Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A TWO-point night: Caps 3 - Hurricanes 2 (OT/SO)


Excruciating, isn’t it?

Two…measly…points. That’s all that separated the Capitals and the playoffs when play began last night, and that is what still separated the Caps from the playoffs when play ended last night.

The Caps did their part to maintain the suspense in this last fortnight of the regular season with a 3-2 overtime shootout win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

As hockey games go, this would have been a decent enough contest had it been played in January. But with the added meaning such games take on now, it was a lot more. The three-point nature of the game probably means that the Hurricanes have all but clinched the Southeast Division. It would take something of a collapse by Carolina for the Caps to win the division, especially since the Hurricanes have clinched the season series (they have nine points earned to six for Washington, with one game remaining, and this is the second tie-breaker at season’s end).

Meanwhile, both Boston and Philadelphia maintained their margins over the Caps with wins. Side note…why has Daniel Briere decided now to earn his money? He has points in 11 of his last 12 games (8-6-14, +3), including a goal last night in a 2-1 overtime win against the Rangers in another three point game.

As for this one, the Hurricanes stole a point thanks to goalie Cam Ward, who stopped 42 of 44 shots, including all six in overtime when the Caps outshot the Hurricanes 6-0.

If Ward played well, his counterpart – Crisotbal Huet – deserved better…much better. Huet “allowed,” if that word can be used, two goals. Both were odd, to say the least. On the first, Joe Corvo held the puck at the top of the Caps’ zone on a power play, faking a slap shot. He moved the puck to Jeff Hamilton, who was proceeded to pass to Eric Cole for what appeared to be a one timer from the right point. The puck never got to Cole. It pinballed off of the skate of Boyd Gordon, and with Huet already moving across the crease in anticipation of the shot from Cole, the puck slid quietly into the Caps’ net.

The other goal came on the infrequent occurrence of an overturned referee’s call. Eric Cole stepped out from behind the net to Huet’s right with the puck on his backhand. Shaone Morrisonn tried to tie up Cole, and the two tumbled into Huet in the crease. Three bodies and a puck were tangled at the goal line, and the referee blew the play dead, signaling no goal.

After further review…

…and some more review…

…and some more review…

…the call was overturned and the goal awarded. You could make an argument that Huet stopped all the “shots” he faced, deflections off a teammate from 40 feet away and goal-line scrums notwithstanding. It was a superb effort on his part in a hostile arena against a team looking to make a point and stick a dagger in the Caps’ playoff hopes.

Almost lost in this was the fact that Alex Ovechkin set a franchise record for goals in a season with his 61st off a nifty feed from Nicklas Backstrom. The goal put Ovechkin into a tie for 29th in the all-time top goal-scoring season rankings (with Mike Bossy, Reggie Leach, and Phil Esposito). Just as amazing, Ovechkin racked up a whopping 27:07 in ice time (second to Mike Green’s 31:17). He also led the team in hits with four. Guess the team is going to climb on his back for a ride to (hopefully) the playoffs.

With two assists, Nicklas Backstrom regained the scoring lead among rookies, pulling one point ahead of Chicago’s Patrick Kane. And he’s closing with a rush, too. Backstrom, in his last 15 games, is 5-12-17, +14. That last number is not a misprint, and the points pace works out to an 82-game pace of 27-66-93. He’s a keeper.

Think the Hurricanes didn’t miss Rod Brind’Amour? 15-15, 8-15, 0-3, 5-7. Those were the face off wins and losses for Eric Staal, Trevor Letowski, Scott Walker, and Keith Aucoin. Overall, Carolina was 29-42 (40.8 percent) in the circle.

Four. We thought that holding the Hurricanes under five power play chances was important. The Caps held the Hurricanes to four chances, although both Carolina goals were scored, so to speak, with the man-advantage. When the Hurricanes pounded the Caps 5-0 and 6-3 in previous games in Raleigh, they were 7-for-14. They had the same success rate (50 percent), but fewer chances.

Viktor Kozlov, with the winner coming in the gimmick phase of the contest, is 3-for-7 in such situations. So is Alexander Semin. Think that doesn’t mean anything? The Caps’ top gimmick performers last year were Semin and Ovechkin, both with two goals (on 10 and 12 shots, respectively). The Caps also were 1-11. This year, 4-4.

Eric Staal had a point – an assist on the Hamilton ricochet. That’s not bad, but this was a guy who had multiple point games in six of his last nine contests coming into last night’s game. Getting him off for four minutes on two minor penalties wasn’t bad, either. OK, less than four minutes, since the Caps scored when he was off on his first minor.

Playing Twister with numbers…Alex Ovechkin had 11 shots in 27:07 of ice time. That works out to a shot every 2:28. Donald Brashear had two shots in 6:45…a shot every 3:23. That was the second most frequent shooting pace on the team last night…puck hog.

More Twister with numbers…Alex Ovechkin has taken 421 shots in 1,648 shifts, about one shot every four shifts (doesn’t sound like that much when you say it like that, Peerless). He has 61 goals in those shifts…about one in every 27. Goes to show, even as prolific as Ovechkin is, goals are special things.

Know who’s due for a breakout game?...Mike Green. He’s gone a dozen games without a goal, his longest stretch of the year. He’s not lacking for being aggressive in ending that slide…nine shot attempts last night, nine last Friday against Atlanta, four against Chicago, four against Nashville, eight against Boston…you get the idea. Sooner or later…

And speaking of the defense, the six blueliners who dressed last night deserve a hand. Two fluky goals against a team that has given the Caps so much trouble this year is a fine night by any standard.

We’re down to five games with a couple of land mines immediately ahead. The Caps are 6-5-1 against Tampa Bay and Florida, 3-3-0 in their trips to the Sunshine State. The Caps can’t do anything about Boston, Philadelphia, or the price of gas. All they can do is tend to their own business by winning. Do that, and things will take care of themselves.

4 comments:

maruk said...

Here's to hoping Olie gets a serious case of hat hair for the rest of the season. Wonder what Gabby will do.....

Hooks Orpik said...

It took a double-take to realize that wasn't Craig Patrick showing how many points the Caps earned last night...

The Peerless said...

He seems to be modeling the Baby Pens' shade of yellow, too.

Stokley said...

Anyone see that in pretty much identical situations (a defender pushing an opposing player into the goalie resulting in a goal), the goal against the Pens was disallowed but the goal on the Caps was allowed?

I haven't gone screen-for-screen with the replays but when I saw the highlight from the Pens game last night, it looked pretty much like what happened when Mo pushed the Cane into Huet.

Just sayin...