Friday, January 21, 2011

A TWO-point night -- Game 48: Caps 2 - Islanders 1

Now, wasn’t that better?

The Washington Capitals did something they have rarely done in recent weeks – they scored first. Jason Chimera’s tip-in of an Alex Ovechkin feed less than four minutes into the game started things off against the New York Islanders last night. Nicklas Backstrom scored on a rebound of an Alex Ovechkin shot in the fourth minute of the second period, and Braden Holtby made it stand up by turning away 24 of 25 shots to earn the 2-1 win over the Islanders last night in Uniondale, NY.

Not really much to say about this one. It was basic recipe for a win on the road. Get a lead, add to a lead, make other team play catch-up, choke off whatever opportunities they get, play smart and mistake-free hockey down the stretch. Bake for 60 minutes, serve up two points in the standings.

Other stuff…

-- Four little words. Go… to… the… net. That’s how the Caps got their goals last night. Nothing pretty. Jason Chimera charging down the middle as Nicklas Backstrom dropped the puck to Alex Ovechkin, who then sent it across for the tip in. Then, Ovechkin curled in on Islander goalie Rick DiPietro and got a shot off with Backstrom trailing right behind, putting himself in a position to swat the loose puck into the net before DiPietro could recover. Total distance traveled by the two pucks… 16 feet. About the distance from your recliner to your HDTV screen.

-- For the time being (and that is usually the operative clause in such things), this Jason Chimera on the top line thing seems to be working. He had six shots on goal for the game, twice as many as his linemates – the more renowned Alex Ovechkin (one) and Nicklas Backstrom (two) – combined. It’s called taking advantage of opportunities, both in terms of playing with such talent and in jumping into plays when attention is paid by opponents to that other talent.

-- Normally we would look at 44 total shot attempts and think, “where was the offense?” Not so much last night, and here is why. The Islanders ended up with more errant shot attempts (31 – 20 shots blocked and 11 misses) than shots on goal (25). The Islanders might not provide the highest caliber of competition, but nevertheless, the Caps played a fine defensive game in front of Braden Holtby.

-- Holtby was not called upon the make the ten-bell save. And in those 25 shots he faced, Holtby never had to face two Islander shots within ten seconds of one another. He had the opportunity to face the shots one at a time and have his teammates clear away the trash.

-- Continuing on that theme, the Islanders managed only three shots on goal in the last 13:51. Rather amazing considering that the Caps were busy defending a one-goal lead.

-- One of the reasons the Caps might have been able to deny the Islanders their offensive chances?... The Caps were 14-for-22 on faceoffs in the defensive zone.

-- Do Marcus Johansson’s faceoff numbers have to count? He was 0-for-6 in the circle. Take that away, and the Caps were 34 up and 15 down. Shoot, even Mathieu Perreault was 5-for-7.

-- For a guy who was iffy all the way up through the pre-game skate, John Erskine did alright. 15 minutes and four blocked shots for the game. OK, he did have a holding penalty.

-- And that was the flaw in this gem on defense. Six minor penalties taken, five of them of the obstruction variety (two holds, a hook, interference, and a tripping call). Better opponents take advantage of that.

-- But back to blocked shots. The Caps had 20, and Mike Green had more than a third of them (seven). Two of them came in the last minute of play, both on attempts by Kyle Okposo.

-- Could anyone play a quieter 22:31 than Jeff Schultz did last night? No points, no shots, no shot attempts, no hits, no turnovers, no turnovers created… oh, and no goals scored when he was out there.

-- And then there is Scott Hannan. Three hits, three takeaways, a blocked shot, and a plus-1. Hannan has not been a “minus” player since December 18th, a period covering 14 games (plus-5). This after being a minus player in six of his first eight games with the Caps (minus-9).

-- In the “lots of heat, but no light” category, there was John Tavares for the home team. Five shots on goal, seven attempts, a giveaway, a takeaway, a blocked shot, 15 draws taken (winning six). For all that, no points and a minus-1.

-- It’s not so much that the Caps had only two power plays, or that they had only four power play shots. It is that none of the four shots came from Ovechkin or Backstrom. One could like, so to speak, Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson both getting opportunities from inside ten feet, though.

-- On the other side of that equation, allowing six power plays was a problem. But allowing only seven shots on goal on those six power plays over a full 12 minutes of time… not bad.

In the end, if you think “defense wins championships,” then this was the game for you. The Caps played a superior defensive game (absent the penalties). They gave their goaltender good looks at shots and kept the opponent from shooting in flurries. They choked the life out of the Islanders, holding them to a total of 14 shots on goal in the last 43:46 of the game. It was a welcome win, the Caps first road win indoors in 2011. It put them over .500 on the road at 10-9-3. That might not seem like much until you realize that the Caps were 14 games over .500 on the road last season. Now, do it again in Toronto on Saturday, and a 2-0-1 road trip will look pretty good, indeed.

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