Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A TWO-point night: Caps 5 - Devils 2

Give and take.

There’s your theme for last night’s 5-2 Capitals win over the New Jersey Devils, ending the Devils’ eight-game winning streak with an exclamation point.

Give… If the Devils were going to take away Alex Ovechkin’s shot (he had a season-low one shot for the game – he hadn’t had fewer than four in a game since December 13th), then he was going to give the puck to others. Ovechkin assisted on the Caps’ first two goals, the second being a pretty feed from deep in the right wing circle to Brooks Laich at the top of the crease. Goalie Scott Clemmensen was so overplaying Ovechkin for the shot that Laich was left almost untouched to tap in the goal.

Take… as in, “take the shot!” Michael Nylander, who is of the “pass first, pass again, pass some more” school, took two shots. He scored on both (his first multi-goal game since Prohibition… ok, since December 29, 2007, when everyone seemed to get in the act in an 8-6 win over Ottawa). His first goal of the game, a backhand into an empty net – Clemmensen had played himself to a prone position to the right of his net – was the game-winner. And he even got a roughing minor. We’re combing the morning paper for “man bites dog” stories.

Give… as in “give up another power play goal.” In fact, both Devil goals came on special teams. Brian Rolston got the Devils on the board with a 5-on-3 power play goal mid-way through the second period, and Jamie Langenbrunner scored a shorthanded goal in the first minute of the third period to make things interesting.

Take… the opening when it presents itself. Mike Green did that thing he does, pinching down on the right side on the power play while four defenders are watching a Cap (in this case, Alexander Semin) over on the left wing boards. Do teams not have film on this? Green took a nice pass from Semin and snapped a wrister cleanly over Clemmensen to open the scoring.

Give… Eric Fehr credit. For three games, now, he’s looked like a more assertive player on offense. He had a couple of good chances again last night and was finally rewarded with an empty net goal. Four shots, a goal, a hit and a takeaway (on a night when the official scorer was frugal with passing out hits, giveaways, or takeaways). He had a good night.

Take… territory. Keep pushing the opponent back. The four goals against Clemmensen were all scored within 22 feet (Green’s being the furthest in terms of distance). The Caps did a better job than on most nights of crowding the opponent’s net.

Give... the bench credit. When Viktor Kozlov went out with a groin injury early, the Caps lost a guy who does a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of puck control. The Devils are still the sort of team that plays defense in a way that takes advantage of indecision with the puck, but the coaches recombined some things and gave some guys some additional time they might not otherwise get. Boyd Gordon – almost 16 minutes – was perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the available time. He was also the one who dug out the puck that ultimately found its way off of Nylander’s stick into the back of the net for the game-winner.

Take… Brooks Laich took advantage of the opportunity presented when Ovechkin occupied the Devils so much. In addition to the goal off the Ovechkin feed, he finished the night with six shots on goal, one off his high for the year. Only one of them was outside of 13 feet. If Laich does this often, the Caps will win... often.

Give… me a break. Jose Theodore gave up two goals on 29 shots to the Red Wings, two goals on 34 shots to a team on an eight-game winning streak, playing in their arena, and doesn’t have so much as a third star for either effort. The two he gave up last night came on: a) a 5-on-3 power play on which he was screened, and b) a breakaway. Otherwise, he had some excellent saves to keep the Devils from getting back into the game.

Take… as in, I’d take Travis Zajac in a heartbeat. He’s turning into a very fine all-around player for the Devils. An assist, a blocked shot, ten wins on 15 draws. The Devils are trying to recapture youth (Holik, Shanahan, Madden, Rolston…all over 35), but Zajac (23) is the real thing.

Give… I’ll give you a moment to ponder that the Caps converted three of four power plays, scoring those three goals on a total of four shots, none of them taken by Ovechkin. When was the last time you could say the Caps had four power plays and Ovechkin didn’t have a single shot on goal on any of them? I think I’ll let you look that one up.

Take… some minutes off Ovechkin and spread it around. The 18:29 of ice time he had last night was the first time he’s been under 20 minutes since December 13th, and was his shortest stint since November 12th.

Give… yourselves a round of applause, boys. It was a very fine effort to make it 2-0-1 against Boston, Detroit, and New Jersey over the past week – some pretty high-flying teams these days. Now, there’s this unfinished business concerning the Kings on Thursday…

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