Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Morning After -- Caps versus Senators

How ‘bout dem Caps?!

Having opened a six-pack of whoop-ass on the Ottawa Senators last night in a 6-2 win, the Caps have won four in a row, outscored their opponents 22-11 in doing so, and have won as many games in succession as the Redskins have won since September.

It would be hard to find fault with much in the Caps’ game last night (though The Peerless will bet a shiny nickel some folks over on the official discussion boards will try their mightiest). Five players scored the six goals; nine different players had points, Olaf Kolzig stopped 35 of 37 shots, Alex Ovechkin broke two sticks (note to Alex: hope you kept the receipt for those things), John Erskine and Donald Brashear provided pugiltainment, although neither won their bouts (Brashear now has his own video cheer – you have arrived as a Cap, sir), Goat was in excellent voice, Smiley was in excellent tune, and a good time was had by all.

But here was the best part – Peter Schaffer on the Ottawa bench with a white towel on his stick waving it around. It was a response to a penalty (an unsportsmanlike conduct call on Dean McAmmond), but the symbolism was apt. The Caps played about as complete a game as a club is capable of playing against a team that came into the game with a four-game winning streak of its own. They ground the Senators into a fine powder and whisked them away with a three-goal third period to put the game away. One could almost hear the Senators groaning, “no mas!”

Some of the best parts . . .

- LeBron Semin skying for the puck at the blue line to keep it in the offensive zone, coming down with it, stepping forward and leaning into a slapper that left Ray Emery thinking, “there must be easier ways to earn a living.”

- Brooks Laich, netting his first goal of the year -- a real "happy birthday to me" thing with the puck seeming to appear if by magic on his stick blade -- then spreading his arms and looking skyward as if to say, “it’s about $#@&ing time!”

- Dainius Zubrus, getting three assists in his first game back from illness, contributing to a seven-point night for the top line.

- Alex Ovechkin getting ten shots to go with his two broken sticks. And his cross-ice feed to Pettinger for an easy flip into the Ottawa net was sweet to behold.

- John Erskine, who might have made the single most important play of the game, when with the game still in the balance, swept away a juicy rebound out of harm’s way in the crease, just as an Ottawa player was about to pounce on it in front of an empty net.

- And here’s one for a Senator . . . let’s have a little respect for Anton Volchenkov this morning . . . eight blocked shots. Ouch.

The Peerless did not think the Caps would be in this game if they gave up more than five or so power plays to the Senators. Well, Ottawa had the man advantage eight times and scored once. The Caps were extremely aggressive against the puck carrier, not giving the Senators time to move the puck with authority. In fact, this was a theme in the first and third periods, which might qualify as the most intense hockey the Caps have played in several years. The first period was pretty much a pack of rabid dogs set loose on the Senators as if they were slabs of prime rib on skates.

Some numbers of note:

- 1:51 . . . ice time for Brian McGrattan. If hockey was an hourly wage sport, this guy would be making Jagr-bucks.

- -0- . . . that would be the number of hits for Alex Ovechkin last night. Coincidence? It did seem he pulled back in a few instances where he might have laid the lumber on someone.

- 33/20 . . . that’s the ratio of Washington takeaways-plus-Ottawa giveaways to Ottawa takeaways-plus-Washington giveaways. It is as useful a measure as any to reflect the degree to which Washington dominated the game (well, the score is a pretty good indicator, too).

The Caps cannot be said to have won these past four games in fluky fashion. They’ve done it with solid play and contributions from up and down the bench. But before we get too carried away, though, this streak means that they are 4-4-2 in their last ten games. Streaks are nice – when they are the winning kind – but one followed by a losing streak (or preceded by it, in this case) isn’t perhaps what the club is looking for. That being said, in these four games the club has given more than a glimpse of its potential; it has raised the curtain as to what this team can be – aggressive, speedy, balanced, skilled, feisty, stout in goal. They’ve also been odd – 8-3-0 against teams with 100 or more points last year, 4-6-6 against everyone else.

Go figure.