Saturday, March 12, 2011

Capitals 2 - Hurricanes 1; A Great Game and a Good Win

Last night the Washington Capitals hosted one of their division rivals the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center; it was the fifth game of the 2010-2011 NHL season between the two and it ended with Washington beating Carolina for the fifth time this year. It was also the Capitals seventh win in a row and the sixth in their now so far perfect month of March. All of those were things that made the win a good one for the Capitals, as were the facts that Braden Holtby had "a helluva night" and the win came as the result of a comeback by the Capitals who trailed 1-0 after two periods to a team that prior to last night was a perfect 21-0-0 when leading after two this season before last evening. No what made it a great game is the fact that despite loosing last night, the Carolina Hurricanes played an excellent game. Yes I said the Hurricanes played an excellent game. They had a total of 81 shot attempts, of which the Capitals blocked 26 (more on that later), 41 that ended up on goal, of which Braden Holtby stopped 40. As you might expect with numbers like that on both sides of the ice, the 96th straight sell-out crowd at Verizon Center was "into it", all night long. So while giving your opponents that much offensive zone time and time and space to make 81 shot attempts isn't all that much "playoff-like" hockey; beating them 2-1 in a game that was closely played for it's entire sixty minutes, and the atmosphere in the arena definitely were. That's what made it a great game, or at least that's one fan's opinion.

A little more "about last night":

A) It's been noted by others that last night's game while a good seventh win and one the Capitals should have won, that there were a few chinks in the armour that were displayed last night. For those excellent discussions the recaps of the game by both Japer and Peerless are linked to here. As usual, they are, again, in this fan's opinion, their usual very well written and good articles.

B) Braden Holtby. I could probably just link you to the event summary and point you to the Carolina shot attempts and "leave it at those two words" - the young goaltender's name. However, to do so would be to fail to call attention to the at least three quality scoring chances by the Hurricanes that he stopped stone cold in this tight game.

C) Alexander Ovechkin. There's lots and lots of times after a hockey game that you could sum up it's most amazing aspects with just those two words. This game wasn't one of them - that's not to say that Ovechkin didn't play great last night - he definitely did. It's just two things that keep me from talking about how great he played last night: 1) several other players on both teams also played great, and the most important thing to talk about Ovechkin's performance last night, IMO, is 2) how great he LED his team last night as well as how great he's been LEADING his team this season. Last night from my perspective Ovie's leadership was most apparent that it seemed almost every time things got "gritty" he got into the face of his foil on Carolina, Eric Staal, their best player and team Captain. That and the 28 hits he's had during the last 10 games while the Capitals have amassed a 9-1-0 record tell me that Alexander Ovechkin is absolutely ready to lead this team into the playoffs this season.

D) Matt Hendricks. Last night "Hendy" scored his 8th goal of the season and his third game winner. That in and of itself is worth noting and talking about, however how that happened is even more worth reviewing. The play that led to Hendrickss goal started when he was on the penalty kill and blocked a shot that bounced to Jason Arnott as Arnott had just gotten back on the ice after serving 2:00 for hooking in the third period. That sprung Arnott on a breakaway that Cam Ward stopped, however Hendricks' hustle and work ethic meant he was where he needed to be to get the rebound and put it into the net for the Capitals to take a 2-1 lead. The effect that goal had in a game that had until less than 1:00 left in the second period been a scoreless tie was huge, and it rightfully earned Hendricks the first star of the game last night. He's another guy that well if you're a hockey fan, "ya just gotta love" - isn't he?

E) Elsewhere in the Eastern Conference of the NHL last night, the Tampa Bay Lightning lost to Ottawa in regulation; the Boston Bruins lost to the New York Islanders in regulation; and the New Jersey Devils beat the Atlanta Thrashers in overtime. That means that as of this morning the Caps are in second place in the East with 88 points and 69 games played 1 game ahead of Boston (who have a game in hand) and in first place in the Southeast Division 1 1/2 games ahead of Tampa Bay who also have a game in hand on the Capitals. The Caps are also just two points back of the Philadelphia Flyers who have two games in hand but appear to have "righted their ship" as they have now won their last two games. In any case, all this means that Matt Hendricks' post game interview comments to "Smokin' Al Koken" are definitely where the Capitals heads need to be right now: "We're more concerned with just gettin' two points." With the top six teams in the East so close and the 7th through the 13th teams all conceivably "still in it" and battling for the last two playoff spots in the Conference, basically over these last 12 - 15 games of the season - anything could happen.

Looking ahead:

Next up are the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks at Verizon Center for a Sunday Matinee game on the NHL Game of the Week on national TV. What are the chances that a certain resident of the district, who hosted the Blackhawks and Mike Green at his place on Friday of showing up at the game? Since he seems to agree with Mike Green's hair style preferences maybe he's like to check the game out himself. After all since he's been to basketball games there, we know that he knows it's only a couple of blocks away from his pad. In any case Sunday's game marks the last home game for the Capitals for two plus weeks until they face Carolina again for their sixth and final meeting of the regular season on March 29th. In the interim, the Caps have two weeks on the road when the travel to play six games and face: 1) Montreal on 3/15, the Habs are one of the six teams they are battling for position with in the East; 2) Detroit on 3/16, the Red Wings are, as usual one of the toughest teams to beat in the NHL; 3) New Jersey on Friday 3/18, the Devils have just been on fire since the New Year and are amazingly making a run to get fully engaged in the battle for the last two playoff spots in the East; 4) Philadelphia on Tuesday 3/22, the Flyers are "back on track" having won their last two games and currently lead the Eastern Conference and "control their own destiny". 5) Ottawa on Friday 3/25, the Senators are 7-3-0 in their last ten games and seem to be relishing their current role of "spoilers." and 6) Montreal on Saturday 3/26 for their fourth and final regular season meeting this year in a game likely to be on HNIC. All of these next seven games are games that the Capitals will be challenged in and they are also games they could win. That said, it's unlikely the Caps will be able to stay on their current pace/trajectory of 9-1-0 over the last ten games, however the way they are playing, chinks in their armor and all, they are very likely to win more than their share of those next seven games.


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