Dirty Dozen, indeed.
It wasn’t what you might consider a close-fought game, although there was a fair amount of smackin’ around (61 hits combined). It wasn’t quite a track meet, but it was quite an exhibition of power play production (7-for-15 combined). What it was in the end was the Caps’ 12th straight win – a 6-5 victory over the New York Rangers. There were several stories tonight…
Alex Ovechkin recorded his 500th point on what is likely among the top-five highlight reel goals he has in his career. With the clock winding down in the second period and the Caps down by two, he carried the puck down the left side, then cut hard around defenseman Michal Roszival in the left wing faceoff circle as Roszival was desperately looking around at his skates to see where the puck went. Ovechkin couldn’t get both hands free to the shaft of his stick, so with his left hand he pushed the blade of his stick up and under the puck, lifting it over goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s left pad. The puck crawled all the way over Lundqvist and plopped down just inside the far post with nine seconds left in the period to give the Caps life going into the third period. Ovechkin finished the night 2-1-3 to take the NHL lead in goals (38) and points (80) to go with his league lead in plus-minus (plus-37).
Nicklas Backstrom had a monster game, finishing 1-4-5 for the third time in his career. And, he was clutch – he had points on each of the last three Caps goals, getting the game-winner himself in the sixth minute of the third period. His four assists – all primary assists – were provided to three different goal scorers (Mike Knuble, Tom Poti, and Ovechkin twice). Backstrom is now 9-14-23, plus-15 in his last 15 games.
Jose Theodore took a haymaker to his statistics, allowing five goals on 38 shots. But he was good when he had to be, spectacular late. His stop of a Marian Gaborik put-back with 13 seconds left preserved the slim one-goal lead and the streak. To the extent he was fishing pucks out of the back of the net earlier in the game, it was largely a product of the Rangers throwing everything but Stan Fischler’s typewriter at the front of the net on the power play and creating screens (the Rangers finished 4-for-6 on the power play).
-- Color Kanoobie happy. Mike Knuble recorded his 13th goal in his last 15 games (seventh in his last five).
-- Tomas Fleischmann had a pretty quiet two-point night. But those assists were on the game-tying and game-winning goals.
-- 12 times in the last 11 games, the Caps have scored goals less than three minutes apart. They did it twice tonight (4:41 and 7:16 of the second period, 19:51 of the second and 59 seconds of the third period)
-- Boyd Gordon won eight of nine draws. That’s not surprising. He got a goal (his third in 23 games this year). That was something of a surprise.
-- Olli Jokinen… a goal, an assist, seven shots, three hits, and he won eight of 12 draws. He also took three minor penalties, two of which the Caps scored on.
-- Chris Drury is going to be one huge welt tonight. He blocked four shots, but two of them ripped chunks of flesh out of his hide, thanks to Ovechkin slappers.
-- Wade Redden was once an all-star caliber defenseman. Tonight he was getting Matt Gilroy minutes. What happened to Redden is one of hockey’s great mysteries.
-- If someone had said when Tom Poti was signed to the Caps that he would be the best all-around defenseman on the club before his tour was up, who would have taken that claim seriously? He’s making a case, certainly in the absence of Mike Green… he’s had one minus game since Christmas (plus-18 in 18 games), has three goals over that span (including one tonight) and 13 points. He has 14 straight games with more than 20 minutes of ice time, and tonight’s 26:36 was his second highest in a regulation game this year.
-- Was Henrik Lundqvist gassed at the end? He allowed one goal on the first 15 shots he faced, two on the next eight, three on the last nine.
-- The locker room guys will catch a break. Sean Avery didn’t do enough to work up a sweat. No need to get his jersey laundered.
-- The Rangers scored as many power play goals tonight (four) as they had in their previous 15 games. They hadn’t had that many in a game since going 5-for-10 against Toronto on December 29, 2007.
-- The five goals allowed by the Caps equaled the number they allowed in the previous four games, combined.
It was quite a game, reminiscent of the goal-fests of the 1980’s. And that was the problem for the Rangers. Give them their due, they came out snarling and pressing and intent on ending the Caps’ winning streak. They crowded the net, they converted chances. But the Rangers do not have the depth of skill the Caps have. The Caps managed to keep Marian Gaborik off the board, and that was the difference in the end. The Caps’ big guns scored – Ovechkin, Backstrom, Knuble. The Rangers’, well… big gun… didn’t.
And now the Caps come home. They will be taking on a team that is in upheaval, but that sort of thing can focus the mind, too. The Thrashers will be dangerous tomorrow, another team that will have its sights set on ending the streak.
Get some sleep on the plane ride home guys, you earned it.