSM selections of the Stars of the Game says something. That said I am still pretty surprised at post game comments by Blue Jackets center/former Flyers' Left Wing R.J, Umberger; per WaPo's Tarik El-Bashir, Umberger was quoted after the game saying "I don't think any team in the West would be overmatched by them. Umberger told the Columbus Dispatch. They play the wrong way. They want to be moving all the time. They float around in their zone, looking for breakaways and odd man rushes. A good defensive team is going to beat them [in the playoffs] he added. If you eliminate your turnovers and keep them off the power play, they're going to get frustrated because they're in their zone a lot." Wow, interesting quotes and worth some thought and response. First let me say my surprise comes from the fact I had never really thought of Umberger as either foolish or classless and to make these statements after your team is bested 3-2 in a game where you never really had much of a chance is probably one or the other. To make the statement about a team that looked up their conference several games before they played your team and leads the league overall, who sits in 14th in your Conference, is currently 24th out of 30 in the league and is already mathematically out of the playoffs is, IMO, definitely one or the other.
I'll get off this thought and on to others with three final comments. A) Enjoy your golf vacation after next week R.J. B) Also based on the faceoff report R.J., it doesn't look like you spent too much time out on the ice against the Capitals top two lines, since you had no faceoffs against Backstrom and only one against Fleischmann, you might remember it - it was one of the 6 (out of 11) you lost last night. C) Grow up dude, put on the big boy pants and take some responsibility for the absolutely awful season your team is having. You get paid at a salary cap hit rate of $3.75M (tied for third highest on your team). Your team has, just 77 points, and over the 59 games of the season has played horribly after having a fairly decent start the first 20 games of the season. Don't you think it might be more constructive to point to what and where the Blue Jackets need to build and improve for next season after a solid performance, but still a 3-2 loss to the leading team in the league. I mean you know rather than trying to deflect attention from the fact that once you guys were down 3-0, it was going to be pretty hard for you, a team that averages only 2.68 GF/game to come back against a team that averages 3.8 GF and an average GF vs GA differential of +0.9+, even if they do, you know how did you put it again...oh yeah, "play the wrong way." I understand frustration, all of us Capitals fans understand frustration - it's pretty obvious to see. So I'll ask you, a 27 year old pro in his 6th NHL season, what is more demonstrative of frustration: i) a team who plays a tight game, gives a lesser team who has and plays an effective trap a few too many chances in a game where they take a total of 3 minor penalties and come away with a 3-2 victory, or a 6th year pro spouting off, what probably were ill-considered comments, after his team looses a game where they gave the team with the best power play in the league 6 extra man opportunities and they spotted them 3 goals, all while that same player himself had a game that was basically unspectacular enough that his stat line is devoid of much in the way of entries despite having 22:56 TOI.
That said Umberger's comments do substantiate my feeling this wasn't the Capitals best 60 minutes so there are/were some good and bad things to note. Here they are. The good:
1) Already mentioned, but deserving of another shout out: Jose Theodore's play, especially the couple he stopped on close in solid Blue Jacket chances. Coming on the heels of a solid outing by backup Semyon Varlamov, the Caps goaltenders are returning to form at exactly the right time of the season.
2) Mike Green's play, again especially defensively, despite not being on the ice for either of the Cap's even strength goals,Green also wasn't on the ice for either of the Blue Jackets goals. His stat line other than notching his 19th goal of the season on the power play included 4 SOG, 1 hit and 3 blocked shots in a team leading 24:25 TOI.
3) Ice time was well and evenly distributed once again, the only Caps with 20:00 TOI or more were: Green - 24:25; Ovechkin - 23:50; and Backstrom - 20:02.
4) Faceoffs - the Capitals won 59% of the faceoffs (30 of 51) on the evening. In fact oddly the only Caps center NOT to win more than 50% of his faceoffs was David Steckel: Fleischmann 75% (6 of 8); Belanger 73% (11 of 15); Backstrom 57% (8 of 14); Steckel 30% (3 of 10). Of course most of Steckel's faceoff losses came against Umberger and Derick Brassard and neither of them are known to be "slouches" in that department.
5) The Caps second and fourth lines were very solid all night long. The second line of Semin - Fleischmann-Laich was very solid and when Belanger was rotated in as pivot the line also looked good as well.
1) The first line was held off the board by an effective forechecking and backchecking 5 man Blue Jackets team all night. When the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble or Ovechkin-Backstrom-Mr. X line did get a shot through Steve Mason had a solid bead oin it and didn't generally yield a rebound at all. It still seems like this line is holding back a little bit and perhaps even more so, it seems like Ovechkin is gripping his stick a little hard while he works his way through his current slump. In the end this is, currently, bothersome as fan but I'm not overly worried. If this sort of stuff goes on for, I don't know, say six more games, then I'll worry. However, given Ovie's career history, that probably won't be the case.
2) The powerplay unit was just too loose and that's how Columbus got their obligatory shortie. I'd sure like to see Joe Corvo get a lot more in synch with the Caps system and his Caps teammates on both special teamsand 5 on 5 BEFORE the playoffs start. Since Corvo only had 16:49 TOI on 18 shifts, I suspect the Caps Coaching staff feels the same way.
3) The Caps third line Chimera-Belanger-Chimera displayed lots of energy but wasn't very effective. When he's on Fehr is always on the doorstep and in the thick of things, last night wasn';t one of those nights. When he's on Chimera is much more "in your face" perhaps it was the familiarity of the opposing team with his MO, but again that just didn't happen. Given their pivot won 73% of his faceoffs the 3rd line just didn't have enough time in the Blue Jackets zone, that's something they need to work on, but in the long run, this is a line that ought to work and be more effective. I have a feeling these three will be spending some time together with the video coach before the faceoff tomorrow evening if they are going to be kept together.
4) Over at "Alexader Ovejtjkin" the comment made today is: "Bruce needs to sit down with Ovi and challenge him. He did it before and Ovi responded." I don't know if that's the answer or not but somehow Ovi needs to let thefun and energy back into his game and start having some fun on the ice. If challenging him does that so be it, whatever Ovi needs to once again let himself be Ovi. Maybe it is the Russian Olympic experience, maybe it's all this misplaced festoosh about the Campbell hit. Maybe it's just the pressure of a slump while in a race for his third NHL goal title, again whatever. My 2 cents - as far as individual awards and honors, Ovechkin has nothing to prove. Go out have fun playing the game like you always played it - if you're not the best player in the world when you do that, your easily one of the top five, in this day and age for sure, if not of all time. That's how you led this team, from long before you were actually given that C to wear, till now. [ed note - imagine a Bela Karolyi accent if you will] "You KAN Do EEt, Go Ovie, Go, weee rrr wit you!" Like I said, whatever it is, just forget about and play the game like you enjoy playing it, everything else will fall into place. Oh and now we know you are indeed a great playmaker too, it's okay to be selfish every now and then too.
Well, next up, the Boston Bruins at Verizon Center tomorrow night. The Bruins are in a five way battle with the Rangers, the Flyers, the Canadiens and the Thrashers for the last three playoff spots in the East so they will be coming into the phone booth very motivated.
LETS GO CAPS!!!