Sunday, October 23, 2011

A TWO-point night -- Game 7: Caps 7 - Red Wings 1

Before the puck dropped at Verizon Center to begin tonight’s game between the Washington Capitals and the Detroit Red Wings, most folks would have heard the words, “seven and seven” and thought, “hmmm…a shot of Seagram 7, some 7-Up, and ice.” When the final horn sounded the end of the game, folks might have been forgiven if they thought it meant, “seven in a row after a 7-1 win.”

The Caps scored early, scored late, and scored in-between in handing the Red Wings their first loss of the season, leaving the Capitals as the last remaining undefeated, unblemished team in the NHL. Detroit fans might fall back on the fact that the Red Wings came into the game having played the night before against Columbus, were starting backup goaltender Ty Conklin, and were missing the human brick wall, Tomas Holmstrom.

Still, seven goals against? One for?? Whatever the Red Wings were missing, or substituting, or missing for a lack of sleep (hey, it was only their second game in a week), it didn’t explain how it is that the Caps took away early on what they did best – control the puck. Detroit had only six shots on goal in the last 18:06 minutes of the first period (eight for the period) as the Caps took the lead on goals by Mike Green and Marcus Johansson. Green got another 4:59 into the second period to put the Wings down by three goals for the first time this season. After Detroit got one back on a 5-on-3 power play midway through the middle frame, the Caps abused goalie and the evening’s sacrificial lamb, Ty Conklin, for four goals on the last 12 shots they took in the contest to end the Red Wing’s attempt to tie their franchise record for consecutive wins to start a season.

Other stuff…

-- The game turned on a 7:34 stretch of time in the second period. It began with Matt Hendricks taking what might otherwise have been an innocuous hooking penalty at the 9:10 mark and the Caps holding that 3-0 lead. And then… Roman Hamrlik was whistled for a delay-of-game penalty at 10:39 for lifting the net from its pegs, putting the Caps down two men…Niklas Kronwall got the Red Wings back in the game 26 seconds later with only six seconds left in the two-man advantage on a slapper from the top of the zone that goalie Tomas Vokoun was screened from seeing. Only 2:17 after Kronwall’s goal, Alexander Semin was sent off for a high-sticking call, and then Marcus Johansson joined him in the box 1:22 later to put the Caps down two men for the second time in the period. But the Caps killed both of those penalties off, preserving the two-goal lead at the critical juncture of the game.

-- Over that 7:34 stretch in which the Caps took four penalties and were defending 3-on-5 twice, the Red Wings launched nine shots at the Capitals’ net, six of them getting through to Vokoun, but only one made it to the back of the net. It was the kind of situation the Red Wings often feast on, and it was their inability to do so in this instance that turned the game.

-- Mike Green had his first four point game since December 5, 2009 (against Philadelphia), but it was a brief sequence midway through the first period that illustrated how far he has come as a defenseman. In it, he had to make one of those decisions that is among the hardest for a defenseman to make – whether to step up at the blue line to check a puck carrier. Green did, and separated a Red Wing from the puck. The Caps could not get the puck out of their own end, though, and seconds later, there was Green – on the other side of the ice – deep in the zone blocking a centering attempt from behind the Caps’ net. He might not make that play last year; he certainly doesn’t make it two years ago.

-- In 2007-2008, Alex Ovechkin figured in 47 percent of the Caps’ goals (65 goals and 47 assists among 238 goals the Caps scored that season). The Caps barely made the playoffs. After tonight’s game to make the Caps 7-0, Ovechkin has figured in seven of 29 goals – 24 percent (3-4-7). There are games when Ovechkin is going to have to be “the man.” But he doesn’t have to be “the man” for this team 60 games out of 82. This is a deeper, arguably better team than the ones on which Ovechkin lit up the scoreboard largely by himself. Tonight he had one shot on goal, but he record two points tonight, anyway, assisting on both goals by Mike Green.

-- Your odd Ovechkin fact for the night... Alex Ovechkin skated 13:00 minutes at even strength tonight. That would be less than Jason Chimera (13:54) and Joel Ward (13:25).

-- The fourth line needs a new label. Jeff Halpern, Matt Hendricks, and Mathieu Perreault went 2-3-5, plus-6. As a group they are 3-7-10, plus-14.

-- Balance, balance, balance. After tonight’s game the first line has six goals, the second line has seven, the third line has six, and the fourth line has those three.

-- And speaking of balance, the defense now has six players with points (as in, “every defenseman to dress so far this season”) and is 6-15-21, plus-22 as a group.

-- Fourteen skaters recorded points; and even though the Caps had five even strength goals and didn’t allow one, no Cap finished greater than plus-2. But every skater ended in the “plus” column. More balance.

-- Joel Ward scored the fifth goal for the Caps tonight, but it might not have been possible but for Liane Davis. She is the power skating trainer that has been working with Brooks Laich on his skating for some time. And that work might have been reflected in the ability of Laich to keep his skates under him, control the puck while fending off defenseman Brad Stuart (a pretty sturdy player in his own right), separate himself from Stuart, and find Ward for the lay-up to stick the stake in the Wings’ hearts.

-- Since allowing five goals in his first appearance as a Cap, Tomas Vokoun is 5-0-0, 1.19, .965, with one shutout.

-- A couple of things about the Wings…watching Nicklas Lidstrom is always a clinic, but in the offensive zone he was amazing in a subtle sort of way. He earned the second assist on the Wing’s goal, but it was his work at the top of the offensive zone that was educational. He had nine shot attempts, and only one was blocked. He was credited with five shots on goal, but even the three misses seemed to have a point. They looked like “sight line” shots that were intended to get through to teammates either on rebounds from the end boards or for potential deflections. None of the misses looked like “misses.”

-- On the other hand, we understand that it was Fabian Brunnstrom’s first game with the Wings, but it doesn’t seem surprising in one respect why Detroit is his third organization. It looked amazingly easy to push him off the puck. Any contact whatsoever ended whatever skating momentum he had and usually resulted in his losing possession of the puck. It was the sort of game that might have had one scratching their head wondering what the big deal was when he was a sought-after free agent out of Sweden in 2008.

In the end…7-0, tops in the league in offense and the power play, and they are tied for fourth in goals allowed per game. They have scored five or more goals in three of seven games and allowed one or fewer goals in three (two or fewer in five straight). If you are a Caps fan and are not pleased, or you are inclined to complain about anything, you are beyond hope. Hockey is a hard game, and to perform at this level of efficiency and effectiveness, even for a seven-game stretch, is indicative of a very, very good team. Yeah, yeah…we’ll see in May or June. But a team – any team – can only play the game in front of it. And seven times the Caps have taken care of business. It was a very, very good night.

Good enough to send the Wings in search of seven and sevens.


Doug B. said...

At least you got the Wings' "1" right!! Am allowing myself to enjoy this run--as you say, it IS a hard game...thanks, as always, for the perspective!

Anonymous said...

If this were England that picture would be profane :)