Sunday, October 10, 2010

What A Differance A Day (and a season) Make... Caps 7 - Devils 2

Well I'm not sure I watched the same team in the live game I attended last night at Verizon as I watched sitting here in Bristow on CSN HD play in Atlanta on Friday evening. No I'm not talking about the minor change of Boyd Gordon in the line-up last night with David Steckel in the press box, either. I'm talking about the fact that last night at Verizon Center I and 18,276 other Washington Capitals fans watched a team that didn't abandon their game plan and didn't get flustered or frustrated despite being down 2-1 through the first period and being out shot throughout the game by the New Jersey Devils last evening.

Last night after the first period, instead of getting frustrated and trying to get too fancy and play outside their own very considerable abilities and talents, the Capitals came out ready to play in the second period. The adjustments and changes between the first and second period, were simple and straight-forward from what I could see, they resolved to not get out-worked and they simplified their game. The result was that just 1:59 into the second stanza, Tomas Fleischmann tied it up, and the battle was on. To be clear, this game was two separate games to me - the first game was from the opening face off through the 14:31 mark of the second period to put the Capitals up for good. Once the Great Eight scored his first goal of the game and the Capitals took the lead, frankly in something very uncommon for playing the Devils - they really never looked back. While the Devils continue to out shoot the Capitals, Michal Neuvirth played very well and he did get help from his blueline corps clearing out the front of the net - to the extent that is possible in "the new NHL" without getting penalized too often so the Caps responded. At the other end the Devils --- well, not so much. Through two periods Devils starter and future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur had a 0.750 SV%, yes you read that correctly. During the last 5:30 of the second period Brodeur allowed 3 pucks to find the back of the net, including loosing a penalty shot duel with Capitals Captain Alexander Ovechkin with just 48 seconds left in the period. Ovechkin's second goal of the game put the Capitals up 5-2 and set the stage for the Devils to replace Brodeur with back-up Johan Hedberg for the final 20 minutes of the game. When was the last time that happened, you know he of 110 career shutouts getting pulled from a game? Of course when was the last time that Glory Days had to fork over free wings for us Caps fans when we played Marty and the Devils? (I'm honestly asking that question since I'm not going to research that one, rather I'll just enjoy my wings compliments of the Devils.)

Well the third period was another instance of "what a difference a ... this time: season ... makes. The Capitals really did not let up at all. The game started to get a little "scrappy" right off the bat and as a result, the Capitals ended up with a Too Many Men on the Ice penalty at the 2:16 mark into the third period. The Devils tried to mount some pressure and get at least one of the three goals they were down back but the Capitals were doing a pretty good job on the Penalty Kill. Then at the 3:07 mark the Caps cleared the puck the length of the ice and Hedberg decided he'd come out of the net, play the puck and try and tack advantage of the Capitals new more aggressive penalty killing style since the forwards on the PK unit were pursuing the two NJ defenders coming back for the puck, you know ala Marty Turco style. However since Hedberg is decidedly NOT Marty Turco or Marty Brodeur when it comes to puck handling skills, when he totally flubbed the clearing attempt, Brooks Laich had virtually no choice but to put the puck into the basically empty net afforded him - Caps 6, Devils 2.

After scoring their sixth goal of the evening, the Capitals did seem to try and change their style of play a little to be more of a safe, defensive game. However, for whatever reason, the Devils seemed determined to try and turn thins around, or maybe they we a little embarrassed or insulted by this because from that point of the game on, the Devils really seemed to be trying to get something, anything going; however they certainly weren't playing any sort of disciplined hockey. First I think to both try and spark his team and to finish up a side battle that had been going on at some level all evening Devils heavyweight and designated agitator in front of the net David Clarkson and the guy I'd say is as close to him in role for the Capitals - Jason Chimera dropped the gloves and went at it, earning coincidental fighting majors at the 4:03 mark of the third period. That fight really didn't do much to change the tenor of the game or get the Devils fired up, and what little it did was squished when at the 8:34 mark of the period Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblonde got his first of 2 minutes of 21 penalty minutes (more on that in a few sentences) of the game, and Eric Fehr scored the Capitals seventh goal of the evening at the 10:27 mark of the period just as the power play was getting ready to end. That said with the score now 7-2 in favor of the Capitals, why did we need to "Unleash The Fury" - I mean that cheer works so well in close games at this juncture but did it really fit the moment when it was played last night?

At this point one might have thought that the last nine minutes of the game should be allowed to expire uneventfully and these two beasts of the East go on to regroup for their next opponents. However, that was not to be. I have to say of all the things I didn't expect to see and that surprised me last night up until the 15:43 mark of the third period it would have been the simple legend on the scoreboard - Capitals 7 - Devils 2. Then at the 15:43 mark just when I thought I'd seen it all in this game, Ilya Kovalchuck of the Devils and Mike Green of the Capitals decide to "go at it" - no simple quick get into hockey fight for these two, why should it be - when you fight as seldom as these two, you may as well "do it right." By that I mean - stop, put down your stick, drop your gloves, and remove your helmet and visor, then square off and go for it. Really but the surprises were through yet, while I'm inclined to call it a draw, if I had to pick a winner I'd go with Mike Green even though he's 2" shorter and 25# lighter than Kovy - it really just wasn't the Devils' night now was it?

Of course now here's where stories like this either end or get REALLY bizarre and ... well this one got really bizarre. After Green and Kovy were sent to the dressing room, just 4 seconds later Rod Pelley and Matt Hendricks decided to drop the gloves, a nice simple enough hockey fight that I'll again say was one where both guys got in a few good "licks" and went to the dressing room at the 15:47 mark. Are we done yet? Short answer no, just another two seconds and at the 15:49 mark Matt Bradley takes exception to something David Clarkson did or said, so Clarkson has his second fight of the evening and Bradley his first. Again this is a fight that if you were handicapping it before it happened you'd bet on Clarkson, but maybe his arms were tired from his scuffle with Chimera, I don't know but Brads got in two really good shots including an upper cut that appeared to "rock" Clarkson before they wrestled each other to the ice to end the fourth bout on the evening's "card".

Are we through yet? We should have been, I mean at this point I can't believe the referees didn't tell the two Captains - Alex Ovechkin and Jamie Langenbrunner - "Enough!, play hockey or else..." and maybe they did and Pierre-Luc Letourneu-Leblonde decided he didn't get the word or something. Because just off the next faceoff, just 4 seconds after the resumption of play, Leblonde basically mugged Marcus Johansson from behind with a move that looked like he was trying to rip his helmet off. At this point, John "Captain America" Carlson decided to finish off his night by translating his one goal and two assists into a Gordie Howe hat trick, so he came to the aide of the young Swede as Johansson was trying to figure out "where did that come from?" The basic melee that ensued took a couple of minutes to sort out and when the dust settled the penalty tally was:

- for Letourneau-Leblonde: 2 minutes Instigator; 2 minutes Slashing, 5 minutes Fighting, and 10 minutes Game Misconduct ...
- for Carlson: 2 minutes roughing; 10 minutes Game Misconduct.

Okay, so Carlson didn't get a 5 minute fighting penalty I'm still saying it was a Gordie Howe hat trick, I was there and I think he deserves it. Anybody else who was there that is reading this is free to chime in since I'm not sure what was and was not shown on TV. I'm also going to say that I think the league should review the action by PL Letourneau-Leblonde, IF the on ice officials had spoken to the Team Captains about how it was time to play hockey vice continue fighting, and if so Leblonde would get a couple games suspension. That's just my gut reaction, I haven't thought about what in place rules do and do not apply here.

I felt there were lots of good takeaways from last night's game:
#1 - Michal Neuvirth's goal tending was very good. He came up with several big saves when he had to and he played a very "tight" game right from the opening face-off..
#2 - Lots of "grit" and lots of simple, straight forward hockey. The reason the Capitals played better than New Jersey last night wasn't because they "out-finessed" them. It was because they played within themselves, didn't get frustrated and they out worked the Devils, and from where I sat it seemed like they did that for a full 60 minutes.
#3 - During the first two periods there were only five (5) minor penalties 3 for the Capitals and 2 for the Devils. Even though two of the three Caps minors were on Alexander Semin, I didn't feel like any of the three (Semin's two or Chimeria's) were "dumb" penalties. In fact I'm still trying to see why Semin was called for Interference the first Caps Penalty, but hey that's just me.
#4 - Scoring by lots of different Capitals
#5 - As a complete opposite to Friday night, virtually all the Defensive Pairings worked, actually from what I saw and can tell now, all of them did, there was no virtually about it#6 - ALL the young guns showed up and played well.
#7 - Alex Ovechkin actually makes a big lateral move on his penalty shot and then puts the puck in the net with a perfect shot past Marty Brodeur that only about 5% of the players in the NHL could make.
#8 - John Carlson: 'Nuff said.
#9 - Mike Green playing what I thought was a totally responsible game and ending up +2 on the night with 6 hits and 3 blocked shots.
#10 - Anton Volchenkov skating off the ice under his own power after taking a shot to the choppers. Never like to see something like that but glad that it looks like he'll be okay

Honorable Mention - For a crazy game with a total of 21 penalties called, I'd have to say the officiating was good, fair and balanced.

Sure it's easy to be happy when "your team" wins by a score of 7-2 in an Ice Hockey game, but this game was close and hard fought for the entire first period and the first 15:00 of the second period, and even thorough that first game within a game, the Capitals ended up leading by a score of 3-2.

Yesterday was a beautiful day so I took a couple of pictures on the way to the game and I had a few other images from the game that follow this post.

Next up: The Ottawa Senators at Verizon Center tomorrow -


On the way to the game - what a nice afternoon.

A bizzare sight, the "Red Dress Run"... on H Street Just Before the Game...

Most of these people were in an even better mood as they left Verizon Center since the majority are Capitals Fans... LETS GO CAPS!!!

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