Sunday, November 25, 2007

A TWO Point Night!!!...Caps 5 - Hurricanes 2


OK, it’s modest by most standards, but after one comes two, and two in a row is what the Capitals have won. Last night’s 5-2 win over the Southeast Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes was a study in ambivalence…

On the one hand, the game was closer than what the final score indicated, the game being as close as 3-2 with less than two minutes to go in the game.

On the other hand, the Capitals never gave an indication that they would panic or wilt, even when the ‘Canes managed to score two goals 2:18 apart, straddling the end of the second and beginning of the third period. Unlike the pattern of behavior in the depths of their slide in the standings, the Caps tended to business and made it difficult for the visitors to establish any rhythm on offense.

A lot of that had to do with a stunning change in the Caps’ style that is probably more evident looking at the team live…they are a much more aggressive team with the puck, and related to that, they were much more adept at getting the puck below the face-off dots to establish their own offensive rhythm. Combine that with a sharp Olaf Kolzig, who turned away most mistakes that the Capitals made, and it was a recipe for a win that looked a lot like the Hurricanes, themselves, or the Tampa Bay Lightning – two teams the Capitals will have to beat, and beat often, to get back into the thick of playoff things.

Individually, it was a team effort. Odd as that sounds, it is a reflection of players doing what they do well, and just as important, leaving to others what they do well. Examples…

-- Alexander Ovechkin scored two goals in signature style. The first came off a no-look feed by Michael Nylander out of the right wing corner. Ovechkin snapped a wrist shot past goalie John Grahame’s glove faster than you could say…well, whatever you can say fast. The second came on a move he has repeated in recent games…carrying the puck down the left side, then easing off the pedal as he enters the zone. Curling to the middle and crossing behind teammates, he can get the goalie moving side-to-side. He snapped another shot “wrong-side,” catching Grahame moving left when the puck zipped past on the right side.

-- Mike Green repeated the weak-side one-timer he potted against Philadelphia, choosing wisely in terms of when to jump into the hole.

-- David Steckel won 63 percent of his draws on what was an otherwise brutal night for the Caps in the faceoff circle (other than Steckel, the Caps were 20 for 58 – 34.5 percent).

-- Tom Poti registered a hit (legitimately), but he was strong in keeping Carolina forwards pushed to the outside and the corners, and he had a couple of blocked shots that negated decent chances for the Hurricanes.

-- Nicklas Backstrom registered his second straight multi-point game (he’s 1-4-5 in his last pair).

-- Donald Brashear logged his highest ice time in almost a month. In his 8:48, he created chances for himself and others, and attempted six shots of his own.

-- Shaone Morrisonn had his second “plus” game in a row. That is not insignificant, since he hadn’t had one since October 29th (the 7-1 win against Toronto) and had only three all year coming into this weekend.

In last night’s game, the Capitals played Carolina’s game better. As we noted, the Hurricanes has 13 goals in 51 power play chances over their previous ten games (25.5 percent). They also killed 33 of 38 shorthanded situations in those previous ten games (86.8 percent). Well, the Caps scored on their first three power play chances and kept the Hurricanes’ chances to a minimum, killing both shorthanded situations. Carolina is a very pedestrian even-strength team lately, and making them play that way kept them chasing the Capitals all night.

There were some performances last night that might otherwise go unheralded, too. For instance, Brooks Laich and Tomas Fleischmann each put four shots on goal. Fleischmann had eight attempted shots. Although none went in, making the opponent play defense and expend energy in his own end is all part of the idea to attack and press the issue. Often, a team won’t have much left in the third period when – hopefully, and as was the case last night – the opponent is playing catch-up.

The Capitals don’t look so much different as much as they look like the team that won the first two games of the season. They cashed in on their opportunities, controlled the puck for long stretches, and made the opponent play all 200 feet of the ice – there weren’t a lot of turnovers of the eye-rolling variety. Winning two in a row has gotten them closer to 29th place, so there is still quite a hole to climb out of. The Caps have ten games over the next three weeks, all of which are against Eastern Conference teams and five of which will be played against divisional opponents. There is no time like the present to right some wrongs and climb back into the thick of things.