Saturday, January 17, 2009

A TWO-point night: Caps 2 - Bruins 1

Yes we can.

It was a campaign slogan last fall, but it’s a phrase that bears saying over and over to Caps fans. Pessimistic by their nature, having endured a lot of years of disappointment and plain old bad teams, it’s time for Caps fans to look at this team and say, “yes we can.”

That’s what a hard-fought, playoff-like 2-1 win over the league leading Boston Bruins will do, a game where the Caps played solid in each zone and scratched out one more goal on a great individual effort to get the win.

For those of you keeping track, this was the 29th win for the Caps, the earliest the club has hit that mark in franchise history (46th game), besting the effort in 1985-86 when the Caps won their 29th victory in their 47th game.

It didn’t come easily. It wasn’t a fluke, either. In fact, if there was a flukish moment, it came on the Bruin goal in the second period when a shot by Chuck Kobasew on a Boston power play pinballed in front of Jose Theodore and squirted out to the right wing faceoff circle. Theodore looked to have lost sight of the puck and before he could find where it went, Marc Savard was winding up to fire a slap shot into the vacant side of the net for the game’s first goal.

That would be it for the Bruins as the Caps played a remarkably efficient defensive game. How? Here is your interesting number for the night – two. Of the 17 shots on net that Boston would have after the Savard goal, two would be the number that were launched from inside of 30 feet, none in the last five minutes with the game in the balance.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ice, the Caps got goals the way they get goals. Mike Green got lost on the right side of the ice on a Caps power play as all four Bruin penalty killers bunched up on the left side watching Michael Nylander hold onto the puck. Nylander eased down the left wing boards until he had a passing lane, then fired the puck past a Boston defender trying to kick it away. Green picked it up, took a stride toward the Boston net, then roofed a shot over goalie Tim Thomas’ glove to tie the game 70 seconds after the Savard goal.

The winner was scored as a product of a “holy crap, I’d better make up for that bonehead play” sort of effort. Milan Jucina had the puck at the Capitals’ blue line, but in an effort to move the puck across to Jeff Schultz he fanned on the attempt. The Bruins ended up with a 2-on-1 after Schultz couldn’t move the puck out of the zone, with Vladimir Sobotka feeding Martin St. Pierre and Jurcina back. Jurcina dove to stick check the puck off of St. Pierre’s stick into the corner and out of harm’s way. As so often happens on such a play – a chance that went for naught for the Bruins – the puck ended up going the other way with unfortunate results for Boston. Alexander Semin did a fine job of poking the puck past Mark Stuart and collecting it in front of the Capitals’ bench. Semin carried the puck into the Boston zone, and before Shane Hnidy could close the distance, Semin let fly with a slap shot in full stride that sailed over Thomas’ glove and under the crossbar to give the Caps the final lead.

Some other stuff…

If the season ended today, Zdeno Chara should win the Norris Trophy. When he’s out there, the left side of the ice is a no-fly zone for opponents. He was a warrior out there, skating the last 2:29 (with his running mate, Dennis Wideman) in an effort to get the equalizer. And the job he did on Alex Ovechkin, who rarely was allowed to skate into areas he wanted to go, was key in keeping the Caps to two goals.

The loss was the Bruins’ first on the road in their last eight tries. The last road loss?... Yup, here in Washington.

In the “defense-first” theme, the Caps won 10 of 16 draws in the defensive zone. David Steckel and Sergei Fedorov were a combined 10-for-13 (Nicklas Backstrom losing all three of his defensive zone draws).

Another “defense-first” note…the Bruins only had three shots on four power plays – all of them by Savard.

Neither Fedorov nor Nylander registered a shot on goal. Between them, they had only two attempts (both by Nylander).

We noted that Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman skated the last 2:29 for the Bruins. That doesn’t get the gold star for longest shift. Alex Ovechkin skated a 3:13 shift in the third period. In fact, on consecutive shifts in the third, Ovechkin skated 3:31, 1:16, and 1:59.

John Erskine got the second star of the game and deserved it (that elbowing penalty in the last two minutes was a pretty cheesy call). Almost 20 minutes, three hits, a blocked shot, and a big role in the Bruins not getting any shots from in close in the third period.

David Steckel got the hard hat – he won 10 of 16 draws, had three hits, a blocked shot, and a couple of shots of his own.

Boston gets a lot of scoring balance (though not tonight). They get balance in other areas, too… they had ten skaters with blocked shots (five of them forwards), they had eight skaters with takeaways, they had 13 skaters with hits. Boston is not a team that beats itself for lack of effort.

Washington matched the Bruins for effort in this one. You’d have to spend some time looking to find a bad effort (although that 4-for-12 effort on faceoffs by Backstrom is troublesome; that’s 17 straight games in which he’s failed to go over 50 percent on draws… the last time he did was against Boston).

Tonight was the eighth sellout in the last nine games for the Caps. The smallest crowd of the season to date is 16,792, against Florida on December 2nd. By this time last year, the Caps had only four nights when they exceeded that number and only one sellout.

The win puts the Caps at 5-3-0 for the month, and the team appears to have put that three-game losing streak behind them. And, defense is what does it. In the four wins in January coming into this one, the Caps allowed a total of nine goals (four of them on New Years Day to Tampa Bay). In the three losses they allowed 13 goals. As if a preview of what to expect in the playoffs, defense was the order of the evening, and the Caps played it well, even with Boston nursing some injuries. Pretty won’t do it in the spring, and the Caps showed tonight that they can win in gritty fashion. It was the kind of game to prove that when it comes to these kinds of nail-biters, “yes we can.”

Super job, boys.


Capsfan said...

we linked to your stat about where shots were coming from. Nice analysis,

Murshawursha said...

If tonight was a sellout, then it was the emptiest sellout I've ever seen. I wonder if people stayed home because of the whole motorcade thing...

Flying Cloud said...

Brilliant, Peerless, thanks. They did a fine job. Fedorov had some excellent shifts, fended off the pesky Bitz all night, and lurked around the net quite a bit, but the boys were shooting from the points and didn't notice that he was open. Otherwise, he'd have had a goal as well. The empty seats were mostly in pairs in the lower bowl, but there were hardly B sweaters. I'm proud to say that my group all turned out in their red along with the rest of the faithful, and were well-rewarded with a great effort and solid win.

this space for rent said...

A fine job indeed. That was FUN - and my guess, Murshawursha, is that a lot of people did indeed stay home due to the inauguration crap downtown (and my holy $DEITY, there was a lot of it). But, if the place is that loud in the middle of the season with that many empty seats, Karl Alzner had better bring earplugs come playoff time. Holy smokes but we made a lot of noise. :)

Still, though. I gotta say it because it bears repeating. That's one game, and a very fine one, and two points. But it's in the books, and now we need to look ahead to Monday and the Islanders. We tend to slack against lower-rung teams, and we need to not do that. For the rest of the season, it's bear hunting season in DC, and when you're bear hunting, you've got to keep the gun loaded.

Chris said...

Erskine played well, but how can you give a star to the losing goaltender and not give a star to the game winning 'tender who, while not spectacular, made the saves that he was called upon to make. I think Theo has earned more respect than that over the last few weeks.

Oh, and a b.s. call on Ovi's big hit -- even the Boston announcers called it an outstanding hip check.

Chara is good but overrated. He did play very well last night, in contrast to the last Caps/Bruins game where Ovi physically dominated the big man.