Tuesday, April 03, 2007

After-Math -- Caps vs. Panthers

TWO points, tonight and a

Yes, Caps fans, for the first time since February 15, 2004, Olaf Kolzig recorded a shutout – a 1-0 blanking of the Florida Panthers. It was his first shutout in Washington since a similarly authored 1-0 win over Edmonton on January 11, 2004.

The whitewashing of the Panthers was a fine effort from Kolzig, but it wasn’t as if he didn’t have help, either. The ice surface played more like bad asphalt with the puck hopping to and fro, and neither club able to establish any sort of offensive rhythm. But when he had to be, Kolzig was a dark wall casting a shadow across the defensive zone (that "Acme School of Good Writin’" correspondence course is coming in handy). The Caps put the game in his hands in the third period, content to chip the puck out of danger rather than mount any offense (four shots for the period).

The game was played largely in the perimeter of the rink; neither club was able to pose much of a threat from prime scoring zones. The lone exception game just after the five-minute mark of the second period, when Brooks Laich hustled after the puck along the right wing boards in the Florida end. Laich backhanded a pass onto the tape of Alex Ovechkin’s stick at the edge of the right wing circle, and the left wing snapped the puck over goalie Craig Anderson’s shoulder. It would be enough.

In addition to Kolzig’s solid performance, Ovechkin might have played his most animated game in more than a month. He was a dervish on the ice. In addition to the five shots and the goal he recorded, he rang another shot off the post behind Anderson, he positively undressed Jay Bouwmeester on a dash down the left side, and he almost had one of the highlight goals of the year with a no-look backhand that sailed just wide from the high slot. If not for the positively awful ice surface, Ovechkin might have registered his first home hat trick.

But there were unsung heroes, too . . .

- Brooks Laich didn’t look out of place manning the pivot on the first line for much of the game between Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. Laich didn’t register a shot on goal, but he spent a lot of time digging for loose pucks and playing solid at both ends.

- Alexander Semin needs to be yelled at more. Perhaps with more frequency than the rest of the season, combined, Semin was hustling back on defense to cover a late arriving forward or to deny a passing lane to a forward camped out in the middle.

- Milan Jurcina left dents all over the Verizon Center boards, the imprints matching the body images of a lot of Panthers.

- Boyd Gordon owned the faceoff circle, winning 12 of 16 draws as the Caps won 29 of 49 overall.

Frankly, on this night it would be difficult to find much to fault in any Cap’s play. Matt Pettinger and Tomas Flesichmann each were victimized on more than one occasion by the difficult ice. Jeff Schultz played another in what has been a surprising season of steady games.

There was even a rollicking good crowd on hand tonight. It was one of those nights when a Caps fan might ask, in exasperated fashion, “why can’t every night be like this?”

update: Well, maybe not like this. The shift chart shows a yawning blank spot where Alexander Semin's time should be in the third period. Not having launched any pucks goalward, one can only surmise he sustained an injury, although what that might be has not yet been released.

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