Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A TWO-point night: Caps 5 - Islanders 4 (OT)

Thrill rides are wonderful things, as long as you get to walk away from them when they’re over. If you end up in a tangled heap of twisted metal and body parts…not fun.

By that standard, the Caps’ 64 minute, 49.3 second thrill ride on Long Island ended happily in a 5-4 win over the Islanders. Alex Ovechkin, who earlier in overtime hit iron twice – on the same shot – flipped a wrong-footed wrist shot past goaltender Joey MacDonald for the win.

One could forgive the Caps and Caps fans of thinking this would be one that would slip away as that man – Jon Sim – scored on a redirection with 2:13 left in regulation to tie the game, 4-4. That was Sim’s 12th career goal against the Caps in 23 career games.

If the Caps had let this one slip away, it would have been criminal. First, because a very good team doesn’t lose to a team like the Islanders – struggling, thin on talent. Second, because the Caps didn’t play quite as bad a game (well, goalie Brent Johnson didn't, anyway) as having allowed four goals suggests. There was the shot that Doug Weight took that was deflected down and in by Tom Poti as he was trying to prevent an Islander from doing just that. There was the shot that Richard Park took that threaded between Boyd Gordon and David Steckel that Johnson could not quite get a bead on. Steckel was playing without a stick and couldn’t defend the play. But that’s hockey – those things happen and sometimes make a weak team competitive in a game they otherwise, well, aren’t being competitive in.

But in the end, two points is two points, and that gets the Caps to 41. It is the earliest that the Caps have passed the 40-point mark – 31 games – since the 1991-1992 season (29 games, 20-9-0). It also allowed them to better their road record to 7-9-2, which is important as only five of 40 playoff teams over the last five seasons out of the Eastern Conference had a less than .500 road record (none over the last two seasons).

Other stuff…

- It seems safe to say Alexander Semin’s “upper body” is okay. That no-look, behind-the-back pass to set up Alex Ovechkin’s first goal torqued his torso pretty good. Semin was otherwise feeling pretty good…nine shot attempts (four shots), a hit, a takeaway, and he spit a couple of faceoffs. And, more than 23 minutes of ice time, in what was his second highest ice time total for the season.

- Sometimes, goals are scored by sheer stick-to-it effort, as was the case when Boyd Gordon jabbed, jabbed again, and jabbed some more at a loose puck to MacDonald’s right before poking it through the only place that was open – under MacDonald’s skate blade that was pressed against the right post.

- Then there are the goals that just happen, as when Brooks Laich was skating down the left side, pushed the puck harmlessly past an Islander and at the net, and watched as MacDonald whiffed on an attempt to poke it away only to have it slide under his pads and softly into the net. Ten years from now, that is a laser of a wrist shot that found the five hole. No matter, they all count.

- With a goal tonight, Milan Jurcina is 2-2-4, +5 in his last seven games. What’s more, he had six shot attempts, the most he’s had since also having six against Montreal on November 28th.

- 12 players (including goalie Brent Johnson) had points on the five goals. Only Ovechkin, who had two of the goals, and Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) had multi-point games. It’s nice seeing a multi-goal game from Ovechkin, but it might be as helpful getting points out of players like Donald Brashear, David Steckel, and Boyd Gordon.

- Semin’s missing so many games to injury might hide the fact that he’s on a 127-point scoring pace over an 82 game season. As it is, he’s on a pace for 49-60-109. He’s been held off the score sheet only three times in 20 games. With apologies to Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and even Alex Ovechkin, Semin is probably the most dangerous offensive player in the league right now, given that he’s putting up points at this pace getting more than three fewer minutes of ice time a game than any of the other three players mentioned. Go ahead, keep talking about his comments about Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby…we’ll take the points.

- If ever a player was making a case on the ice to stick with the big club in the face of every other argument to send him down to the minors (cough-salary cap-cough), it’s Karl Alzner. He is an NHL-level defenseman. He is not close to reaching his potential, but he is eating up large chunks of solid minutes. Even tonight, though he was on the ice for three of the four Islander goals, it’s going to be tough to send him down.

- We suspect players sleep at night dreaming of the opportunity to execute an open ice hit of the sort Mike Green had on Ben Walter. Good thing for Walter it was Green doing the hitting. If it had been someone like Scott Stevens back in the day…

- If ever the phrase, “the only thing a prevent defense accomplishes is to prevent a club from winning,” it was on display tonight. In the third period, the Caps (holding a two-goal lead), were outshot 17-5, out-scored 2-0. The Caps were outshot 9-4 in the period leading up to the Andy Sutton goal to make it 4-3. Then it got worse, the Caps being outshot 4-0 until the Sim goal to tie it. The Caps didn’t get another shot on goal until there were nine seconds left in regulation, that being by Matt Bradley from more than 50 feet. The Caps didn’t go into a shell, they went to the back of the cave.

- This was only the second of eight games in December in which the Caps failed to score a power play goal. Still, they are 11-for-32 for the month (34.4%).

Early on, this had all the makings of a blowout – 13 shots, two goals in just over 14 minutes. By the end of regulation, the Caps were hanging on for dear life to get out with a point. Then, it looked like a shootout was in the offing as the clock wound down to under 15 seconds. It paid to watch Nicklas Backstrom as the last play was unfolding…he was deep in the Islander zone pressuring Brendan Witt at the end boards. Then, he circled all the way out to the blue line as Ovechkin was fighting Doug Weight for the puck along the side boards. The puck came back to Backstrom’s stick at the blue line, and the center flipped it into open ice where only Ovechkin could retrieve it. The rest was the second standings point as Ovechkin flipped the puck past MacDonald. But what gets lost in the blur of a sudden finish like that is the play of the guy who set the whole thing up. Backstrom made a helluva play.

Nicely done, Nicklas…

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