Tuesday, December 23, 2008

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

“I need a Tom Collins.”

Those words issued from analyst Craig Laughlin’s lips on the Capitals’ television broadcast as the Caps were figure skating to a 3-0 deficit before tonight's game was a dozen minutes old at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers. If the Caps played their best first period of hockey in the Saturday game against the Flyers – what ended up being a 7-1 loss -- this might have been their worst first period of the season. But hockey games aren’t a dozen minutes in length.

The Rangers would add a goal early in the second, but after that, the Capitals skated around, through, and over the home team in roaring back with five goals in the last 30 minutes of the game, including 59 seconds of overtime, to beat the Rangers, 5-4.

It might have been the best single-game coaching performance by Bruce Boudreau, who pushed all the right buttons, and from the looks of things on television, used all the appropriate profanities in bringing the Caps back to life in the last half of the game. Calling a time out as the game was getting out of hand, Boudreau replaced a shell-shocked Jose Theodore in goal with Brent Johnson, then read the skaters the riot act. It was deserved. Say what you will about Theodore’s goaltending this year, but giving up three goals on five shots was not entirely, or even mostly his doing. The team was ghastly in front of him, allowing the Rangers to skate unhindered into and through the Caps’ defensive zone, and then when shots were turned aside stood and watched as Rangers gathered up rebounds. What Boudreau said (well, screamed) at his team during the time out might have melted the plastic on their helmets.

Boudreau got 8:45 in quality goaltending time from a clearly injured Brent Johnson, who should get the hard hat – and then some – for as gutsy effort as you’re going to see from a goaltender. It gave Theodore a chance to regain his wits and for the Caps to get their feet moving. Theodore returned for the second period and gave up a goal to Ryan Callahan – his second of the game – on the Rangers’ second shot of the frame. After that, Theodore shut the door, stopping the last 18 shots he faced, including a game-saver against Nikolai Zherdev from the doorstep.

On the other side, it all started mid-way through the second with a harmless throw-it-at-the-net shot from the side boards by Alex Ovechkin. The puck handcuffed goalie Henrik Lundqvist and looked to roll off his glove and past him into the net to shave the Ranger lead to 4-1. It wasn’t much, but it was something to build on for the third.

Bruce Boudreau mentioned in the post-game interview that he talked to the coaches about getting a goal in the first five minutes of the final period, and then the team might have a chance. The Caps got just that as Tomas Fleischmann redirected a Nicklas Backstrom shot less than two minutes into the third to cut the margin to two. Viktor Kozlov, who had a strong final two periods, banged one off the post and behind Lundqvist to cut the margin to one at the 7:04 mark.

Then, it was Ovechkin one more time as he blocked the puck down at the Rangers’ line, carried the puck the other way on Lundqvist, deked him to the ice, and snapped the puck in to tie the game with 7:22 left in regulation.

One had the feeling the Rangers would do just as we suggested in the prognosto – play for 65 minutes and leave it to Lundqvist. It might have worked but for an odd bounce in the overtime. The puck hit a player in the left wing faceoff circle and squirted to the middle of the ice, when Shaone Morrisonn – he of the no goals in 44 games – stepped into one and rocketed the puck past Lundqvist’s glove to make the comeback complete on his 26th birthday.

Some other stuff…

- Ovechkin had one of those games of the sort that puts to rest any reasonable conversation of who the best player is in the NHL. Two goals, an assist, four hits, two takeaways, 13 shots on goal (23 attempts) in 22 minutes of work.

- Sean Collins recorded his first NHL point, getting an assist on the game-winner by Morrisonn. Not bad for a guy who was skating in South Carolina last season.

- Wade Redden was on the ice for three of the last four Capitals goals. Don’t expect this to escape Larry Brooks’ attention in his report tomorrow in the New York Post.

- Oddly enough, Dmitri Kalinin (who seems to have been on the ice for every goal scored on the Rangers this year) was not on the ice for any Caps goal.

- OK…Nicklas Backstrom had three assists. This is not unheard of in his brief career. He had three hits, too. That’s a little more unusual.

- Speaking of hits…David Steckel led the team. Six in less than 12 minutes of work. He also won four of five draws and was not on the ice for any of the Ranger goals.

- Speaking of being on the ice for Ranger goals, before we swoon too much for the performances of Ovechkin and Backstrom this evening, let’s not forget that both were out there for each of the last three goals scored by the Blueshirts.

- And Milan Jurcina and Karl Alzner were out there for the first three, too, although what Tomas Fleischmann was doing on the Markus Naslund goal resembled backchecking the way Rosie O’Donnell resembles Scarlett Johansson.

- Here is an odd stat…the Rangers did not register a power play shot from a forward in three man-advantages. Michal Roszival had three shots, Paul Mara the other. On the other hand, all nine power play shots by the Caps came from forwards (four for Ovechkin, two for Fleischmann and Brooks Laich, one for Kozlov).

- Scoring is a rink-to-rink thing, it seems. The teams were credited with a combined 71 hits. They were also credited with three giveaways.

- OK, Nikolai Zherdev has more moves than United Van Lines…but does anyone else on that Ranger team scare anyone offensively (the Caps’ brutal play in the first period notwithstanding)? And no, we don’t see how Mats Sundin would have made all that much of a difference.

- Only Boston has a better record in their last ten games (9-1-0) than the Caps’ 8-2-0 in the Eastern Conference. That loss, by the way, was to the Caps.

This might have been a defining game for Jose Theodore. He was not great in the first period, but he was not nearly as awful as the results would have suggested (three goals on five shots). He was, however, a rock in the last 40 minutes of regulation (he did not face a shot in overtime). It was precisely the kind of game a struggling goalie needs – when things seem out of hand, just keep making saves and give your team a chance to crawl back into the game. He did, and the Caps did. It wasn’t one of those 60-minutes of fury unleashed upon an opponent the Caps are capable of mustering, but they unleashed quite a bit of fury in those last 30 minutes of regulation and overtime to give everybody a happy holiday…

Craig?...you can have that Tom Collins now.

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