The Caps are in first place once more, a product of a hard-fought, often-ugly, occasionally exhilarating 3-2 overtime win over the New York Rangers at Verizon Center this afternoon.
Hard-fought?...you bet. You might not think so looking at the hits recorded (22-12 in favor of the Caps), and there were no fisticuffs, but this was a game that was largely fought along the boards and in the corners. Given that the Rangers played (and won) a game in Philadelphia yesterday, such a game might have been expected to draw heavily from their depleted energy reserves.
For the longest time, the Caps seemed not to concern themselves with wearing down the Rangers, but in the last half of the third period, the Rangers' fatigue began to show, and the Caps were the club with the momentum at the end of regulation.
It didn't take the Caps long to record the bonus point in the extra session. While on the power play -- a four-on-three scenario in the extra time -- Mike Green took a feed from Alex Ovechkin, took a couple of strides toward the Ranger net in the additional open ice, and let fly with a slapshot that found its way through goalie Steve Valiquette's pads for the game-winner.
Until then, though, it was a contest of wills...one the Rangers held the advantage for over much of the contest. The Rangers tried to play an in-their-face, gritty road game, while the Caps were finding themselves unable to develop any momentum or flow. As it was, the Caps managed to get two goals in regulation the ugly way...a loose puck that found its way to Alex Ovechkin's stick and then found it heading past an Eric Fehr screen and into the net early in the first period, and a rebound that Boyd Gordon collected and swept past a diving Valiquette in the closing seconds of the second period.
The Rangers scored their two on a rebound that the Caps could not clear away before Chris Drury swept it under Olaf Kolzig and poor coverage by Shaone Morrison, who permitted Sean Avery to get inside position taking a feed from Scott Gomez to beat Kolzig under the crossbar.
Other than those bursts, there was a lot of mucking and grinding and huffing and puffing. As noted in the last entry, the Caps had some unfortunate "almosts" in goal-scoring, failing to take advantage of a sometimes-shaky Valiquette.
In the end, though...
Alex Ovechkin finished 1-2-3, +1, using his 20th multi-point game of the year to recapture the scoring lead (76 points to 73 for Daniel Alfredsson and Evgeni Malkin, who had a four-point game against Philadelphia this afternoon) and lengthen his goal-scoring lead (47 to 39 for Ilya Kovalchuk)
Alexander Semin had a very quiet two-point game (assists on both the game-tying and game-winning goals)...that's not necessarily a bad thing
No Capital who took more than one faceoff won a majority of the draws they took. The team was 23 for 56 overall.
Jaromir Jagr...two shots, plus-one, no points...again (that's seven games and counting...still think he's more valuable than Marian Hossa or as attractive as Mats Sundin?)
The Caps killed off all six Ranger power plays...it's the first time the Caps have killed of so many power plays without allowing a goal since December 14th against Buffalo (a 5-2 loss)
Defensemen led both teams in shots -- Mike Green for the Caps (five) and Paul Mara for the Rangers (five)
Viktor Kozlov tied for the team lead in hits (three, with Ovechkin and Milan Jurcina)...maybe he thought he was still playing for the Islanders
Today marked Olaf Kolzig's 700th game with the Caps, and the win tied him in career victories with Ron Hextall (296)
The Caps play four of their next five games against Southeast Division foes over the next 13 days, all of them on the road. You could call this a pretty big fortnight coming up. But for now, things look like this...