Friday, April 09, 2010

A TWO-point night: Caps 5 - Thrashers 2

Big night on F Street, it was. The Caps defeated the Atlanta Thrashers, 5-2 to sweep the season series between the clubs in a game that really was, as they say, “closer than the score indicates.” The Caps broke on top with a first period goal by Nicklas Backstrom, then gave the lead away mid-way through the second period on a freakish goal by Evgeni Artyukhin off the skate of Brendan Morrison, who was camped in the high slot 25 feet away from goal Jose Theodore as Artyukhin tried to send a pass across the ice from the half boards.

Then the Caps gave away another one less than two minutes later with some sloppy puck management on a power play, allowing Clarke MacArthur to intercept a pass and take off on a breakaway. MacArthur broke in on Theodore and put the puck in the only place available, high under the crossbar over Theodore’s glove on a backhand. It was so high under the crossbar that it looked as if it hit iron, but a replay confirmed that it hit the net before rebounding out. That ended the fun part of the evening for the Thrashers.

The Caps roared back with four goals, including the 49th and 50th (the game-tying and game-winning goals) by Alex Ovechkin, an insurance goal by Jason Chimera, and the other bookend goal for Nicklas Backstrom. It was a big night for big guns and for the club in general…

-- With the win the Caps reached the 120-point mark. In doing so, they are the first non-original six team in the NHL to accomplish the feat.

-- Ovechkin notched goals 49 and 50 to take the lead in the goal-scoring race and become only the third player in NHL history to hit the 50-goal mark in four of his first five seasons.

-- With an assist tacked onto his scoring line, Ovechkin took the lead in scoring from Henrik Sedin. Caps fans had better hope Sedin’s out of bullets, because Ovie might not be playing on Sunday. Bruce Boudreau suggested that might be the case in the post-game (apparently at Ovechkin’s request).

-- Backstrom, with two goals and an assist, hit the 100-point mark for the first time in his career. He and Ovechkin are the first pair of Capitals to reach the 100-point mark in the same season.

-- That's three straight three-point games for Backstrom (3-6-9, plus-7).

-- Ovechkin hit 50-goals, and Backstrom hit the 100-point mark on the same play. Hope they have a band saw in the locker room to halve the puck.

-- Alexander Semin recorded three assists, making the BOSS line of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin 4-5-9, plus-11 for the night.

-- Jeff Schultz was a plus-4, making him plus-9 in his last two games, which is better than 777 other player in the league for the entire season.

-- But for the freak goal and the shortie, Jose Theodore had a better-than-solid game, stopping 29 of 31 shots. The guy is in a zone right now. You could count the number of juicy rebounds he left on your fist.

-- Even Boyd Gordon, who has fought chronic back problems all year it seems, looked quicker than he has at any point since opening night.

-- You could tell one team was tuning up for the playoffs, while the other team was tuning out. The Caps registered only nine hits on the night (Ovechkin had none of them). Atlanta had 16 hits, but a dozen of them must have come after the Caps had their fifth goal (not really, they were 4-7-5 by period).

-- Continuing on that line, there were only 22 turnovers recorded, 12 by the Caps, 10 by the Thrashers.

-- Ondrej Pavelec kept the Thrashers in the game, to a point. There were an awful lot of pucks bouncing around in his crease early that gave the impression that if the Caps kept firing, they would eventually break through. In fact, Pavelec stopped 33 of the first 35 shots he faced, but allowed goals on three of the last 12 shots he faced, all of them in a space of 3:16 in the third period.

-- Alex Ovechkin had two goals on three shots, but he failed to register a shot on goal in any of the five power plays the Caps had.

-- Meanwhile, Alexander Semin was teeing it up on the power play; he had six shots on goal in 6:40 of power play ice time. He has 11 shots on goal for the game and had four of the Caps’ total of seven takeaways. Think he likes playing with Ovechkin and Backstrom?

-- The Caps tied a franchise record with their 30th win at home this season, tying the mark set by the 1985-1986 club. They can take the record for themselves on Sunday against Boston (remember, it’s a NOON start, kids).

-- Speaking of 30, it was the 30th win for Jose Theodore, the fourth time in his career he has reached that mark.

-- Tyler Sloan was the only Cap not to record a shot attempt, but he also sat for the last 16:58 of the game.

In the end, the Thrashers gamely hung on for two periods, but the Caps depth of firepower did them in. And when the flood came, the Thrashers had nothing left in the tank to prevent it (as we happily puree our metaphors). The Caps play for a bit of history on Sunday (the home wins record), and that will make things at least a bit interesting, if they are having to do it with a spotty lineup. But hey, these guys have earned it. Screw NBC. An 82nd game at noon on a Sunday when you have a 21-point lead on the rest of the conference means squat compared to what comes next week.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Thrashers, April 9th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s Friday on Fun Street and the next to last game of the regular season…

“The penultimate game…”

Cheerless, you remembered. And Fearless, you’re here, too. And what’s with the get-up?

‘Well, we heard that the Caps was restin’ guys this week, and we came a’runnin’ to offer our services.”

And what services would those be?

“Cuz, do you not remember those halcyon days of yore and our winter afternoons on the frozen river?”

I remember watching a lot of falling down by you two.

“T’weren’t fallin’ down… it was goin’ in t’my ‘butterfly.’”

You weren’t even a goalie, you doofus. Besides, it was more of a “dung beetle.”

“Or a turtle.”

Yeah, he did spend a lot of time turtling whenever Mickey McGonigle dropped the gloves.

“It’s Michelle, and it was only the one time."

“You mean ‘one time each game, don’t you Cheerless?”

So you guys want to offer your services to Coach Boudreau? What makes you think you can skate with the big boys?

“Well, I’ve been known as quite the scorer in my day…”

“Cuz, you ain’t scored since the senior prom.”

“And I suppose you can do better?”

“Nope, I’m a goalie. I have a glove hand that’s legendary in six counties.”

“Glitter gloves don’t count, cuz.”

Will you guys knock it off?! There’s a hockey game to play, and I don’t think Coach Boudreau has any use for a couple of guys who couldn’t lace their skates without a manual.

“Maybe yer right, cuz… hey Fearless, maybe the Oilers are lookin’ for somebody… race ya to the truck…”

While those two see if they can crack the Edmonton lineup, the Caps and Thrashers end their season series tonight. We just did this a week ago, a 2-1 Capitals win that ended a three-game losing streak. Starting with that game, these teams have gone in entirely different directions. The Caps have won four in a row, clinching the Presidents’ Trophy and beating two teams they might see in the playoffs (Boston and Pittsburgh), while the Thrashers have lost three in a row and were eliminated from the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Not much has changed for these teams, trend-wise, since we looked at the matchup a week ago. The overall numbers haven’t changed much, either…

These teams have met five times this year, and the Caps have won them all by a combined score of 24-11. Fourteen different Caps have goals in the season series, 21 have points. Clearly, Atlanta has had issues stopping the Caps, the 2-1 result a week ago notwithstanding.

The Caps’ leading points scorer in this season series is hardly a surprise – Alex Ovechkin (3-4-7 in five games). What is perhaps more noteworthy is that a number of Caps have compiled their season’s best scoring against one team in games against the Thrashers, or the Caps have received scoring from unlikely places (some players who are, in fact, not with the team these days).

- Jeff Schultz has treated the Thrashers like a happy meal this year – 1-4-5, plus-10 in the five games, including his biggest night of the season, a three point night on October 22nd that included this gem for his first goal of the season…

- Keith Aucoin, how skating with Hershey, recorded two of his nine points against the Thrashers (tied for his highest mark against any team this year).

- Chris Clark, now of Columbus, recorded one of his four goals for the Caps against the Thrashers.

- Alexandre Giroux, in Hershey these days, potted his only goal in the NHL this season against Atlanta.

- Semyon Varlamov recorded his only assist of the season against Atlanta.

- Brooks Laich has more assists against Atlanta (five) than he has against any other club, except Florida (also five, in one more game played).

The Caps’ special teams have performed rather well against Atlanta, too. In five games, the power play is 5-for-21 (23.8 percent), but that includes an 0-for-7 in the first meeting of these teams this season. Five-for-14 since can be described as “dominating” in any book. The penalty killers are 16-for-19 in the five games (84.2 percent) and have not allowed a power play goal on nine tries over the last three games.

Here is perhaps the oddest fact of all in this season’s series. Jose Theodore has yet to make an appearance against Atlanta. Semyon Varlamov got three chances, winning them all (3-0-0, 2.67, .908), while Michal Neuvirth got the other two (2-0-0, 1.51, .964). Theodore appears likely to get his first chance to improve on his 13-5-0, 2.67, .905 career mark against the Thrashers tonight.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Atlanta: Maxim Afinogenov

The season is over for top scorer Nik Antropov, who is being given the last two games off after skating through a number of injuries this year. That leaves it up to Afinogenov, as the Thrashers’ remaining top scorer, to try to lead the Thrashers offense against a team that has treated their goaltenders like a pinball machine. He is 2-1-3, minus-5 in five games against the Caps this year.

Washington: Matt Bradley

It’s about earning playing time among those competing on the third and fourth lines. Bradley has a chance to put his best foot forward tonight against a team he has had a lot of success against this year. Bradley is 2-2-4, plus-3 in five games against Atlanta. He also has goals in two of his last four games.


1. Get ‘em back, keep ‘em in. The Caps are either getting guys back into the lineup who were nursing injuries, or they are close to getting other guys back. The trick now is to keep them healthy. There isn’t anything more important than that in this game.

2. See Number 1

3. See Number 2

In the end, the Caps are tuning up, and the Thrashers might be tuning out. Atlanta could be expected to play for a measure of pride (no team wants to take the oh-fer for the entire season), and as a divisional opponent they might be expected to play with a certain edge. But that isn’t going to be nearly enough to stem the tide that will wash over them.

Caps 6 – Thrashers 2