Thursday, October 01, 2009

A TWO-point opening night: Caps 4 - Bruins 1

That's called, "getting off on the right foot." The Caps got a first period goal after withstanding a focused start by the Boston Bruins, got another in the second to take control of the game, then potted two early in the third to give the Bruins little chance of a comeback, even if they would break up Jose Theodore's bid for a shutout. The 4-1 win for the Caps was a dominating effort that had all their strengths on display.

In the first period, the Bruins – as one should have expected – came out strong on the forecheck, bottling the Caps up in their own zone. It had the haunting look of last spring’s series against Pittsburgh, where Caps defensemen were given little time or space to make a play with the puck from below the goal line, and paid a price with a hit when they did.

But Washington gave as good as they got, too. In the first 3:08 of the game there were nine hits recorded, five of them by four different Caps (Alex Ovechkin had two). It provided a bit of rhythm that allowed them to match Boston in close-checking style.

Having weathered the storm, the Caps were appreciative of a too-many-men penalty against the Bruins at 17:00 of the period. Appreciative enough so as to burden the Bruins with having to skate only 15 seconds shorthanded before Brooks Laich corralled the puck at the side of the Boston net off a feed from Nicklas Backstrom. Laich had time and space to draw the puck in front of the net to whack it in over a lunging Tim Thomas. The Caps took the 1-0 lead into intermission. It was a solid period for the visitors, equaling the Bruins’ ten shots on goal, outhitting them 10-9, and winning ten of 18 draws.

In the second, Alex Ovechkin made up for having taken no shots on goal in the first. He pounded a shot off Tim Thomas’ shoulder in the first 90 seconds, but that was merely prelude to a very pretty play that, if the scorer could have given three assists, would have. Mike Green carried the puck across the line and left if for Nicklas Backstrom, who slid it into the middle for Alexander Semin. Semin caught the trailing forward coming into the zone, who happened to be Ovechkin coming on the weak side of the play. Ovechkin took the drop-pass from Semin and air-mailed the puck past Thomas before you could say, “sweeeet.”

After the Ovechkin goal at 9:31 of the period, the Caps did an excellent job of taking away the middle of the ice in the second half of the period and kept the Bruins from establishing any forechecking momentum. The period was capped, so to speak, by a soild open-ice hit by Ovechkin that accomplished the rarity of sending Mark Recchi to the ice. Zdeno Chara, who really should know better, stepped into Ovechkin and took an ill-advised penalty with 2.9 seconds left in the period. The Caps outshot the Bruins 12-7 in the period and dominated in the circle, winning 13 of 18 draws.

The Caps made the Bruins pay again for their lack of discipline at the start of the third period, Brooks Laich netting his second of the game when he swept a loose puck from under Thomas in the Bruin crease after Backstrom put the puck on net. It was the kind of goal scored from a stick length away from the net that brought a smile – or maybe a snarl, we can’t ever tell – to Kanoobie, the Ugly Goal Rally Mutt’s mug.

It was left to Ovechkin to score a real goal scorer’s goal to close out the Caps scoring. Coming down the middle of the ice, he was marked by Milan Lucic as he skated into the Bruin zone. Lucic, his back to Ovechkin, took a peek to find where Ovechkin was. But when he turned his head back to face the play, Ovechkin dipped around Lucic’s left hip and took a pass from Tom Poti that he snapped past Thomas before Lucic could say, “wha-a-a-a?”

Boston broke the shutout on a play that just happens from time to time in hockey. David Steckel circled back to the line in the Bruins’ zone to cover for a defenseman in deep as a power play was expiring, but when the puck came back to Steckel, it hopped over his stick and out of the zone. Patrice Bergeron picked it up and was off on a break. He took it in and deked Jose Theodore to the ice. Had it been Semyon Varlamov in goal, the puck probably doesn’t go in, owing to Varlamov being several inches taller (with longer legs). The puck barely snuck past Theodore’s right skate and crawled over the line for the Bruins’ only goal eight minutes into the period.

The Caps might have found themselves in a more interesting game had they not played with a measure of calm over the next three or four minutes. Boston tried to ramp up the pressure, but the Caps managed to calmly move the puck repeatedly out of harm’s way, leading to no small measure of frustration as Bruins made their way back to their bench, slamming their sticks on the boards as they were exiting the ice.

In the end…

- The Caps dominated the shot meter, outshooting the Bruins 34-20 (including 12-3 in the third period).

- Every Cap had a shot on goal except the angle grinder boys. Matt Bradley, Quintin Laing, and Boyd Kane had no shots, but they did have six hits. OK, Brian Pothier didn’t have one either, but I just wanted to type, “angle grinder.”

- This was the first time since Ovechkin’s rookie year that he scored in an opener. Coincidentally, he had a pair of goals in that one, a 3-2 win over Columbus.

- Brooks Laich tied for the team lead in shots on goal (five, with Ovechkin). No, it wasn’t a career high. Twice last year he had seven (January 19th against the Islanders; February 26th against Atlanta).

- Mike Green, who seemed to have a devil of a time getting the puck to the net in the pre-season, got all four of his attempts on net tonight, and they were good opportunities. But his best number might have been “0.” As in, no giveaways.

- The trophy winners didn’t look very good for the Bruins. Zdeno Chara looked slow and stiff most of the night and took that silly penalty against Ovechkin that led to the goal that more or less settled the game. And as for Tim Thomas, when you stop all the pucks, your style can be called “unconventional.” When you allow four, you can fairly be described as “clumsy.” And Claude Julien looked like a guy waiting for a bus on the Bruin bench, watching life’s rich pageant drifting by.

- The Caps got ten hits out of their defense. They looked a lot sturdier on their skates than they did at many points last season.

- Mike Knuble ended the night with very little ink on the score sheet, but he looked like a complete pro out there with the way he was confounding Bruin passes and fighting against the wall.

- David Steckel – 11 for 18 in the circle; Brendan Morrison – eight for 11; Boyd Gordon – five of seven. 24 for 36 for the centers on the undercard. Not bad.

The old saw goes, “it’s only one game.” Well, you can only play one game at a time, too. And this one was a damned fine one for the good guys. If anyone finds fault in the Caps’ effort tonight who isn’t named “Boudreau,” they’re being picky.

Excellent job, boys.