Sunday, February 01, 2009

A TWO-point afternoon: Caps 7 - Senators 4

It was a “Super” kind of Sunday as the Capitals bounced the Ottawa Senators out of town this afternoon, 7-4, at Verizon Center. What do we mean, “Super?” It’s a football thing…

“46 defense.” In 1985, that was the name bestowed upon the defensive scheme of the Chicago Bears, one characterized by unrelenting pressure as eight men stormed the line of scrimmage. The equivalent? It was the early forechecking of the Capitals as they forced three early turnovers in the first two minutes to set the tone. Even when Ottawa scored (on a shot from Daniel Alfredssson that Shaone Morrison appeared to screen Brent Johnson from seeing), the Caps forced Ottawa into five more turnovers over the next six minutes as prelude to a penalty taken by Dany Heatley at the 9:40 mark of the first period.

“Wildcat” offense. It made something of a comeback in the NFL this year – it is a direct snap formation where the center snaps the ball to a player that is not the quarterback. Here, it was Nicklas Backstrom “snapping” the faceoff back to Mike Green who found paydirt three seconds after the Heatley penalty.

“Halfback Option.” You’ve seen it before…quarterback pitches to the halfback on a sweep, the runner pulling up to loft a pass downfield, often for a score. Here, it was Backstrom, pitching the faceoff back to Green, who found Alex Ovechkin for the one-timer four seconds after Jarkko Ruutu took a minor penalty for general obnoxiousness.

“Field goal.” OK, “hat trick”…Alex Ovechkin’s seventh as a Cap and second this year.

“Field goal.” OK, that would be the three assists from Sergei Fedorov, tying his high in assists as a Cap.

“Long bomb.” That would be the deep downfield pass that hits the wide receiver in stride for a length of the field score. This afternoon, that was Green flipping the puck from the Caps’ defensive zone out over the Ottawa defenders and into space in the neutral zone, where Alexander Semin could collect it behind everyone at the Ottawa blue line, skate in alone, and roof a backhand over Alex Auld (in relief of Brian Elliot, who gave up four goals on 16 shots before being pulled – guess that was sort of like the QB getting concussed out of the game).

“Prevent defense.” That’s when a team gets out to a big lead and sits on it late, playing passively, hoping the clock will run out before the opposition can chew up yards and score points. Many (us included) see the only thing “prevent defense” preventing is a win. Although the Caps engaged in a fair amount of that in the third period after racing out to a 6-2 lead after two periods, the clock did run out before the Senators could get all of the four-goal deficit back.

"Battle in the trenches." That usually refers to a ton-and-a-half or more of football players mauling one another at the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped. Who wins that battle generally wins the game. Today, that was Boyd Gordon and Sergei Fedorov (far less than a ton-and-a-half of hockey player) winning eight of 12 defensive zone draws. For the day, they were a combined 17-for-29.

"70-chip." Any Redskin fan knows that one…the call in Super Bowl XVII that sprung John Riggins past the Miami Dolphins defense for a touchdown that gave the Redskins a lead they would not relinquish. Today, it was Eric Fehr diving inside of defenseman Chris Phillips as goalie Brian Elliott was turned the other way to chip home a loose puck just before ending up in the net himself.

“The Greatest Show on Turf.” That was the name given to the St. Louis Rams from 1999-2001. It was an offense characterized by speed, aggressiveness, and pinball machine-like scoring, especially in the home part of their schedule. The Caps are becoming the ‘Greatest Show on Ice.” The seven goals matches their high for the year – also on the first day of the month (January), against Tampa Bay. The Caps have been especially adept at abusing the Senator defense. In going 6-0-0 in the last six games against the Senators at Verizon Center, the Caps have scored 32 goals. Goalies are going to be coming up with mysterious groin pulls when a date with the Caps in Washington comes up on the Ottawa schedule.

"Cover two." You hear a lot of that in football games; it is a pass coverage scheme that puts responsibility on the safeties – the last guys back on defense – for covering half of the field in the deep defensive zone. For the Caps, that would be Milan Jurcina and Jeff Schultz. Yeah, we know, these two get a lot of grief from fans, but for the weekend, Schultz went plus-6 with five blocked shots, and Jurcina went plus-4 with seven hits and five blocked shots.

Seems the Caps play better football than the local football team. Of course, it helps that the team providing the opposition is as one-dimensional as it is. The Senators got a goal from Dany Heatley (gift wrapped by Tom Poti), two from Daniel Alfredsson… and almost nothing from anyone else. That’s been the Senators’ season.

And now, the Caps head to New Jersey, where they will try to end the Devils’ eight game winning streak. But to take a line from the late Herb Brooks, when he was talking to his 1980 U.S. Olympic Team about the Soviets… “someone’s gonna beat those guys.” The Devils’ last two wins both came in overtime. That streak looks like it’s coming to an end…


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