Friday, January 21, 2011

Last Night Roundup: Caps 2 - Islanders 1; Fight - Fest in Philly; Marty Gets SO #114

So last night it was a 2 point night for the Capitals in Uniondale, NY in front of an announced crowd of only 9,119. That's a two point win that takes the Capitals road record this year to 10-9-3 or 0.523 hockey (vs. a home record of 16-5-5 or 0.716).

I must say I'm far less reserved in my thoughts about the Caps then many other blogger's this morning in the wake of the 2-1 victory over the injury riddled struggling Islanders. That's in large part that I've accepted that over the past 5 years or so regardless of where either team is when they meet each other, the Islanders play the Caps close, tight and very hard. So it just seems to me that no matter what Caps - Islanders games are usually close. I really think the Islanders "get up" for the Caps and I'll point to the fact that Rick DiPietro started and played the full game well last night against the Caps, despite the fact that he and the Islanders then indicated he was too sick (flu) and wouldn't even be getting on the plane for their trip to ---- after the game. Don't get me wrong I understand where folks like DMG over at Japer's Rink are coming from and can't even argue with this particular statement in his recap of the game:

An Islander defenseman breaks his stick on a shot from the point and lets the Caps get the puck out of the New York zone, his partner losing his footing and falls down on the backcheck, Rick DiPietro's forced to come and play the puck, shanking it to the most dangerous goal scorer of the past five years...and the end result is a penalty against the Capitals? Has any sequences summed up this season better than that one?

That said, the Caps are clearly once again on the road to a 100+ point season, and they are playing very responsible, sound defensive hockey. In fact of the 7 teams who woke up this AM with 60 or more points, the Capitals 125 GA/2.60 per game is fifth best and nearly tied with 3rd best Dallas (122, 2.596) and fourth best Philadelphia (124, 2.64). As some examples of the Caps defensive responsibility as Garret over at Puckhead's Thoughts noted after last night's game:

The Caps blocked 20 shots, including a whopping 7 shots stopped by Mike Green. They also had more take-aways than the Islanders 17-11. Carlson lead the Caps in that category with 4 TKs. The Caps PK was also top notch as they denied the Islanders a power play goal in six chances.

So my own bottom line on last evening's game is I thought it was a solidly played game by the Capitals for a couple of reasons:

1) They never trailed in the game.

2) The Caps played their game and played it well for all sixty minutes. After going out to a 2-0 lead the Islanders did get a quick goal to keep the game tight, but the Caps never looked like they were even considering leaving their game plan.

3) Call up Braden Holtby played very, very well in net for the Capitals. His 24 for 25 SOG, 0.960 SV% performance was a nice way for the 21 year old to get his third NHL win of the season.

4) The first line for the Caps was the first line, all night long. I'll admit that I wasn't sure if Jason Chimera would have the right chemistry with Ovechkin and Backstrom but at least so far his speed, skating ability, size and willingness to mix it up right in opposing goaltender's faces is bringing an even more "Knuble-esque" dimension to the duo then Knuble does. Also while we're at it, I know it was against an injury ridden Islander's team but the second line with Knuble on it is working better now too, when whichever young center (Perreault or Johannson) is on it, doesn't make rookie mistakes and take bad penalties.

5) Taking two points - on the road; and giving none to a Conference opponent. I could go on, I could qualify it with another "I know it's the Islanders and lots of them are hurt" etc. BUT that wouldn't change the fact that the game ended with two points for the Capitals and they earned them by playing solid, smart hockey.

Final item I'd like to note from last night is that John Erskine is clearly having the best season he's ever had as a Capital last night Erskine was questionable all the way up through the pre-game skate. When you look at the results at the end of the night on the stat sheet: 15 minutes and four blocked shots for the game. He did have a holding penalty.But last season he often didn't play 15 minutes on his better nights, yes I know Poti is out but right now I'd consider Poti #5 on the blue line depth chart anyway and even on nights like this in prior season's Erskine would rarely get 15 minutes if he was 100%. The caliber of his play has been raised and the confidence everyone especially himself and the coaching staff have in him is probably best shown by how he was used last night while he wasn't even 100% and everyone - including the opposing team knew that. Just sayin' that's all.

Lots of other good items noted and stats from the game in the recap by the master - Peerless over here.

Next up for the Caps will be the Maple Leafs in Toronto, tomorrow night at Air Canada Centre.

Elsewhere around the NHL last night:

The Flyers pasted a 6-2 beat down on the Ottawa Senators in a game where the Senators tried to keep things interesting and salvage some pride by getting physical with the Flyers. Umm really? seriously? You go into another team's building, get your butts kicked and then try and salvage some self respect by getting physical with against a team whose heritage includes the name Broad Street Bullies and you think this is going to play out well for you. I'd be guessing probably not and I think in retrospect, I'd be right. So from PuckDaddy here's the links to a couple of videos of fisticuffs in the so called "line brawl" in the third period. I'd argue the initial Giroux - Foglino bout wasn't as "clear" a win for Foglino as might be inferred from Wysh's choice of words and the Rutuu - Hartnell fight was no contest, Hartnell got a lot more licks in than he took; and the Shelly - Neil bout ends with Shelly clearly in total control and more than making up for the scant few punches Neil got in at first. A few other videos and descriptions of the fights are here at "The 700 Level" apparently none of the eight (8) goals scored in the game were near as interesting as the any of the five fights or the fact that combined both teams racked up 126 penalty minutes since the only place you see video around of those goals are the combined game highlights and there are numerous links to any one or more of the five fights. Yeah sure the league and others "wish" fighting would just go away and the only thing fans find interesting in hockey is goals being scored ... sure that's the way things are, just ask Gary...

In LA the Coyotes beat the Kings 2-0 and the Kings are still complaining about the first Phoenix goal. So here's my thoughts - I agree with the statement by Mike Murphy, the NHL's senior vice president of hockey operations, told FSN's Jim Fox that there was no conclusive replay that would have overturned the goal based on the replays posted on the interwebs. To me it's a call like the one where MAF robbed Mike Green of the OT winner against the Penguins here in DC. Was the call on the ice wrong, yeah probably. However, the video available for review wasn't adequate to overturn the call on the ice. That's hockey. Anyway did it matter? The Kings failed to score so the most accurate conjecture although you never know is that given how the rest of the game played out LA still would have lost 1-0 and taken their record in the last 12 games to 2-10-0. Bottom line really is when your team is going through a stretch like that you just have to make sure you don't grab onto any excuses and you take ownership of just making things happen to turn it around. Sure doesn't seem like that's a thought currently shared by King's GM Dean Lombardi who is being quoted on the call last night as saying:

Lombardi said, speaking of Murphy, "When the guy in Toronto making the decisions on the goals, in Ottawa and the one tonight, wanted the G.M.'s job in L.A. and was not happy about not getting it, you have to assume you are going to get those type of calls. However, we have put ourselves in a position where these calls have a monumental effect on our season, and we're going to have to find a way out of it ourselves."

Way to be the bigger man and lead, I thought "California Guys" were supposed to be all laid back and stuff even when they are being intense.

Final score in Pittsburgh last evening Devils 2 - Penguins 0. Sure the Pens were without the services of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin but hey 114 is a lot of shutouts and Marty is the current active leader in the category. Last night's SO was his fourth (4th) of the season - considering he has 9 wins the fact that 44.44% of his wins this season are by shutout would sort of say that even at age 38, this guy can and does still play the game at the NHL level and he's pretty darn good, wouldn't you be forced to agree. Especially given the way the team in front of him has had to play with what is basically a short bench while changing their system in front of him all season.

The Detroit Red Wings are working towards having Evgeni Nabakov back in the NHL and in front of the pipes for the remainder of the season. As soon as he clears waivers. Lots of speculation last night about that on Twitter but I agree with TSN's Bob McKenzie, odds are that Nabakov will in fact make it through and be guarding the net for Detroit. That's probably not great news for other teams who have their eye on the ultimate prize in Hockey and playing into late May and early June. However, as they say, that's why they play the games on the ice....

In other news my thoughts and my wish for a sound and speedy recovery go out to former Capital Tomas Fleischmann who had been on fire since joining the Avalanche in the trade that brought the Capitals Scott Hannan. Fleischmann's season has ended when two blood clots were found, one in his lungs. Flash had found new life in the Avalanche line up and the injury is yet another blow to Colorado who has been riddled with injuries all season. As many reading will recall, "Flash" missed Capitals' training camp a few years ago when he developed a blood clot when flying home after the Caps were defeated by the Penguins.

Finally before I close this post if you haven't seen what happened when news of the Winter Classic results reached "The Fuhrer" here's a glimpse from inside the brain trust sort of 24/7 like.... Wonder how he reacted when he saw Marty got his 114th SO at the expense of the Penguins, Bylsma is probably toast and already on his way to Stalingrad.....


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