Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A TWO-point night -- Game 36: Caps 5 - Devils 1

It wasn’t their best game of the season. It probably wasn’t even their best game of the month. But the Washington Capitals’ 5-1 win over the New Jersey Devils was one of the more satisfying of the season. The Caps avenged a 5-0 loss the last time the teams met, won their second consecutive game, won in a convincing fashion, and they did so as part of a team effort.

It might have been one of those look-ahead games, what with the Penguins coming to town on Thursday, but the Capitals displayed enough focus (certainly more than they have in any home game this month) to dominate a depleted and less-skilled Devils team.

Other stuff…

-- Five different Caps scored the five goals, none of them by the top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin.

-- 12 different players recorded points, only one of them coming from the top line (Ovechkin, an assist).

-- The Hershey Bears were ably represented on the score sheet. Andrew Gordon notched his first NHL goal and added an assist. Jay Beagle had a goal of his own. 2010 graduate John Carlson had a goal and an assist.

-- At the other end of the ice Michal Neuvirth (another 2010 graduate of Hershey) stopped 35 of 36 shots, but what was key was stopping 26 of 27 in the first two periods. In his last three appearances he has now allowed three, two, and one goals.

-- The Caps can be – or at least used to be – flashy, but the first two goals were as basic as it gets. Marcus Johansson made the play by tapping a fifth gear to catch up to the puck along the left wing boards. While Johansson was putting himself in position to make a play, Andrew Gordon drove the middle. Johansson blew past defenseman Mark Fayne to collect the puck, and Gordon beat Patrik Elias back to get position in front of goalie Martin Brodeur. Johansson sent the puck across, Gordon tapped it in, and the Caps were off and running. The second was just a matter of a player getting into position and keeping his stick on the ice. David Steckel picked up a loose puck and circled around the right wing corner boards. As he was coming to the Devils’ net, he slid the puck out to Jay Beagle at the top of the crease. The puck was laid right onto the blade of Beagle’s stick, and all that was left to do was for Beagle to wrist the puck past Brodeur.

-- That second goal was also a product of some poor judgment by Devil defenseman Anton Volchenkov, who went for the big hit on Matt Bradley as the puck was coming down the right wing boards. Bradley took a hit for the team and eased the puck ahead where Steckel picked it up to start the play that led to the score. Beagle settled into the void in the zone that might have been defended by Volchenkov, who was left high in the zone after going for the hit.

-- Only two Caps did not finish on the plus side of the ledger (Mike Green and Scott Hannan); only two Devils didn’t finish on the minus side, indicative of the fact that the Devils are an awful 5-on-5 hockey team at the moment. The Devils were outscored 5-0 at 5-on-5.

-- As if to mock the Devils at 5-on-5, the visitors had just killed their fourth and fifth shorthanded situations of the game, part of a two-fer in which they killed the 3-on-5 and 4-on-5 portions of a Caps power play. But seven seconds later after the last penalty expired, Brooks Laich sent the puck cross-ice to Tom Poti who wristed a harmless enough looking shot at the Devils’ net…except it really wasn’t a shot as much as a pass to Mike Knuble, who was one of two Caps (Mathieu Perreault the other) all alone in front of Martin Brodeur. Before Henrik Tallinder could appear in the frame, Knuble laid the blade of his stick open and redirected the puck past Brodeur for the fifth goal – the fifth even strength goal – for the Caps.

-- Of the goal scorers… John Carlson (two points), age 20. Andrew Gordon (two points), age 25. Jay Beagle (game-winning goal), age 25. The Caps are, let us remember, still a rather young team.

-- Nothing captured the relative arcs of these teams as much as the third goal for Washington. John Carlson wins a battle for the puck in the corner and pushes it out of the defensive zone. Jason Chimera picks up the puck, leaving Mark Fayne – one of 12 defensemen the Devils have used this year and playing in only his 13th NHL game – hooking Chimera in an effort to hang on for dear life. All Fayne managed to do was earn a delayed penalty (and likely a penalty shot) for his effort as Chimera steamed in on Martin Brodeur. In another season on another night, Brodeur might have foiled Chimera’s effort, but Brodeur went down early, and Chimera roofed the puck over him to give the Caps an insurance goal. The Devils…not hard enough on the puck in the offensive zone; too slow, beat up, and young on the blueline; and perhaps seeing the end in sight for a legendary goalie.

-- Alex Ovechkin has not scored a power play goal at Verizon Center this season. Tonight, he did not record a shot on any of the five Caps power plays. It is not a signature start to the season, scoring wise.  Even his assists look funky. He gets the puck poked off his stick while trying to drag it through the defenseman’s legs, John Carlson steps in behind it and leans into a shot that beats Brodeur over his shoulder. Or maybe Marty lost it in the crowd again.

-- Much has been made of Ovechkin’s various woes, but it’s not as if Nicklas Backstrom has been scorching the score sheet, either. After being blanked on the score sheet tonight, Backstrom has now gone ten games without a goal and is 0-4-4, minus-3 in those ten contests. He had three shots on goal tonight, all of them on the power play.

-- If David Clarkson leads the Devils in shots (six) and has twice as many as Patrik Elias (one) and Ilya Kovalchuk (two), combined, it comes as little surprise that the Devils have not won many games. Clarkson had as many even strength shots as Elias, Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, and Dainius Zubrus, combined (five).

In the end, this is what strong teams do to the weak. They get on them, get over them, and stand on their throats. Earlier this month, a 4-1 third period lead might not have been safe. But even when the game was 1-1 one had the feeling the Caps were dominating, the Devils being next to impotent at even strength. The dark cloud on this sunny scene is the top line being disengaged to the point of being almost invisible in this game. Ovechkin had four hits, but one shot on goal (he had six misses, a couple of which Brodeur would not have stopped had they been of better aim and another that went through Brodeur’s legs and out the far side past the post). Backstrom had no even strength shots on goal. Alexander Semin spent time alternately playing hockey and auditioning for the Washington Ballet. Mike Green still looks to be only about 80 percent.

That situation needs to improve, because the Caps will step up several weight classes in opponent come Thursday, hosting a team that has won 13 of 15 games and has allowed more than three goals only three times in that 15-game span. They are going to need all hands on deck. Guess we’ll find out if the Caps have shaken their December slumber. For tonight, though, they did look a lot like the Caps of last season.


Dave said...

Good call on the score prediction!

Anonymous said...

You were truly Peerless tonight! But, everybody is saying it was a poke check on Ovechkin, and since I sit at that end of the ice, I gotta tell you I think it was a brilliant drop-pass by Ovechkin to Carlson. It was truly brilliant, and everybody is saying it is a poke-check - and it wasn't. It was amazing, and I want him to get the credit.

VaMedic said...

I will watch the replay on that Ovi assist, but I too was at that end of the ice. It looked like he dropped the puck, then lifted the defender's stick and drew him off. Carlson came driving in and blasted it. If it WAS a play by Ovi, then maybe we are seeing him get out of the "Same old Ovi move" that the league seems to have caught up on. Maybe I'm seeign what I'd like to see...

Earlier in the night, Ovi came up the left side, but instead of curling in at the circles...drove straight in at the net. I think Ovi is maturing and adjusting. Maybe it's just hope.