Saturday, February 14, 2009

A TWO-point night: Caps 5 - Lightning 1

Mike Green scored a goal.

Green’s goal – the eighth consecutive game in which he scored a goal – broke the record for defensemen in the NHL held by Mike O’Connell, who did the trick in seven straight games for the Boston Bruins in the 1983-1984 season. It was one of five the Caps would score – five different players doing the deed – in a 5-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at St. Petersburg Times Arena in Tampa.

Eight games, ten goals, seven assists, 17 points, plus-10. You want a framework for comparison? The Tampa Bay Lighting defensemen who took the ice tonight – for the entire season – have only six goals among them. And what a February he’s had so far. Tonight was the first time in six games Green failed to register a multi-point game. Nevertheless, he is 8-6-14, +8 in six games this month. He could probably take the rest of the month off and be a finalist for player of the month.

But as the team is not Alex Ovechkin and the Ovechkinettes it isn’t Mike Green and the Greenies, either. Tonight marked the debut of Michal Neuvirth in the Capitals’ net, and he turned in a performance that might have folks going “wow,” but not for Green’s record-setting performance. Neuvirth flashed more leather than you’d see at a biker bar, gloving shot after shot from Lightning sticks. He might have had the single most important play of the game.

With the Caps leading 1-0 on an Alexander Semin goal, Mark Malone finished a check on Boyd Gordon at the players’ bench. The puck squirted into the middle, where David Steckel got a stick on it, but couldn’t control it. Martin St. Louis curled in and scooped the puck down the ice to Vincent Lecavalier breaking free. Lecavalier skated in alone on Neuvirth and tried to snap the puck over the goalie’s left shoulder. Neuvirth got the glove up in time to snare the puck and keep the lead at one. If Tampa scores there, the game might have been a lot more competitive than it turned out to be.

After that, the Caps abused Tampa’s goalie – Mike McKenna – to the tune of an additional two goals in the first period, giving them three on 12 shots and ending McKenna’s evening an hour and a half before he expected it to end.

Green’s goal would come in the sixth minute of the second period after his initial shot was blocked – oddly enough by former Cap Matt Pettinger. The puck popped into the air and dropped into the low slot, where Green had another chance to swipe at it. He took advantage of the second opportunity, flicking the puck past defenseman Matt Smaby and goalie Karri Ramo for the record.

Eric Fehr closed the scoring off of a no-look feed from behind the Tampa net by Tomas Fleischmann, who took the puck away from Ramo – caught in the no-man’s land outside the Trapezoid of Safety, where he had to pass on playing the puck – then occupied a pair of Tampa defenders as he was buying time to make the pass.

It was a clinical dissection of the Lightning by the Caps…

-- As noted, five different players had goals, including the big guys – Ovechkin, Semin, and Green. Nine different players had points.

-- Alexander Semin was 1-2-3 for the night. That’s 49 points in 37 games, which over an 82-game season would result in 109 points. He’s the big scorer in this league no one talks about.

-- The Caps have four players on a better than point-a-game pace: Ovechkin, Semin, Green, and Nicklas Backstrom. How many Caps teams in franchise history have had four or more players averaging a point a game or more (at least 50 games played)?... One – the 1985-1986 team had five (Dave Christian, Mike Gartner, Craig Laughlin, Bengt Gustafsson, and Alan Haworth).

-- Obviously, we were not in the arena, but we could swear we could hear conversations on the Caps bench… the Tampa crowd was that quiet.

-- Did Tampa Bay give up after two periods? Well, they had one shot in the first 15:30 of the third period, and that one came from 136 feet more than 11 minutes into the period (Lecavalier).

-- Did Shaone Morrison play his best game of the season? It’d be hard to find a better one. He was rewarded with the second highest amount of ice time for the Caps (20:37). And it seems his pairing with Mike Green still works (or at least works again).

-- Speaking of ice time, the four goals in two periods allowed Coach Boudreau to distribute ice time evenly – a big deal since the Caps play at 5:00 tomorrow against Florida. Ovechkin who averages almost 23 minutes a game, skated for 17:32. Green, who averages 25:35, skated for 23:33. Semin and Backstrom both played a minute or more less than they average. Donald Brashear, who averages only 8:36, skated for 11:05.

-- All of a sudden, Eric Fehr is a scorer. The goal tonight makes five in six games. Over that span, he’s 5-2-7, +5. He led the team in shots on goal tonight (six).

-- It was equal opportunity night for the Lightning… 12 players finished on the minus-side of the ledger. 13 different skaters were on the ice for Caps goals. Matt Smaby was on for the first four of them. The only Lightning player to finish on the plus side?... Steve Eminger.

-- Shaone Morrisonn’s goal was his second this year. If he scores another, it matches a career high.

-- How many times will Ovechkin and Green go in on a goalie, two-on-none, and not so much as get a shot on goal? It was like watching Earvin Johnson and James Worthy going two-on-none on a fast break. Pass-pass-pass-pass-pass… except the Lakers usually scored on theirs.

-- It’s hard to imagine that the size of the numerals on Evgeny Artyukhin’s jersey are the same size as the numerals on Martin St. Louis’ jersey. I’m half-expecting that Artyukhin should wear a third digit on the back of his jersey to fill up the space. He’s a big, big guy.

-- Three power plays to kill off (they were successful on all of them) was the fewest such situations the Caps have faced since killing all three in a 2-1 win over the Rangers on January 3rd. The Caps are 13-2-0 when facing three power plays or fewer.

-- How many teams with Stanley Cup aspirations have two goaltenders dress for their NHL debuts (not including Brett Leonhardt) in a season, let alone have them go 3-0-0, 1.33, .958?

-- The Caps started the year 4-8-2 on the road. Since then, they are 9-4-2, and tonight they finally got over the .500 mark (13-12-4).

If you’re looking for something bad to say about the game, it might be, “geez, why can’t they do this every night?” Part of it is the competition – Tampa has a poor season record and have struggled some in their last half dozen games – but the Caps very often play down to this level of opponent. It might have been the fact that they were mindful of a rookie in goal, it might have been wanting to play well in front of their fathers, many of them accompanying the team on the Florida trip. In any case, the Caps played efficiently and effectively. They got goals from the guys who are supposed to score them, assists from the guys supposed to get them, and they got saves when they needed them from the rookie. Congratulations to Mike Green and Michal Neuvirth on their big nights.

Just don’t forget there’s another game to play tomorrow.

Great job, boys.

photos: AP

1 comment:

Usually Frustrated Caps Fan said...

It was a fun game to watch all around - what is with the 5PM start this afternoon anyway though?