Once upon a time, somewhere – it might have been in a stall in a bathroom somewhere – The Peerless read this about a hockey season….”there are 20 games you’ll lose, no matter what; and 20 games you’ll win, no matter what…it’s what you do with the other 40 that matter.”
The two odd games aside, last night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins was one of those 40 games that matter. But for the width of a post, a penalty the four eyes of the two referees saw (and then the penalty those four eyes didn’t see in the same spot on the ice), and a power play that should merely be called, “play,” the Capitals might have made it a better night than it turned out to be.
The Penguins emerged from
Matt Pettinger was in the middle of three critical plays in this game, two of which turned out bad for the Caps, and both of which found Pettinger as the victim.
The first play was a product of something coach Glen Hanlon was preaching this week – getting (and staying) in front of the net. Passing the 13 minute mark of the first period, Michael Nylander had the puck along the right wing wall. Cycling once and finding nothing to his liking, he curled off again, sliding the puck to Brian Pothier for a one-timer that beat Fleury. The
In the second instance, the clock was winding down past five minutes to go in the second and the game tied 1-1; the Capitals were buzzing in the
Finally, in the third period, with the Penguins having taken the lead on the Whitney goal, in the same spot on the ice near the Capitals’ bench where Brooks Laich was whistled for a phantom hooking penalty in the second period, Matt Pettinger took a Penguin stick square in the chops (edit: actually it was Gordon taking the stick, but Pettinger went after Staal in the aftermath). The same four eyes that saw a hooking penalty in the second didn’t see Pettinger’s head fly back. Maybe he should have done the full Barrymore, as Sidney Crosby did when high-sticked earlier, and he skated a broad arc away from the play in stage-agony while it was still going on. ‘Gadzooks!...Oh, I am slain!!” (for the record, yes, it was a penalty) Pettinger, instead, took off on Jordan Staal, making relatively short work of him and earning (with Staal) five minutes for his trouble. Although the Caps were oh-for-three on the power play, having another with the game in its final throes couldn’t have hurt the Caps’ cause.
But the Caps didn’t get that bounce of the puck or call from the referee, and the Penguins survived, thanks largely thanks to Fleury remembering that he’s supposed to be a key to whatever success the Penguins have this year.
Some other items…
-- Boyd Gordon was back, and boy, does that make a difference.
-- Alex Ovechkin…eight shots, five hits, and a penalty. If it was Christmas, he might have bagged a partridge in a pear tree, too. He was the most dominant skater on this evening, but with Viktor Kozlov not being especially effective last evening, and Joe Motzko being plucky, but not the stuff of a first-line right wing, Ovechkin was once more in the position of having to do a lot on his own.
-- Regarding Motzko…The Peerless sat watching him last night and came up with a nickname…”The Hedgehog.” He did a commendable job rooting around for pucks and was more patient with the puck than one might expect from a call-up from the AHL. He also showed a resiliency when taking a hit and a willingness to throw same (he was credited with one, but it seemed like more). We like the guy…he is not a top-line, right wing option on a team with playoff dreams, but he’s a guy who can help a club. Although he was returned to Hershey after the game, we would not be surprised to see #50 in the lineup again this year.
-- Hey Caps fans…how many times have you seen this against the Penguins? Hits: 25-13, Capitals…shots: 31-22, Capitals…final score: 2-1, Penguins.
-- The two-fer of the night…Ovechkin laying the lumber to Crosby in open ice, then as
-- Evgeni who? Did he dress?
-- Donald Brashear and Georges Laraque had a fight…it was required. For the record, The Peerless scored it a draw, Laraque winning the early rounds…uh, seconds…and Brashear coming on late.
-- Nicklas Backstrom looks a good deal more comfortable on the ice than he did in the opener. And, he’s starting to look like Mini-Ny with his curl off moves.
-- On the other hand, Milan Jurcina seemed to struggle. He looked for most of the night as if he was skating in oatmeal, as if he couldn’t get his skates under him. But his effort was there.
-- David Steckel looks sometimes like he’s just loping across the ice. Then you look up, and he’s got his 13 minutes, a couple of hits, a couple of blocked shots, and has won more than half his faceoffs (8-of-15 last night).
-- Brent Johnson…lost in all this is that Johnson played a whale of a game, including a superb left-toe stop on Ryan Malone off a rebound he gave up on a Maxime Talbot shot mid-way through the third, when another goal would have probably doomed the Caps. And if you see a replay of that sequence, watch who it is flying into the picture from behind, almost getting a chance to sweep the puck away from Malone….Ovechkin.
The Penguins, to their credit (The Peerless said with teeth knashing), did what they had to do to win. But the Caps, playing without Alexander Semin and with Boyd Gordon having played only as a game-time decision, played the Penguins to the width of a post. Right now, that’s the difference between these teams. But teams that make the playoffs are on the winning end of such games, not the short end. And that’s the difference between these teams right now, too.