Thursday, April 02, 2009

Your Caps Caption Three Fer...

" 70-chip, on two...on two...ready, BREAK!"

Viktor "Tiger" Kozlov picks the worst time imaginable
to practice his short game

Some pictures say a thousand words...
...and then again, some don't

(pictures: The Washington Capitals)

A TWO-point night: Caps 5 - Islanders 3

Last night, the Caps surged…well, surged isn’t quite the word. Let’s say that they crawled over the 100-point threshold for the season in defeating the New York Islanders, 5-3.

It was a game we might call an “ISO” game. No, not some personals “in search of” kind of thing, more of an “in spite of” sort of effort…

In spite of looking for all the world for the first 40 minutes as if he had downed a bottle of NyQuil before the game, Mike Green ended the night with a very splashy score sheet – two goals, an assist, two hits, four blocked shots, a franchise record for power play goals (season) after netting his 17th and 18th, and becoming only the eighth defenseman in NHL history to register 30 goals for a season.

In spite of never having engaged in an NHL fight, and having only two on his resume – one in the WHL and one in the AHL – Jeff Schultz dropped the mitts with Tim Jackman. We have to give it to Schultz, he didn’t tangle with a lightweight. That was Jackman’s 19th fight of the NHL season and 33rd of his NHL career. It would be nice to say Schultz won, or even held Jackman to a draw. He didn’t. But the kid gets marks for competing out there last night. It was something that seemed curiously lacking in his game the last month.

In spite of being the guy with the reputation for wadding up like a cheap suit when he gets hit, there was Tomas Fleischmann standing in front tangled with Brendan Witt when Mike Green floated the puck in for the game winner.

In spite of being only 5-6-1 this season when recording at least 40 shots on goal, the Caps managed to get the win in this one after getting 43 shots on goal.

In spite of looking like they were spraying shots like an actor doing a spit take all evening, the Caps were credited with only 19 missed shots. It seemed like 39.

Some other stuff…

The Caps had only two shots on goal on the power play…they scored on both of them (Mike Green getting both shots and both goals).

The centers schooled the Islanders in the circle. Nicklas Backstrom (16-for-24), Sergei Fedorov (11-for-18), Keith Aucoin (7-for-9), and David Steckel (5-for-6) were a combined 39 up and 18 down on faceoffs on the way to a 45-24 overall edge.

On the other side of that coin, Josh Bailey…1-for 12. Doug Weight…4-for-17. Guys, you do know you can use a stick in the faceoff circle, right?

The Islanders’ Joel Rechlicz is nicknamed, “The Wrecker.” Think he comes by the name accidentally? In four seasons (and counting), starting in the QMJHL through last night’s game, he’s had 63 fights. That’s what makes John Erskine’s tussle with him all the more impressive. Choreographed fights of the sort a lot of heavyweights engage in these days are side shows to the game – they really don’t seem to have much of an effect. But there was a distinct change in the energy level in the Caps’ play after Erskine beat Rechlicz. With the Islanders leading 2-0 when that fight took place, you have to wonder if Rechlicz shouldn’t have skated away. Alex Ovechkin scored five minutes after the bout, and the Caps had their feet back under them again.

Give Keith Aucoin credit for recognizing an opportunity and pouncing on his own rebound to get his first goal as a Cap – he was one of the hardest working guys out there all night. But give Eric Fehr credit on that one, too. His persistence in forechecking and using his reach to deflect a pass to Aucoin’s stick started that play.

Is it me, or does it just seem as if Richard Park plays his best hockey against the Caps? Park had 12 shot attempts (Parkvechkin?) and a goal in just over 16 minutes of ice time.

Speaking of Park, how did the puck end up on his stick to be able to split the Caps defense and walk in alone on goalie Jose Theodore? Well, along the boards Michael Nylander got tangled up with Tim Jackman, and Nylander kicked the puck to the center of the ice at the Caps line and onto Park’s stick. Nylander did not see another shift for the rest of the game.

How many times do you see three unassisted goals in a game (ok, one was Backstrom’s empty-netter)?

One looks at Kyle Okposo and sees a little bit of Alex Ovechkin (circa 2006) in this respect…if the Islanders can ever get some talent around this guy, watch out.

How lackadaisical were the Caps over too much of this game? How does 24 giveaways sound? And the Caps lost the turnover battle, 31-16.

Hey, we get the “Unleash the Fury” thing to rouse the crowd in the third period. What we don’t get is having to announce it. Just play it…the crowd knows what to do.

Admit it, the Caps shouldn’t have won this game. For most of the night, the Islanders outworked the Caps in all three zones, and Joey MacDonald had, for the most part, a fine game in goal. But the Caps just have too much skill for that team to cope with. Even when the Caps tried – at times quite literally – to give the two points away, the Islanders couldn’t put it away. And when Green tied things up mid-way in the third, one had the feeling that the Islanders, even with the effort they were expending, were going to fade in the stretch.

That’s not a recipe for success, but then again, the Caps are now 7-2-1 in their last ten games. That’s only one point fewer than the media’s darlings of the month – Carolina and Pittsburgh over the same span of games. The Caps haven’t done it as prettily as Pittsburgh or as confoundingly as Carolina. But two points (or 15) is two points.

In a way, how the Caps are doing this is encouraging. They are finding ways to win games when they don’t have their “A” game, when they have to struggle, be it from illness running through the team or a general lack of intensity given their opponent. Winning when things are going peachy is comparatively easy. Figuring out how to win when you don’t have your best stuff is how a long playoff run could be built.