Saturday, March 01, 2008

A TWO point night: Caps 4 - Devils 0

Well, that was fun.

Last night, the Caps solved the New Jersey Devils and their long-time goaltending nemesis Martin Brodeur for a 4-0 win. You might say they put the “dent” in the Prudential Center.

The adjective that comes to mind in looking back over this game is “patient.” A lot of coaches preach sticking to their system ("play your game," in the parlance of the late Herb Brooks). But when a team is frustrated by their opponent in trying to implement that system, they often fall prey to taking shortcuts or taking chances outside the comfort zone of that system.

Not so last night. Jersey held the Caps to a measly four shots in the opening frame, and Brodeur turned each of them aside. It was looking like a replay of last Sunday, with the only changes being that of venue and the color of uniform.

Then, Andy Greene took a tripping call midway through the second period. This gave head coach Bruce Bourdreau an opportunity to unleash the hounds…the first unit of the power play was Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Sergei Fedorov, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green would make the Devils pay for the transgression, finishing one of the prettier plays one will see this season…Fedorov, from the right wing boards, slid a backhand pass to Semin at the edge of the right wing circle. Semin wasted no time getting the puck to Green, pinching down on the weak side, who whistled the puck past Brodeur’s blocker to break the scoreless deadlock. The play was made possible by Fedorov intercepting Patrik Elias’ clearing attempt at the blue line and recycling the attack from there.

The key goal might have been the one scored less than a minute into the third period, when Ovechkin, from the right wing point, sent a pass to Viktor Kozlov in the left wing circle. Kozlov secured the puck and fired before Brodeur could get across to the post. It was a shot that Brodeur might save 99 out of 100 times, but it looked as if it might have changed direction off the stick of the Devils’ Mike Mottau, or a case of Mottau’s stick distracting Brodeur’s tracking the puck.

Tom Poti and Semin ran virtually the same play eight minutes later, only this time Semin one-timed Poti’s pass from the right point past Brodeur on the short side.

The Caps then got some insurance (without even calling Prudential…sorry, couldn’t resist) from Donald Brashear, of all people. Matt Bradley, skating down the left side as the clock ticked past three minutes remaining, sent a shot toward Brodeur that was blocked by Paul Martin. Bradley picked up the loose puck and continued his circuit around the Jersey net. But as he was about to disappear behind the cage, he backhanded the puck in front to Brashear, who was left alone in the slot to Brodeur’s right. Brashear snapped the puck into the net before Brodeur could recover, and the victory was complete.

The Caps – who were the better team for most of last Sunday’s loss to New Jersey – were certainly the better team last night. And a lot of that can be attributed to patience. At both ends of the ice they showed the discipline and attention to detail in running Broudreau’s system until it was Brodeur who cracked in this game. Scoring four goals on Brodeur in the span of 25:38 covering the second and third periods is something the Jersey goaltender simply hasn’t seen in a while. It was the only time in February he allowed that many. Brodeur did have his moments, though, chiefly at the expense of Ovechkin (who is now in his longest goalless streak of his young career – seven games). He dove to poke check the puck off Ovechkin’s stick as Ovechkin was breaking in across the crease to foil one attempt in the first period, and he made a “freeze that moment” glove save on a drive by Ovechkin that was ticketed for the far top corner in the third.

On the other hand, his counterpart – the new guy, Cristobal Huet – stopped everything he saw…18 shots worth. That number is quite telling. The difference between 18 and, say, 25 shots might be better defense. Certainly the Caps had that last night, allowing only two shots to reach Huet in the third period – none in the last 6:20 of the game. But is also might be a function of: a) no rebounds that b) the Caps fail to clear. Pucks that hit Huet last night didn’t seem to ever come back out, and the Caps added 11 blocks to ensure that pucks never got to Huet in the first place. To say Huet impressed in his debut is to damn with faint praise, but it was a team effort in their own end, too.

Fun fact…Huet was the second Capitals goalie to start his season for the Caps with a shutout. Olaf Kolzig notched one in the home opener against Carolina on October 6th. They are the only two shutouts for Capitals’ goaltenders this season. If you’re wondering about Brent Johnson, he gave up a single goal in his first game of the year, against Atlanta in the season opener.

As for the other new guy, he can stay. Fedorov might have only the secondary assist on the first Caps goal, but it was his play that got the whole thing started by reaching out and corralling the puck before a clearing attempt by Patrik Elias could skip over the blue line. He also 10 of 13 draws and gave the middle of the second line a presence that just hasn’t been there over the last 20 games or so (in other words, since Michael Nylander left the lineup).

The Caps made the most of what power play opportunities they got, converting two of three. They held the Devils without on in their three opportunities. It was the first time the Devils allowed two power play goals since February 4th, in a 4-3 overtime win against Pittsburgh. Although the Caps record is only 3-2-2 over their last seven games, their power play is 7/24 (29.2 percent). It figures to remain formidable with Fedorov added to the mix.

You’d be hard pressed to find a poor performance in the lot from among the Caps in this one. There were some other fine performances to note…Boyd Gordon winning eight of 12 draws and doing a fine job hounding Jersey’s forwards…Nicklas Backstrom getting a pair of assists in as quiet a manner as possible…Tom Poti also notching a pair of assists.

Whatever controversy there might be concerning the goaltending situation isn’t over, but it could be set aside for one night when the Caps made use of one of their games-in-hand over Carolina to inch just that much closer. Both teams are in action tonight (Washington hosting Toronto, Carolina hosting Tampa Bay). We do not want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but Washington could be playing for first place on Monday, when they take on the Bruins.

This isn’t over yet.

1 comment:

Hockey Amor said...

I saw the Devs feed and loved the announcer's concluding comment about the Caps game: 'This was surgical'