Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A FIRST PLACE night: Caps 4 - Flyers 3

Where it started, it finished.

The Caps were 6-14-1 on November 23rd, when Bruce Boudreau stood behind an NHL bench for the first time in a 4-3 overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers at Wachovia Center. Tonight, the Caps climbed all the way back from the cellar in the Southeast, assuming first place in the division on a 4-3 win over those Flyers in south Philly.

The win gives the Caps a 20-10-4 record under Boudreau, a fact that was almost unthinkable back in November. And they jumped Carolina and Atlanta in the standings to take a one-point lead.

The Caps played several games tonight…there was “Checking Game,” which comprised most of the first two periods, the only interruptions being a sweet feed from Mike Green to a streaking Brooks Laich, who finished the play by roofing a backhand past goalie Martin Biron, and a similarly nice feed from Daniel Briere – parked behind the Caps net – to Mike Knuble who banged the puck in at the far post past goalie Olaf Kolzig. Other than that, it was a largely close-to-the-vest effort by both teams.

Then, the Caps had their “Breakout Game” in the first part of the third period…in less than five minutes, Matt Bradley, Viktor Kozlov, and Alex Ovechkin netted goals to put the Flyers on their heels, If the game was in DC, folks would be starting to think about what sauce to have with their wings.

Then, the Caps decided that they’d take a walk on the adversity side of the street, only to find that it is better to be lucky than right. Simon Gagne skated in on Kolzig and fired the puck into Kolzig’s pads. Scott Hartnell, following up the play, pushed the puck, Kolzig, and maybe even Kate Smith into the net. From where I sat (in front of my TV), it sure looked like a goal – from two different angles it was clear that the puck was over the goal line. But “after further review,” someone decided that the whistle had blown due to a loss of sight of the puck.

No goal.

But the Flyers kept up the pressure, and the Caps apparently weren’t satisfied with making things easier on themselves…Sami Kapanen converted an odd bounce off the side of the Caps’ net into a shot that eluded Kolzig and cut the lead to two. Then, with less than a minute left, Randy Jones jumped into a space at the top of the crease as the Caps’ defensemen moved to cover other players and potted a goal to make things a lot more interesting than Caps fans cared to endure.

But then “Bottle Up Game” played out as the Caps didn’t allow Philadelphia to get any momentum down the ice in the last 54 seconds, and they killed the clock to preserve the win.

Although Flyer fans will mutter – well, actually they’ll wail…Flyer fans don’t do “mutter” – that the Hartnell goal was robbed from its rightful place on the scoreboard, the Flyers benefited from some quite generous interpretations of the rules, resulting in five power plays. And, give that club enough opportunities, they’ll convert. The Flyers were two-for-five on the advantage for the evening.

Tonight was “cream cheese” night for the Caps…they spread it around. Four different players had the four goals, nine players had points (only Mike Green had two – a pair of assists), 15 players recorded shots on goal, and 11 players were on the plus side of the ledger.

Philly wan’t a lot different – three different players had the three goals, eight players had points, 13 players had shots on goal.

Individually, both teams had some noteworthy efforts -- good and bad -- that don’t immediately leap off the score sheet…

- Tom Poti played in bad luck…he was on the ice for all three Flyer goals, but it would be hard to say he was the breakdown in any of them (although it was he who Kapanen snuck behind to get into position to score).

- It was Poti who hustled to keep the puck in the offensive zone that permitted Tomas Fleischmann to drop the puck for Kozlov and his goal.

- Although the Caps spread things around offensively, Derian Hatcher and Braydon Coburn took it in the ear with a -3, apiece, for the Flyers. Neither could do anything to prevent Ovechkin from collecting his own rebound and sweeping it under Biron for his 46th of the year and his second straight game-winner (and eighth of the year – tops in the league).

- An odd stat for the Flyers…11 different players registered hits. But they had a total of only 15. And the duo of Hatcher and Coburn had one between them. Somewhere, Moose Dupont is rolling his eyes.

The climb back to the top of the division is finished, but now the chore is to stay there and put some space between themselves and the rest of the division. The Caps have 27 games left; 13 of them are against Southeast teams. And the Southeast campaign starts on Friday against Carolina. This kicks off a stretch where the Caps will play five of their next seven games against division rivals. It’s been a long time since the Caps have played such meaningful games this late in the season.

But that’s what first place teams do…

1 comment:

Scott said...

I'm not sure if I like that first line, Peerless...I hope it's not finished. I hope it keeps going.