Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Morning After -- Caps vs. Hurricanes, Part Deux

It was a two-point night!

Carolina was better . . .

Last night’s 7-3 win by the Caps over the Hurricanes was an effort by two teams to give away two points. Carolina was better. A lot better.

The Caps rushed to a 3-0 lead in the first 13 minutes on a pair of goals by Alexander Semin sandwiching one by Alex Ovechkin. The last two in that series were directly attributable to sloppy puck handling on the part of the Hurricanes, who all but handed the puck to the Alexes for their scores.

That should have ended the competitive portion of the evening, but when you’re 5-12-0 in your last 17 games, nothing is so simple as that. The Caps gave one back when Justin Williams sent a drive from the right wing point past Olaf Kolzig, who was having to contend with Andrew Ladd’s backside firmly planted against the cage of his mask. Compared to the iffy goaltender interference call against Jakub Klepis the previous night, that qualified as assault.

Worse was what followed. Mike Green chose just about the worst time to nonchalant the recovery of the puck at the top of his own zone, reaching out with one hand to try and corral the biscuit. He missed, and Carolina ended up burying the puck behind Kolzig moments later. That would be the last ice time Green would see for almost nine minutes. He ended up with just over eight minutes for the game – his lowest total (except for a game in which he was injured) this year. Welcome back from Young Stars, kid.

But this was a night for highlight plays. Alexander Semin had a pair of such – once backing the Hurricane defense in before roofing the puck over Cam Ward’s glove, later picking the pocket of Erik Cole and racing the length of the ice to – yup – roof the puck over Ward’s catching glove.

Alexander Ovechkin had a couple of his own – one coming on a Carolina giveaway deep in its own end, when he collected the puck and ripped a laser of a wrist shot – uh huh – past Ward’s glove. The other came on some of the sickest stick work you’ll see this year. From the left wing boards, Ovechkin used Mike Commodore, Scott Walker, Andrew Ladd, and Eric Staal like skating pylons to thread his way free off the boards and snake a pass to Kris Beech at the right wing hash marks. Beech had only to one-time the puck past Ward’s – well, you know – for the goal.

And even the new kid got in on the action – Eric Fehr had a memorable 11 minutes. Skating with Alexander Semin, Fehr waited as Semin moved out from the left wing boards between Erik Cole and David Tanabe and pushed the puck to the middle. Instead of trying to curl the puck on his own blade, Semin left it for Fehr, who rifled a wrist shot past Ward’s . . . blocker (thought I was going to say “glove,” didn’t you?). It was the game-winner for the evening. The Peerless was even more impressed with what Fehr did a short time later. Harrassing Dennis Seidenberg in the Carolina end, he picked the defenseman clean and in one motion fired a wrist shot that Ward barely tipped over the net. That was a play of will as much as skill on Fehr's part (and it didn't hurt to be 6'4", either).

This was a game of mistakes. The club that made most of them was going to pay, and tonight it was Carolina who wrote the check. The Hurricanes must have thought the Caps would roll toes up after the results of the previous night, but if there is one thing the Caps can do, it is muster up an effort against a superior opponent – they’ve done that several times this year (Buffalo, Ottawa, Atlanta, Dallas, to name a few). There are no eye-popping numbers leaping out of this game, although there are two that caught The Peerless’ eye. First, faceoffs. The Caps won that battle for the first time in six games against Carolina this year (30-28). The second was hits. As generous as the official scorer was with spreading them around in Carolina (61-33, Caps), he was frugal with them last night (18-14, Caps).

As for the keys to the games we spoke of a couple of days ago:

Get off fast (score first) – Scoring the first three goals would qualify as getting off fast. For the sixth straight time first on the board wins.

Be aggressive (out-hit Carolina) – 18-14 doesn’t seem to reflect the level of contact in this game, but the Caps did win that battle.

Shoot the damn puck – For the first time in three wins, the Caps did not have 30 shots (23)

Make sure the usual suspects are represented on the score sheet – The big line (Ovechkin-Zubrus-Clark), plus Semin, were 4-3-7 for the night

The Peerless is going to toss a bag o’ chips to Ben Clymer. Clymer had one shift last night on which he was a one-man forechecking crew. He might have had all 18 hits for the Caps on that shift alone. Although he is dimly reflected on the scoresheet (no shots, one hit credited . . . one??), he put forth a fine effort.

Another goes to Jeff Schultz, who played his best game since his recall. And by “best,” The Peerless doesn’t mean “highlight reel” best. He was patient and careful in his own end, for the most part, and was sturdy on his feet. He led the club with a +4 in more than 19 minutes of work, including leading all defensemen in penalty killing time.

The confounding thing about this club is that on any given night, they can put together a game like this, where the offensive cylinders are firing, Olaf Kolzig makes the saves he has to make when he has to make them, and the defense isn’t ECHL level (although a couple of guys had their moments last night). The trick is being able to do it on a consistent basis. When that happens – and note we said “when” – they will be a contender.

Oh, and Cam? . . . It looked like you had one of these on last night.