There are bad one-point games, and there are good one-point games. Last night’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Atlanta Thrashers qualifies as the latter as the Caps finally solved Thrasher goalie Kari Lehtonen for the tying goal in regulation with less than two minutes to play to earn the point.
It was a game that, for the Caps, involved a lot of unproductive energy. They pounded 41 shots at Lehtonen, but there were precious few of the rebound or follow up variety. It is probably instructive that the Caps’ first goal of the contest was scored when an Alex Ovechkin shot pinballed onto the stick of Viktor Kozlov, who had nothing but net to shoot at. For the rest of the game, Lehtonen was given the chance to see shots clearly and handle them cleanly.
Lehtonen also played Sidney Crosby for a moment, hitting Marian Hossa with a “long bomb” of a pass that Hossa took almost at the Caps’ blue line with less than a minute to go in the second period. Hossa scored what could be his last goal at home as a Thrasher (he is rumored to be on the trading block, and Atlanta does not return home until after the trading deadline) by skating in alone on goaltender Olaf Kolzig and sweeping the puck under Kolzig’s right pad.
The result left the Southeast Division a muddle. Three teams sit atop the division with 60 points. And, the teams seem to have settled into a pattern of close-to-.500 play as the record over each of their last ten games suggests:
The game was remarkable in one respect. A team getting off 41 shots is a team that has the puck a lot of the time. But the Caps didn’t generally start plays with the puck. The Thrashers won 39 of 60 draws (65 percent). Only David Steckel finished with more wins than losses in the circle (7-for-13). The trio of Bobby Holik, Eric Perrin, and Todd White won 32 of 49 draws.
Nicklas Backstrom had a pair of assists to tie
The game was decided by Bettman’s Gimmick when Eric Perrin scored on a move that Caps TV announcers Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin described even before Perrin skated into the center circle to take the puck (skate in, fake backhand, pull puck across, lift forehand over goalie’s pad) and Slava Kozlov circled wide right, swooped in and snapped a shot past Kolzig’s right pad. For the Caps, Alexander Semin fired the puck wide to Lehtonen’s right, and Lehtonen closed the Caps out when he bobbled a shot by Boyd Gordon, but swiped the puck off the goal line to earn for the Thrashers the extra standings point.
Two points separates first and fourth in the division now, so each day promises a shakeup of the standings unless a team can put a streak together. Since the club “officially reached mediocrity” on January 19th, they’ve slowed their torrid pace under Bruce Boudreau. The 6-4-1 record is a bit off from the 15-7-4 pace set in the first 26 games under Boudreau, and it might be a reflection of the higher stakes for which games are being played and the continuing holes in the lineup left by the absences of Chris Clark and Brian Pothier.
The good way to look at this, perhaps, is that the Caps have something of a foothold on the top spot (they “lead” the division based on fewest games played among those tied with them at 60 points), and they have divisional games to come that present the opportunity to build on that.
Up next is the
…they could find themselves in fourth place, too.