It was the 41st game of the season, the end of the first half of the season, but the second half really started last night. And the Caps applied some payback to a Montreal Canadiens team that spanked them in their first visit to Verizon Center last month. The 5-1 win was welcome in several respects:
- It was the first time in five games that the first line of Alexander Ovechkin, Dainius Zubrus, and Chris Clark (which began and ended the game as a line, perhaps signaling the end of the experiment of Alexander Semin spending time on that line) scored a goal. Zubrus netted two goals on his only two credited shots of the game – he almost had a hat trick in the third but found the side of the post on a shot.
- Alexander Ovechkin had three assists to give the top line five points for the night. Ovechkin’s three-pointer vaulted him to third in the scoring race (25-29-54) behind Marian Hossa and someone else.
- Mike Green had four credited hits to lead the club. Green has been something of an anonymous player the last few weeks, but last night was the ninth straight game he’s been either even of a plus player. In the midst of the Caps troubles, that’s something of an achievement.
- If your looking for differences (other than the score) in the numbers between this game and the December 27th game between these clubs, well, good luck . . . the Caps outshot the Habs 35-28 last night (31-28 in December) . . . were even in hits, 20-20 (were out-hit in a less-than-physical game in December, 15-10) . . . even in takeaways, 17-17 (losing that battle in the last game, 8-4) . . . yielded fewer giveaways, 16-20 (versus giving up more, 8-4, in December) . . .
- But there was this – the Caps lost the face off battle by only 31-30 (they lost, 30-23 in December). That might seem significant, except if you deconstruct some of the Caps’ scoring. They scored their first after Zubrus won an offensive zone faceoff, Ovechkin sent a backhander to the net, and Zubrus pounced on the rebound for the score. Washington scored its third goal in slightly different fashion, winning a neutral zone faceoff after a penalty call on Saku Koivu (more on that to come), but netting a goal (Lawrence Nycholat) about half a minute later. Face offs are not the be-all or end-all of success, but doing the little things are important.
- None of this should diminish the face that the turning point came on a Montreal goal that wasn’t. With 7:18 gone in the second Alexei Kovalev appeared to tie the game, 2-2, but the goal was immediately and emphatically washed out by the referee who whistled Saku Koivu for goaltender interference, where as he was skating through the top of the crease nudged goaltender Olaf Kolzig and caused Kolzig to lose his grip on his stick. Habs fans didn’t much like it, but it appeared to be the correct call. And, it put the Canadiens on their heels, especially when Nycholat scored less than a minute later and Alexander Semin less than a minute after that, giving the Caps a 4-1 lead and chasing goalie Cristobal Huet. Montreal, which is not nearly as fearsome an offensive team as they are a defensive one, had dug themselves too deep a hole.
Now, for some odd numbers . . .
Zero – the Caps had 13 skaters register hits last night. Alexander Ovechkin was not among them.
Even, -7 – That’s the combined plus-minus of Chris Higgins, Saku Koivu, Michael Ryder in the first game, and what they were last night . . . tough night.
11-3 – that’s the faceoffs won and lost by Dainius Zubrus. No other Cap had a .500 percentage. Well, Brooks Laich did, but he only took one draw (1-0).
12 – Winning games often involves the performance of tasks that really take some effort. The Caps had 20 blocked shots, but 12 of the 18 skaters were involved.
6 – Matt Pettinger had six shots last night, all in the first two periods, to lead the club among players whose name does not end in “vechkin.” But it was his taking one for the team – absorbing a hit from Francois Bouillion while moving the puck up ice – that ultimately sprung Semin for his second goal of the night.
It was a fine night for a club that needed one, a gutsy performance against a quality team. Even the new Speaker of the House was impressed by the strength the Caps showed in this one. It was the right way to begin the real second half of the season.