Saturday, November 08, 2008

A TWO-point night: Caps 3 - Rangers 1

Well, well…wasn’t that a whole bucket o’ fun?

The Caps beat the Rangers on Saturday night, 3-1, before a crowd of 17,948 at Verizon Center. The game had a bit of a playoff air to it with a lot of up-and-down play, a pair of excellent goaltending performances, and the kind of ugly goals that the Caps need to see more of.

Brooks Laich got his ugly on in the first period with a strange power play goal, the puck taking more turns and more ricochet’s than you’d see in a cartoon gunfight. Alexander Semin sent a drive that Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist got a piece of. The puck sailed off the glass behind Lundqvist and bounced all the way back to bounce off the cross bar behind Lundqvist. The puck then bounded off Lundqvist’s mask where Brooks Laich swept it into the net out of mid air past the bewildered goalie. The play was reviewed to ensure that Laich did not strike the puck with a high stick, and the goal stood.

The second goal was credited to Tom Poti, but the hero of the play was Boyd Gordon. Gordon collected the puck on the left side and skated in. Dmitri Kalinin tried to angle Gordon off the puck, but the winger dipped his shoulder, got leverage, and worked his way in to Lundqvist. The puck trickled off Gordon’s stick before he could complete a deke, and it squirted to Lundqvist’s left. Tom Poti jumped in and lifted the puck past the sprawled Lundqvist, and the lead was two. This play also was reviewed to determine if the right post (away from the play) had been lifted off its peg before the puck crossed the goal line. The review confirmed the goal, and the Caps took a two-goal lead into intermission.

The Rangers made things interesting in the third as Aaron Voros scored a goal on Caps goalie Brent Johnson’s short side, the puck apparently tipped ever so slightly by Tom Poti’s stick. From there, it was a case of the Caps closing down the Rangers, making it difficult for the visitors to even exit their own zone with any comfort. As the clock was ticking down to two minutes, though, Alexander Semin had a brain cramp and took a tripping call when he got his stick into Scott Gomez’ skates. Strangely, the Rangers let almost the entire two minutes of the power play burn off before pulling Lundqvist to get a 6-on-4 advantage. By the time the Rangers went for the second extra man, the effort needed to finish off the penalty kill was not as great, and six seconds after the power play expired – with Lundqvist now on the bench – Semin redeemed himself by picking up a loose puck in the right wing faceoff circle, spinning, and firing a length-of-the-rink wrist shot into the heart of the Ranger net to complete the scoring.

Some things we saw…

This was the most complete game the Caps played since beating Vancouver in the third game of the season. In all three zones, the Caps dominated play. Especially on the forecheck, they made life difficult for the Rangers exiting their end. They did not allow Nikolai Zherdev, Markus Naslund, Scott Gomez, or Chris Drury to gather any momentum skating through the neutral zone. Rarely did the Rangers enter the Capitals’ zone under control of the puck, and once in, often found themselves chasing the puck right back out of the zone.

Hey Brandon Dubinsky…show up early for practice tomorrow. You’re doing faceoff drills. One-for-13 ain’t gonna get it done.

How good was the Caps defense? OK, here it is…Wade Redden and Ryan Callahan led the Rangers with four shots apiece. If those two are leading the team in shots in this game? I like the Caps’ chances. Nikolai Zherdev, Markus Naslund, Brandon Dubinsky, and Scott Gomez – the Rangers’ top four scorers – had a total of six shots among them. OK… now I really like the Caps’ chances.

OK, Ovechkin didn’t have a point, and he’s become so frustrated, it seems, that he’s taken to celebrating goals before they are goals…but he is this close. If not for the sterling play of Lundqvist (and if we’re picking sides for pick up hockey, I take him as my goalie), Ovechkin has at least a pair of goals (the ones he “celebrated”).

Speaking of Ovechkin, we suspect there will be a call from one brother to another…”hey, Eric…does he hit guys like that all the time?”…”yeah, Marc, he does…all the time.”

We’re starting to say this more often, but Nicklas Backstrom had his best game of the year. From controlling the puck, to finding the open man, to standing up to physical play, he had a very good game. And he almost headed in the puck on the goal scored by Laich. And there he was, in the middle of a scrum coming to the aid of Brent Johnson when the Rangers were taking some liberties. He will, however, perhaps see Lundqvist in his sleep after having three whacks at the puck with Lundqvist down and out on the doorstep with only his glove to save him.

Tomas Fleischmann isn’t going to deliver many hits or take many without giving up the puck, it seems, but he can be fairly described as “shifty.” On many an occasion this evening, he was lined up by a Ranger and managed to duck out of trouble with the puck.

Tyler Sloan had a fine game by keeping things simple. In his own zone, it was “get the puck, clear the puck.” No muss, no fuss.

Once again…no penalty killing time for Ovechkin. Is it us, or does he look fresher as a result?

As if it needs saying, Brent Johnson is in a zone. He is now fifth in goals against and tied for fifth in save percentage. Since losing in relief in the season opener in Atlanta, he’s 3-0-2, 1.75, .942. What goalie controversy?

It gets more than a little tiring hearing fans yelling at Jeff Schultz every time he gets within a stick length of someone, “hit him, Schultz!” Here’s a guy who played more than 19 minutes, recorded an assist, and blocked a couple of shots. He was on the ice for the Rangers’ power play goal, but he wasn’t in the vicinity of the play when the puck was shot. He was busy defending his man on the other side.

We heard on the radio after the game that John Erskine won the “hard hat” for this one. He deserved it. It was his best game of the year, too.

And, if Erskine gets the “hard hat,” Brooks Laich gets the “tool belt.” He has a solid game all around tonight. A goal, tied for the team lead in shots, a couple of hits in 16:30 of work.

This was a good test for the Caps, given that the Rangers – and especially Lundqvist – have played solid hockey for just about all of the early going. That they got a pair of goals by sheer will – Laich and Backstrom driving to the net on the first, Gordon bulling his way in with Poti jumping into the play on the other – is an encouraging sign. But it can’t be a one-time thing. Tampa Bay comes to town on Monday, and they are 5-2-1 after starting the year 0-2-3. And, the Capitals alumni club of Olaf Kolzig, Matt Pettinger, and Steve Eminger will be looking to take a measure of bragging rights.

But tonight, this was a game well-played against a quality opponent. Well done, boys.


Anonymous said...

Tomorrow in the NY Post

markmarcus said...

I can live with the hardhat thing,and Erskey definately deserved it last night, but dont you think things could be in danger of getting a little too "Village People" in the locker room with a toolbelt too?

Chris said...

Gordo's move on that second goal was sick. Absolutely sick.

I experienced a major high and a major low as a Caps fan last night. The high was when Lunquist stone-cold robbed Ovi, who fell to his knees and looked to the rafters, and the fans gave him a huge cheer. I loved being a Caps fan just then.

The low was when Semin scored his empty netter and, in a shameless display of asshattery, some idiot in Section 413 poored beer all over my buddy, who was wearing his Ranger jersey to the game. Where were we, Philidelphia? No class. My friend had been respectful the entire game, nothing out of order, and he gets beer dumped all over him. Pathetic. Hell, even if he had been acting like an idiot, you do not dump beer all over a Wayne Gretsky jersey ever. Period. I was embarrassed to be a Caps fan.

Chris said...

Forgive the typo on Gretzky's name