Monday, May 11, 2009

Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 6: Caps 5 - Penguins 4 (OT)

There will be hockey in Washington on Wednesday.

David Steckel deflected a drive by Brooks Laich past Pittsburgh Penguin goalie Marc-Andre Fleury 6:22 into overtime to give the Caps a 5-4 win, their first overtime playoff win since Jeff Halpern scored a game-winner in the same arena in 2001.

The story in the major press will probably be Alex Ovechkin’s three assists and the Caps persistence, but the back story here is what the Caps need and haven’t received in this series – secondary scoring…

Viktor Kozlov: 2-0-2, +2
David Steckel: 1-0-1, +1 and 11 wins in 15 draws
Brooks Laich: 0-2-2, +2
Tomas Fleischmann: 1-0-1, +1

And even outside of that, you had some players who needed to step up playing with the desperation you would associate with an elimination game. Alexander Semin notched a goal and an assist and created a bushel of chances. Brooks Laich did what he had to do – get dirty. It was his screen on Fleury less than a minute after Pittsburgh took the lead in the third period that allowed Semin to find a crack and deposit the puck behind Fleury to tie the game for the third time. It was Laich collecting the puck off a faceoff win by David Steckel and maintaining control, then sending the shot to the net that would be deflected in for the win. Matt Bradley didn’t show up in much detail on the score sheet, although those four hits left a mark, but he was all over the place in this game causing a ruckus.

Statistics can be misleading, and there are two related ones that bear notice. The first is shots. The score sheet will show that the Penguins outshot the Caps, 42-24. The chances, however, were more even – 59-54, in favor of Pittsburgh, when misses and blocks are considered. While the territorial domination by Pittsburgh was in evidence in this game, as it was in the last three games of the series, it was not quite as lopsided as it was in the three Caps losses.

The second is those shots. Semyon Varlamov allowed four goals, and except for the first – a goal by Bill Guerin than Varlamov looked indecisive in defending – he could not be faulted too much. A shot that was sent top corner by Kris Letang, a screened shot from Mark Eaton, and a “hands” goal by Sidney Crosby (with no Caps defensemen in a position to defend) were the only others to dent Varlamov. At the other end, though…

Marc-Andre Fleury is not having a very good series – not a bad one, just not very good. Let’s leave five goals on 24 shots out of it for a moment. The first Kozlov goal (another top corner over the glove that Fleury didn’t have much of a chance on) and the Semin goal through a Laich screen were goals that goalie can be forgiven for letting slip through. The Steckel game-winner was a superior play – Fleury had that shot tracked, it appeared, until Steckel got a stick on it.

But the second Kozlov goal was rather ugly. Did Hal Gill kick Fleury’s right skate out and block his path to the post as Kozlov was spinning around the Penguin net? Perhaps, he looked to be reacting poorly to the play unfolding, too, appearing not quite sure where the puck was. It happened again on the Fleischmann goal, when he was caught down and out, swimming for his life as the puck shot by Sergei Fedorov popped up and over a sprawled Fleury into open ice where Fleischmann could flick it into the net. He has been good, but having faced so few shots – barely 26 a game in this series – his play has been somewhat masked.

- 29-20 in hits, 37-27 in faceoffs. Little things. And if you don’t think faceoffs matter, well, that was how the winning play got started. Textbook – win the draw, head to the net, get a deflection. That was the basic play David Steckel made, one that makes fans want to gag when they see all the cutesy-pie crap that often passes for Caps offense.

- Six games, six times the team scoring first couldn’t keep a lead. It’s a measure of just how much spine both teams have. They don’t give up.

- Think Steckel’s made up for not potting that goal into an open net in overtime in Game 5? Yeah, we do, too.

- Boyd Gordon, 5-for-5 on draws against Sidney Crosby, 3-for-3 in the defensive zone.

The NHL has had its best young teams giving their all in this series, and it has been a series for the ages – five one goal games, three overtime games, the big stars – Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin dueling to a draw in putting their teams on their respective shoulders. But there is another side of that coin. And it is an embarrassment to the league. The officiating in this series has been, to be charitable, awful. We don't suspect it's been any better in the other series, but this is the one we've been paying close attention to.

A blind call made by the trailing referee with 2:02 left in regulation putting the Penguins on a power play (a slashing call on Brooks Laich that clearly looked wrong based on replay evidence) is the sort of thing that could only bring a smile to the faces of Gary Bettman and Penguin fans. And this does not even include the hauling down of Alexander Semin when he had a scoring opportunity earlier in the game – a play similar to that which gave the Penguins a power play in overtime in Game 5, one on which they scored the eventual game-winning goal (by the way, as we pointed out in our post-game of that contest, the correct call). And yes, we did see that swipe that Sidney Crosby took to his head on the end of his shift shortly before a Caps goal than probably merited a penalty.

How unfortunate. These two teams put on a show that should be an NHL instant classic. It was Creed versus Balboa, Ali-Frazier, “Hell-in-Mellon,” haymakers traded across more than 60 minutes. And there are at least 60 minutes left. But here is the last number you need going into game 7…


The Pittsburgh Penguins have led a series 3-2 and lost Game 6 four times in their history. They have never won a Game 7 in such a circumstance.

See you Wednesday.

The storm is coming…

1 comment:

Flying Cloud said...