Yeah, right. The Caps played with what looked like at times five defensemen on the ice as the squeezed the life out of the Maple Leafs and just enough offense (from their defense, appropriately enough) to edge the Maple Leafs, 2-1 at Air Canada Centre.
It wouldn’t have been a Caps game, though, without another injury as Eric Fehr left the game mid-way through the second period with a shoulder injury. Having finished a check and then hitting the glass near the Caps bench, Fehr went to the bench where he was in obvious pain in a manner that suggested a rather significant injury. He’s reported as day-to-day…of course, he’s hardly alone on that list.
With the short bench and the thin defense, the Caps went to all-hands-on-deck mode in their own zone. It showed…
- The Leafs were limited to 20 shots, only three in the final 12:48 after the Caps took the final 2-1 lead in the third period.
- The Caps blocked 17 shots, eight of them by Hershey call-ups Bryan Helmer and Karl Alzner.
- The Caps led the turnover battle (takeaways plus Toronto giveaways), 31-19.
- Washington won 10-of-15 defensive zone faceoffs.
At the other end, the defense did the damage with Karl Alzner netting his first NHL goal on an innocent enough looking shot from the top of the offensive zone through a screen set by Alex Ovechkin. After Toronto tied the game on a power play goal from Nik Antropov, Milan Jurcina let loose a cannon shot from the right point that beat Vesa Toskala over his left pad. That was it for the scoring…sorta. Brooks Laich had a goal waved off for making a distinct kicking motion on a puck in the Maple Leafs’ crease. If it was a kick, it was one that wouldn’t tear a tissue. And it denied Sean Collins – yet another call-up on the blue line – from getting his first NHL point. Alex Ovechkin rang the post past Toskala, too, but he looked good celebrating it.
The game also saw the almost “The Goal II.” Getting hauled down at the Toronto blue line by Jeff Finger after taking a long lead pass from Michael Nylander, Ovechkin scrambled to his knees with the puck sliding in front of him. As he was going down again, he laid out, got good wood (or composite) on the puck, and flicked it at the Toronto net. If not for a fine save by Toskala, that would have been on the short list for the goal of the year.
The first star of the game was awarded to Alex Ovechkin, no doubt for his seven shots (on 17 attempts), six hits, and that almost amozing goal. But there was a bit of boneheadedness in there, too. Having taken an iffy hooking call three minutes into the third period, he no sooner skated back on after serving that sentence than he took a holding penalty in his own end. That penalty led to the Toronto goal and made things more interesting than then had to be.
That they did not become more interesting was a product of the team-defense and some fine goaltending from Brent Johnson, who saved 19 of 20 shots to see his save percentage rise to .913 (better than the likes of Ryan Miller, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Evgeni Nabokov) and his GAA drop to 2.59 (better than Miikka Kiprusoff, Chris Osgood…oh, and Cristobal Huet).
What the Caps – and coach Bruce Boudreau – are doing balancing a make-shift line-up is nothing short of amazing. Here is an indicator…defensemen Karl Alzner: 23:06 in ice time tonight, Sami Lepisto: 20:37, Bryan Helmer: 20:05. All of them were in Hershey a couple of weeks ago. Sean Collins was in Hershey last week. Keeping the team playing within a system and playing within themselves has been part of a fine coaching job by Boudreau through this injury run.
Keith Aucoin might be the leading scorer in the AHL, but he’s been doing the little things in his stint with the Caps. A couple of shots, a couple of takeaways, a blocked shot, and he won five of nine draws. Not spectacular, just pretty solid. He almost had a goal when Vesa Toskala bollixed up a shot from a bad angle, allowing it to go through his legs and roll along the goal line and out the other side.
Speaking of quiet…Nicklas Backstrom – four shots, four takeaways, and he won 10 of 16 draws in almost 21 minutes. Not all well-played games involved goals or assists. Frankly, that could be said for a lot of Capitals tonight.
The hard hat for this one might be going to Boyd Gordon, who had a fine game for someone who barely made a ripple on the score sheet. He had an excellent game in his own end, serving almost as a roving defenseman during his shifts. From lugging the puck clear to getting in the way of shots (we’re thinking that one blocked shot is a little light in credit) to winning three of four defensive draws (seven of 13 overall), he was solid in the defense-first aspects of the game.
We’re wondering…are Ron Wilson, Tim Hunter and Rob Zettler joined at the hip?
Chris Bourque had seven shots on goal for Hershey tonight…hope he’s still limber, seeing as he might be joining the Caps in Carolina tomorrow.
If the Islander game on Thursday was a “business game,” according to Coach Boudreau, this one was a “stick to business” game. It wasn’t pretty, but is was among the more satisfying wins of the year, given the circumstances of a poor road record coming in and an injury list that got longer by one during the course of the game. Nicely done, boys.