Friday, February 05, 2010

A TWO-point night: Caps 5 - Thrashers 2

OK, so… the Caps score an own goal on their own power play… their top center misses the last 20 minutes with “flu-like” symptoms… they started a rookie goalie who was just called up from Hershey (again)… their biggest hitter was credited with no hits… they were outshot 45-32…

And they still won, 5-2.

The Caps climbed into a tie for fourth for the longest winning streaks in NHL history with their 13th consecutive win, this one over the Atlanta Thrashers. It was another case of another team starting with spit and vinegar, then wilting when the Caps finally got their rhythm.

No, we don’t see that as a lasting formula for winning, but it’s working now, and you really can’t argue with success. The Caps fell behind, again (the third straight game they allowed the game’s first goal), but roared back after suffering that insult with four goals of their own.

Again, as it has been so often in this streak, it was a case of balance. Ten skaters registered points on the five goals, and the points were spread rather evenly among the lines…

Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble: 2-3-5, +4
Semin-Fleischmann-Laich: 1-1-2, +1
Chimera-Morrison-Fehr: 1-0-1, -3
Gordon-Steckel-Bradley: 0-2-2, +3

But while the Caps were having fun at the offensive end of the ice, Michal Neuvirth was spending 60 minutes saying, “uh, you got another goalie prospect here…” Neuvirth saved 44 of 45 shots off Thrasher sticks, the odd goal being scored after he made a save of Rich Peverley, who was in on a breakaway, but watched helplessly as Alexander Semin (charging hard to try to make up for having his attempted cross-ice pass at the other end stripped off his stick by Peverley to create the breakaway) kicked the puck back into his own net. Otherwise, Neuvirth was sublime.

Other stuff…

- Break stick, go to bench, pick up another, skate back, score goal. It really isn’t that easy, is it?

-- Alex Ovechkin has now been captain for 17 games. The Caps are 16-1-0 over that span of games. Rather impressive. But Ovechkin’s numbers look positively “1980’s” in those 17 games. His “per-82 games” pace looks like this… 63-92-155, +96. That’s right, plus-96. In those 17 games, the Caps have allowed 41 goals. Number of goals Ovechkin has been on the ice for?... six.

-- With two minutes to go in what would be the Caps 13th straight win, they had scored 61 goals during the streak. Mike Green finally got his first during this streak with an empty netter for the fifth goal and 62nd in this streak.

-- So, another clean hit followed up by a guy stepping in as “The Equalizer.” This is really getting old. Nice to see John Erskine dispose of that nonsense with a straight left that caught Chris Thorburn flush on the cheek. Robert McCall, he ain’t.

-- When was the last time David Steckel was held to 30 percent on draws? October 24th – 48 games ago. In fact, the only Caps who won more than he lost (those taking more than one faceoff) was they guy who missed the last period – Nicklas Backstrom.

-- Jason Chimera’s bomb from down the left side had a lot of “8” in it. He just overpowered Ondrej Pavelec with the shot.

-- And isn’t Chimera looking like a fine pickup… 19 games, 4-6-10, plus-5, and he’s been a sturdy presence.

-- And there was the continuing refrain of the Caps wearing down goalies. Tonight’s victim, Ondrej Pavelec, allowed one goal on the first 15 shots he faced, then one in seven, then allowed goals on consecutive shots 1:08 apart early in the third.

-- As for those goals 1:08 apart, that looks like the 13th time in the last 12 games that the Caps have scored goals less than three minutes apart.

-- Yes, the Thrashers outshot the Caps 45-32, but the attempts were another story. The Caps had 73 to Atlanta’s 67. Early on, the Thrashers held a puck-possession and territorial advantage, but that evaporated as the game wore on.

-- As for the other young guns among the forwards and their 82-game paces since the change in captain, Nicklas Backstrom is now on a 48-72-120, +77 pace, and Alexander Semin is on a 58-68-126, +58 pace. Shoot, Tomas Fleischmann is on a point-a-game pace (14-68-82 per-82 game pace over the last 17 games).

-- Watching Semyon Varlamov is the Fourth of July, with roman candles and sparklers. Watching Michal Neuvirth is sitting under the tree at a picnic sipping on iced tea. Both enjoyable, both capable of making you happy.

It was a good win, a solid win. It wasn’t without hiccups, but for the second game in a back-to-back with all the distractions of weather and the news surrounding the opponent, it was a fine night for the men in red. It’s hockey weather this weekend in the DC region, and when Sunday rolls around, we would expect that the Caps will be ready for some hockey and some roast Penguin for Sunday dinner. Tonight, though, was a warm cup of hot cocoa on a snowy night.

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