Saturday, March 15, 2008

A TWO-point night!...Caps 4 - Thrashers 1

Punch in…punch out.

It was a workman-like effort last night as the Caps made sure all the jobs were performed in a 4-1 win over the Atlanta Thrashers…

Ovechkin pots a goal…check (goal and an assist)

Hold Kovalchuk off the board…check (no points, one shot on goal)

Get supplemental scoring…check (Brooks Laich, third two-goal effort in his last nine games)

Play solid defense…check (12 shots on goal; Olaf Kolzig stopped all but one of them)

Get solid special teams play…check (1-for-3 on the power play, 3-for-3 on the penalty kill)

Bruce Boudreau called it, “as complete a game as we’ve played.” And it sure was that. Were there disturbing signs?...well, a couple, and we’ll get to that. But if coaches often lament “we didn’t play a full 60 minutes,” the Caps played a full and solid 60 minutes last night.

The Caps registered the first five shots of the game before the Thrashers could muster any (their first came 6:44 into the period). And when the Thrashers did manage to take the early lead on a well-placed Slava Kozlov slap shot over Kolzig’s left shoulder four seconds after a penalty to Shaone Morrisonn expired, the Caps treated it like a speed bump.

Camped behind the Atlanta net, Viktor Kozlov found Ovechkin pinching in from Thrasher goalie Kari Lehtonen’s right. Ovechkin managed to get a stick on the puck, but it squirted away…right to Laich, who lifted the puck over Lehtonen from the deep slot.

Laich wasn’t done yet, either. A Sami Lepisto drive from the top of the offensive zone was deflected downward and to Lehtonen’s left. As the puck inched around the left post, Laich – with only his right hand on the stick – deftly moved the puck back in front and tapped it into the cage an instant before the net was knocked off of its moorings. The goal was allowed after review, and the Caps had the lead they would not surrender. That makes 19 goals on the year for Laich…

Fun Brooks Laich fact…that makes ten goals in Laich’s last 12 games. That is not a misprint. Let’s compare that to the league’s top five goal-getters over the same stretch of games…

Ovechkin: 9
Kovalchuk: 8
Jarome Iginla: 9
Evgeni Malkin: 5
Vincent Lecavalier: 5

One might say Laich has been “Ovechkinesque” in his production. The 19 goals is, obviously, a career high. But it is not as if he is a complete stiff having a “lucky” year, either. He had 41 goals with Seattle in the WHL in 2002-2003 before making the jump to Binghamton in the AHL while in the Senators’ organization.

The rest of the Capitals’ scoring came in what had to be considered “sweet” plays…off an Erik Christensen hard-around in the Caps’ end on a Thrasher power play, Shaone Morrisonn won a fight with Tobias Enstrom for the puck along the side boards, working it to Sergei Fedorov. Fedorov threw the puck out into space at center ice, where Matt Cooke was already hot-footing it toward the Atlanta end. As the puck was sliding into the Thrasher end, goalie Lehtonen couldn’t decide to come out to play it, stay in his net, or go get a hot dog. By the time he decided (at which point the hot dog idea seemed the best available), Cooke had the puck and had only to rifle it through Lehtonen’s pads for the shorthanded goal.

The two-goal lead being the most dangerous in hockey, so they say, getting the next one was the next job on the ticket for the Caps. They did – in stunningly swift fashion. Ken Klee was whistled for a hooking penalty in the Atlanta end 1:03 into the third period. By the time the clock had ticked off four more seconds, Fedorov won a draw (he sure has done a lot of that since arriving in Washington), Mike Green collected the puck and pushed it to Ovechkin, and Ovechkin fired a sidewinder missle into the Thrasher cage.

Game over, man…game over.

The numbers are remarkable, largely for their utter predictability…

Alexander Ovechkin had seven shots (scoring once), attempting 13 (two blocked, four misses)

Mike Green also had seven shots, attempting 12 (one blocked, four misses)

Green led the club in ice time (he seems to be taking over from Poti in this regard, and there is a moderately interesting development here…Poti had no power play ice time last night; Green had 3:29 – every second the Caps had)

Matt Bradley had four shots on goal and two glorious chances that he was not able to convert (more a function of Lehtonen’s superb goaltending last night…it could have been another Boston Massacre but for his play). Bradley, if not reaching the prolific level of Ovechkin’s shots per game, is ramping up his offense…he has 29 shots on goal in his last 15 games. It might not sound like a lot, but averaging about 12:30 in ice time a game over those 15 games, it sounds a lot more impressive.

Who led the team in hits?...Brooks Laich. He also had the best faceoff winning percentage (69 percent off nine wins in 13 tries). He was also a +2 and bought a little girl in section 418 an ice cream cone between shifts. He had a good night.

Sami Lepisto registered his first NHL point (an assist) and was not shy about firing the puck, at least for a rookie call-up…four shots attempted. He had three blocked, but his miss was rather dramatic…Nicklas Backstrom skated alone down the right side in the Thrasher end, when picked up by a Thrasher defender, he curled off and found Lepisto skating down the other side. Lepisto gathered up the puck and fired a wicked shot that rang the post to Lehtonen’s far side. Would have been nice to see one Finn score on another.

In all this, though, there are some other things of which we took note, some things that are of budding concern…

As well as Brooks Laich has played, it would be nice to see Boyd Gordon get into the offensive ledger a bit more often. Gordon is without a point in his last 15 games, dating back to February 13th. He is doing the other things he needs to do (only -1 facing team’s better offensive players, winning a majority of his draws in nine of those 15 games), and that should be interpreted as a good sign – taking care of business.

Of the six defensemen, only two of them (Tom Poti and Mike Green) were credited with shots on goal, and Green had seven of the eight. Against a team as defensively challenged as Atlanta, it didn’t seem to matter much, but raising the threat of a blue line presence might free some space for the forwards in games against sturdier defenses.

We’ve become accustomed to Alex Ovechkin launching a lot of shots and netting a lot of goals. What we haven’t seen is the same thing from Alexander Semin. What we mean by that is that Semin is a more surgical shooter (his career shooting percentage is better, for example, 14.2 percent to 12.8). But Semin has two goals in his last nine games on 21 shots. In part, that 21 shots is a bit of a concern. In his first 44 games this year, Semin averaged 2.98 shots a game and had 19 goals. In his last nine, he’s averaged 2.33 shots a game and has two goals. There is a fine line between being selfish and being assertive. It’s especially hard for a player whose role includes that of “sniper.” We think Semin will regain that balance, but at the moment, he seems to have hit a dry patch brought on by not taking advantage of all the shooting opportunities he’s being presented, perhaps looking a little bit too much to “pass first.”

These, though, are all matters that can work themselves out by playing through them. And in the end, the only thing that matters these days is getting more goals than the other guy, whether a 7-6 or a 2-1 game, whether Ovechkin gets the hat trick or Matt Cooke pots a shorty.

The Caps are now three points behind Philadelphia, who faces a back-to-back on the road today and tomorrow against Boston and Pittsburgh. The Caps will face a Boston team on the back end of their own back-to-back when they visit Verizon Center tomorrow. Meanwhile, Carolina – which got pounded by Buffalo last night, 7-1 – has to play Ottawa on Sunday, which while a reeling club, has the firepower to give the Hurricanes a rough time.

All of a sudden, things aren’t looking so bad…as long as the Caps keep winning.


Perplexed said...

"But Semin has two goals in his last nine games on 21 shots."

I am thinking that this plunge in production by Big Al Semin coincides precisely with the acquisition of 'Gramps' Fedorov as his centerman. Now, why would this be? One would think that Feds would be able to figure Al out instantly and play entirely to his strengths. Do whatever it takes to get Al back to form. So okay then. What, exactly, does Al need in an ideal centerman? I think he thrives on space/time and his ideal centerman would be someone who is enough of a threat on his own so that he draws one man off of Big Al. Give Al time to razzle dazzle his way around pylon-like defenders. Is Gramps that centerman? Why isn't that combo clicking? On paper it's the perfect duo. Add Cooke to dig around in the corners and it becomes even better. On paper.

dmg said...

I think Semin's become a much less aggressive shooter with Fedorov in the lineup. He seems to have this attitude of 'It's Sergei Fedorov! Passing his the puck is never a bad play!'

Still Perplexed said...

'It's Sergei Fedorov! Passing hi[m] the puck is never a bad play!'
Fiddlestick! I don't buy this. Big Al Semin isn't in awe of anyone. Besides, as far as I can see, Al doesn't pass TO Gramps all that much. There is something else wrong. And I also don't buy the excuse that they need time to develop "chemistry". Gramps is enough of an expert at the game to adapt instantly. Besides, don't they train together in Russia? With Ovie?

No, something else is fishy here.

exwhaler said...

Actually, Semin has been passing more since Federov has shown up. In their first few games, there were several times Semin gave up a clear shot at the goal to shovel the puck to Federov. His familiarity with Federov probably has something to do with that--he's finally got a center he knows and has played with. Nylander was always a pass first guy; Federov isn't. And outside of Nylander, Semin hasn't had offensively inclined centers, and has tried to do it himself (with mixed results). Semin needs to remember that he's a shooter. We like the puck hog at times...