Sunday, October 09, 2011
A TWO-point night -- Game 1: Caps 4 - Hurricanes 3 (OT)
The Caps made it ten in a row with a 4-3 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes last night. It looked really good for a tenth straight opening win on home ice with 3:45 to go in regulation time when Brooks Laich scored the Caps’ first power play goal of the season from the doorstep, taking a rebound of an Alex Ovechkin shot off the end boards and backhanding it past Carolina goalie Brian Boucher to give the Caps a 3-2 lead.
It looked a good deal worse for keeping that streak alive 2:26 later when, with the Hurricanes’ goalie pulled, Carolina won a battle for the puck in the Olympia corner to the right of Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth. Eric Staal slid the puck out to the front of the Caps’ net, where Jeff Skinner redirected the puck to the left of Neuvirth. Jussi Jokinen stopped the loose puck with his right skate, kicked it to his forehand, and flipped it past a sprawling Neuvirth to get the ‘Canes even with 1:19 remaining.
It got worse for the Caps at the horn ending the period as the Caps would go to overtime having to kill a penalty, a boarding call against Alexander Semin. Carolina managed three shots on the 4-on-3 advantage before the Hurricane hero, Jokinien, went to the penaltiy box for a goat-horn fitting, taking a holding penalty against Karl Alzner at 1:29. Less than a minute later, the Caps spun a hit from years past. Nicklas Backstrom skated down the right wing boards with the puck with Carolina’s Tim Brent trailing him. Backstrom backhanded the puck out to Dennis Wideman at the right point. Wideman steered the puck to Mike Green on the other side. Green returned the puck to Wideman, then the two defensemen traded places at the top of the zone. Wideman sent the puck back across to Green, now at the right point and with some room to maneuver. Green stepped into the top of the right wing faceoff circle and let fly with a slap shot. The puck looked as if it might have taken a nick out of defenseman Bryan Allen on the way through, and it was enough for the puck to elude Boucher for the game-winner and a tenth consecutive home opener win, courtesy of “Game-Over Green.”
-- The penalty kill did not get off to a good start against the Hurricanes. Carolina finished the night 2-for-5, and the Hurricanes recorded 12 shots on the five power plays. It might be worth noting that last season the Caps did not allow their first power play goal against until Game 7 of the season, a 4-1 loss to Boston.
-- On the other hand, there was the power play. It looked too much like last year’s ineffective squad, misfiring on their first three power plays, or more accurately, not firing at all, recording only two shots on their first three man advantages. But the Caps made up for it in their last two power plays, converting both, and in fact scoring on their last two power play shots on goal.
-- It is only one night, but the new guys were everything advertised on display. Troy Brouwer hits? He finished the night credited with six and had four shot attempts (two on goal) along with a plus-1. Roman Hamrlik is steady? He led the Caps with 23:18 of ice time and led all Caps with five blocked shots. Joel Ward adds some grit? Fifteen-plus minutes, a hit, a blocked shot, three faceoffs taken (all won), and displayed a nasty snap shot off a Brooks Laich feed early that might have put the Caps up in the game’s fourth minute.
-- It is worth noting that officially, the Caps scored their first three goals from an aggregate distance of 35 feet. Granted, two of them came on clean breaks – one by Alexander Semin and the other by Jason Chimera – but it seems easier to score from inside of 20 feet than it is from outside that distance.
-- Nicklas Backstrom might not have been named a star of the game, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t among the most effective players on the ice. In almost 21 minutes, two assists, seven shot attempts (three on goal), four hits (second to Brouwer), two blocked shots, and he won 15 of 25 draws.
-- Jeff Schultz…more than 15 minutes of ice time in which he blocked two shots and had two shot attempts of his own. Oh, and no goals scored against. Eighty two nights like that will be just fine, even if he doesn’t record a hit.
-- Brooks Laich had an effective game of his own, the variety of his game on full display. A goal on three shots on goal, three hits, two takeaways, two blocked shots, 10 wins in 16 draws taken, 3:13 in shorthanded ice time, more than any other Cap.
-- The Caps got balance out of their lines in terms of shots on goal. Nine for the first line, eight for the second, seven for the third, and three for the fourth, not to mention nine from the defense.
-- The Caps dominated draws in the offensive zone, going 15-for-25 and led by Backstrom’s 8-for-11. Jeff Halpern might have finished the night on the wrong side of 50 percent on draws, but he won four of six in the defensive end, and ultimately that is where he’s paid to win.
-- The record will show that Michal Neuvirth allowed three goals on 31 shots, but two of them were of the “he didn’t have a chance” category, as Eric Staal was all by himself on the weak side for a pair of open-net power play goals. Even on the last, with the Hurricanes having six skaters on the ice, Jussi Jokinen was left more or less unmarked on the weak side as the puck worked its way across from the far corner. He had a solid, if unspectacular game.
-- Will Alexander Semin be getting a call from Brendan Shanahan this week? That hit at the end of regulation on Bryan Allen was not the brightest thing Semin did yesterday, especially given the context…there was nothing Allen could have done with the clock about to tick to zero. It was a silly, stupid play that could cost Semin a pinch in the wallet, if not games in the press box.
-- On January 16, 2006, Alex Ovechkin scored what is famously referred to as “The Goal.” Phoenix goalie Brian Boucher was the victim of that career highlight. Ovechkin has not solved Boucher in any of the five games he faced Boucher since, including last night, failing to rustle the twine on either of his two shots on goal.
In the end, it was not pretty, and if body language means anything, Bruce Boudreau’s spoke volumes as he was leaving the bench. He looked like a guy who wanted to get his team on the ice right then and right there to correct some things…like a shaky penalty kill, like being too fancy on their first three power plays when they were content to pass around the perimeter instead of pounding the net, like not closing out a team when they had a lead with less than two minutes left.
It was the kind of game that made for a happy dramatic ending, but we don’t suspect those whose job it is to lead and evaluate these players will be happy with how it was achieved. It looked like a game that pitted a team playing its first game against one that got its feet wet the previous evening. We would like to say the Caps played better late than early, but this wasn’t really the case, either. Not when they allowed a game-tying goal in the last two minutes of regulation and succumbed to retaliation in the final second of regulation hockey.
The Caps have a full day to shake the cobwebs entirely out of their system, because they will jump up a weight class or two in their next opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning. To get two points out of that one, they will have to display a more consistent 60 minutes (or more) than they displayed last night.