Thursday, January 01, 2009

A TWO-point night: Caps 7 -- Lightning 4

“Move your feet.”

It is something coaches are always telling their players to do to keep in the play, but it was something 18,000 fans, 39 players, and six coaches were silently imploring Jamie Heward to do as he lay on the ice after a hit by Alex Ovechkin early in the third period of tonight’s 7-4 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Ovechkin has had bigger hits, but on this one, Heward had his head turned and struck the glass awkwardly. He was face-down on the ice for almost ten minutes as emergency medical personnel attended to him and took him from the ice on a stretcher. The initial report after the game was that Heward sustained a concussion. The Lightning reported that Heward was able to move his extremities.

Lost in all of that was that there was a game played -- a 7-4 win for the Caps. It seems as if the first goal of the game was scored in 2006, not the first day of 2009. Sean Collins’ first as an NHLer came on a shot that was a harbinger of a ghastly night goalie Mike Smith would have as the puck squirted through his pads.

By the time Ovechkin would put the Lightning out of their misery with his 26th goal at the 18:14 mark of the third period…

- Seven different Caps has goals.

- 11 different Caps had points.

- Every skater would have at least one shot on goal except Shaone Morrisonn (at least he attempted a couple, one blocked and one missed).

- Nicklas Backstrom would have another two assists – that makes 33 (fifth in the league), and he has climbed into a tie for sixth in total scoring.

- Ovechkin would have three points (1-2-3) to take over second in the league scoring rankings.

- Matt Bradley had a two-point night (1-1-2), his first since getting three in the 10-2 win over Boston last March 3rd.

- Boyd Gordon had a two-point night (1-1-2), his first since a two-point night against Edmonton last January 17th.

- 35 shots on goal and no Caps with more than four (Ovechkin, Brooks Laich). That’s the kind of balance that keeps goalies looking around to see where the puck is coming from next.

- Alexandre Giroux was a plus-3. Whoever said 90 percent of life is showing up was onto something.

- The Lecavalier-St. Louis-Prospal line was 2-5-7 for the Lightning. They also finished a combined minus-3. Things happened when they were on the ice… and that’s not all a good thing for Tampa Bay.

- Eleven goals… none of them on the power play.

Tonight’s score sheet buffet award goes to Ovechkin… one goal, two assists, three points, a penalty taken, four shots, four shots blocked, one shot missed, three hits, a giveaway, a takeaway, two blocked shots, and he won his only faceoff. Pace yourself, big guy.

Note to Coach Tocchet… take Mike Smith’s stick away from him. Nothing good happened when he used it tonight.

Players have bad games, so do referees. Mark Joannette had a brutal game in the striped shirt. He blew the sweep check on Adam Hall by Mike Green, awarding Hall a penalty shot. He missed Mark Recchi’s goal, too. Everyone in the arena, including the folks at the Papa John’s stand outside of Section 403 knew it was in.

Did we mention Mike Smith had a bad night? “Bad” doesn’t cover it. I think the adjective we used above was “ghastly.” That’s closer to it. The first goal was brutal – a shot he had a clean look at off the stick of Sean Collins that he just whiffed on. Then, from behind the net he played the puck too hard to Marek Malik, who couldn’t collect the pass, and before Smith could get back in front of the cage – where goaltenders generally do their best work – Matt Bradley slam dunked the puck home 11 seconds after Ryan Malone had cut the Washington lead to 3-2.

He wasn’t done yet… wandering off into the corner to collect the puck, he had the curious idea that sending the puck up the middle would be a good thing. First, that’s not generally a good idea when: a) you are the goaltender, and b) you are 30 feet from your crease. It is made worse if you then shank the pass, which is what he then did, putting the puck on Boyd Gordon’s stick. He could have put it on Jeff Gordon’s stick or Gordon Lightfoot’s stick, and what happened next would have occurred. But Boyd Gordon is a professional hockey player, and even for one with as thin an offensive resume in the NHL as Gordon (Boyd, not Jeff or Lightfoot), he knew what to do, and that was to send it smack dab into the heart of the net before a leaping Smith – doing a passable Bobby Orr “we win the Cup” leap – could get back to the net. When Ovechkin scored the Caps’ seventh goal between Smith’s legs, you just wanted the ref to call the fight.

Twice Tampa Bay climed back to within a goal, and twice they allowed a goal less than 30 seconds after doing so. If Rick Tocchet had hair, he’d have been pulling it out on the bench. Speaking of which…think Tampa Bay misses Dan Boyle on the blue line? Yeah, he might have been and still is an offensive specialist, but he’s also better than any defenseman the Lightning had tonight in his own end.

How great was it to see Chris Clark get off the schneid? He went 24 games without a goal since getting one on November 28th, 2007.

As for the Caps, it’s not as if they played a good game here, at least not as much as having scored seven goals suggests. They took advantage of what Tampa Bay gave them, and the Lightning certainly were in a giving mood. But the Caps let the Lecavalier line run around too much and too freely. They weren’t giving Brent Johnson much of a chance out there. The whole defensive group had a rough time – all of them were on the ice for at least one Tampa Bay goal (Morrisonn and Collins for two). The forwards seemed to be a little too interested in running back into the Lightning end from time to time and looked a little too indifferent in the defensive end. Against teams whose goaltenders don’t give away goals like stocking stuffers, that could have made for an unhappy finish.

But, it’s two points, which is the way one wants to start the year. It was the Caps’ biggest offensive output since that 10-2 win over Boston last March 3rd. We’ll leave out the fact that it was the first time Brent Johnson allowed as many as four goals on Verizon Center ice since March 3, 2007. We’ll prefer to ponder that the Caps are 32-6-3 on home ice since January 1, 2008, and that there are 23 more games on home ice to play. The first of them will be Saturday against the Rangers, and that will be a step up of a couple of weight classes in opposition. But for now, tonight – good job, boys.

And get back on the ice soon, Jamie.


Anonymous said...

I'll betcha Esa Tikkanen would've found a way to miss.

Anonymous said...

So then if Boyd Gordon or Gordon Lightfoot could've "sunk" the Lightning he was so out of position, does that mean that Smith was Tampa's "Edmund Fitzgerald" Thursday Night?

Sorry, couldn't resist the open-netter for that one...

Lee (PTO)