Thursday, March 25, 2010

A ONE-point night: Hurricanes 3 - Capitals 2 (OT/Gimmick)

Another game against the Carolina Hurricanes, another one-goal affair. For the fifth time this season in the six-game series, the Caps and 'Canes battled to a one-goal decision, and for the fourth time the game went to extra time (the first time the teams went to a shootout), Carolina coming out on top 3-2. Win by the Gimmick, die by the Gimmick. The teams ended their season series splitting the games, Washington winning three, Carolina winning three.

The Caps spotted the Hurricanes a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Jamie McBain and Bryan Rodney. But the Caps evened things up on goals by Alexander Semin and John Carlson, the latter’s first in the NHL. It was a game in which the Caps could not be faulted for effort, this game coming on the heels of last night’s big win over Pittsburgh. And it was a chance for Semyon Varlamov to demonstrate that if he isn’t going to be the number one goalie heading into the playoffs, then he certainly is going to be a goalie to be relied on if called upon.

Both teams had their their chances late. Tom Poti had a clear chance to win the game in the last second of regulation, the puck on his stick just to Carolina goalie Manny Legace’s left. Legace got enough of Poti’s shot to deny what would have been the game-winner, forcing the game to overtime. There, Ray Whitney and Eric Staal had a chance on a 2-on-1, but after Whitney laid the puck across right onto Staal’s tape, Varlamov closed the wickets as Staal tried to go five-hole for the winner.

From there it went to the skills competition, where Nicklas Backstrom staked the Caps to an advantage, but Ray Whitney and Chad LaRose scored for the Hurricanes to give the home team the win.

Other stuff…

-- That was the 21st game this year in which the Caps went into extra time, which ties them for the fourth most number of such games, but this one was the sixth such game in the Caps’ last nine games. They are 3-3 in those games.

-- Although the team record for wins has to wait, the Caps set a franchise record for standings points for the second consecutive year, hitting 109 points with the point earned in this one.

-- Manny Legace was awarded the first star, and it was entirely deserving. The Caps launched 43 shots at the diminutive netminder. If he has a merely average game, the Caps likely would have had four or five goals for the evening.

-- Legace had to fend off the attack from multiple fronts – every Caps skater has at least one shot on goal except David Steckel.

-- What Steckel did have in shots, he had in hits, tied for the team lead (with Mike Green) with five.

-- Alex Ovechkin had 18 shot attempts, and this with Carolina employing a box-and-one defense as one might use in basketball. Except, whereas in basketball the “one” covers the big scorer while the other four players play the “box,” the Hurricanes seems to slide four players toward Ovechkin whenever he crossed the red line.

-- It’s worth noting that Ovechkin has only three goals in his last 13 games. Yet, the Caps are 7-2-4 in those games.

-- We can’t fault the Caps’ defense too much in this one when the Hurricanes’ leading shot-maker was defenseman Joni Pitkanen (six).

-- Brendan Morrison seems to be slowly making his way back to being a reliably productive contributor. And assist, plus-1, two hits, a takeaway, no giveaways, and 11-for-15 on draws.

-- John Carlson’s first NHL goal was not a cheap one. It was the sort of goal one might expect of a veteran, not a 20-year old. Pinching down the middle, he took the puck, and instead of just shooting without purpose, he pushed the puck outside enough to change his shooting angle around a defender and snapped the puck low and past Legace’s left pad.

-- Given that the Caps’ lineup included Quintin Laing, Tyler Sloan, and John Erskine instead of Laich, Shaone Morrisonn, and Jeff Schultz, it was not a bad performance in front of Semyon Varlamov.

In the end, it was an entirely expected, if disappointing result. Playing the second half of a back-to-back on the road after an extra time contest the previous night against a difficult opponent. Still, after the Caps had their uneven start, they crawled back to tie the game and get a standings point. And, they pushed the play in the Carolina end late (outshooting the Hurricanes 30-18 in periods two, three, and overtime). All things considered, it was only the result – that a product of the non-hockey portion of the competiton – that was lacking.

The boys get a couple of days off before entertaining Calgary on Sunday afternoon in what will be the first of six home games in the Caps’ last eight contests of the regular season. Given the home record they have, the Capitals should put to rest in short order any further suspense over who will finish at the top of the league standings. From now on, it’s all about getting ready for the second season.

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