The Washington Capitals sleepwalked their way to a 17-15-2 record through 34 games, and then they play a game like the one last night that resulted in a 4-1 win over the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers.
The Caps scored first, last, and in-between, getting a pair of goals from Alexander Semin (his first multi-goal game since recording a hat trick against Anaheim on February 16th of last season – 54 games in all). They got a pair of assists from Alex Ovechkin (his first multi-point game since November 4th – 24 games in all). They got two goals from the line of Troy Brouwer, Marcus Johansson and Jeff Halpern (as a group, they had a total of five goals over the previous month). They got 31 saves from Tomas Vokoun (the first time he allowed fewer than two goals on more than 30 shots since November 11th).
It was as efficient a win the Caps put together since the last game of their season-opening seven-game winning streak when they defeated Detroit, 7-1.
-- Before too much back-slapping gets underway, it was not Henrik Lundqvist that the Caps beat for four goals on 23 shots. It was Martin Biron. But before too much pooh-poohing of that result gets started, Biron did come into this game with a 7-1-0 record with a 1.84 GAA and .933 save percentage with one shutout.
-- The Ranger defense left much to be desired. Michael Del Zotto was his own training tape on how not to play the position on the Caps’ first goal. He was slow to pursue a loose puck sliding into his end, and in trying to move the puck forward once he corralled it he managed only to put it on the stick of Marcus Johansson. After Johansson dropped the puck for Jeff Halpern cruising into the offensive zone, Del Zotto lost Johansson as he headed to the net. When Halpern’s drive was stopped by Biron, Del Zotto was nowhere to be found as Johansson settled the rebound and stuffed it in.
-- It was Ryan McDonagh’s turn on the Caps' second goal. He was quite literally standing around watching things from in front of Biron’s crease as the Caps worked the puck out and around to John Carlson at the left point. While Carlson was doing a fine job to keep the puck in and set up for the shot, Troy Brouwer circled out in front of the net. McDonagh was standing right next to Brouwer, getting a good look at Brouwer setting a screen in front of Biron as Carlson let fly with a shot. McDonagh did not so much as nudge Brouwer as the Cap deflected the Carlson drive through Biron’s pads for the second goal.
-- On the third goal, Jeff Woywitka was not the one who coughed up the puck at the Caps’ blue line (that was Brad Richards), but he was caught in the middle of the ice as Nicklas Backstrom picked up the loose puck and sent it up to Alexander Semin heading up the right side. Caught in the middle of the ice and behind Semin, Woywitka could not turn fast enough to defend Semin and was left chasing Semin to the Ranger net. Semin had a clear path to curl in, move the puck to his backhand, and sweep it up and over Biron for the Caps’ third goal.
-- Then it was Del Zotto again (although he was not alone). One can only wonder what he was thinking when he saw Alex Ovechkin carrying the puck into the Ranger zone with Brad Richards (Brad Richards?) fronting him. Del Zotto thought it would be a good idea to drift to Ovechkin’s side of the ice, leaving a yawning gap on the right side that Alexander Semin filled. Of course, the forward support that would have been expected to cut off Ovechkin’s cut to the middle was late (Carl Hagelin, that’s you, although in fairness he had to cover ground from the far corner of the rink to get into position), so what the Rangers were left with was a forward playing defense (Richards), a forward late getting to his spot (Hagelin), and a defenseman, well, we’re not sure what he was doing:
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All Semin had to do was shoot the puck before Del Zotto could scamper back to his side of the ice. He did, it went in, and the Caps had their fourth goal.
-- Richards had one of those frustrating nights for the Rangers. Eight shot attempts, four shots on goal, no points, and he was on the ice for three goals. At least his horror was spread over almost 20 minutes of ice time. Carl Hagelin was on the ice for three goals in 12 minutes. His minus-3 was only the second minus game he had recorded in 17 games this season.
-- It was especially frustrating for Richards – and for Marian Gaborik, too – in that the Rangers had eight shots on goal on five power plays (three by Richards, two by Gaborik). Tomas Vokoun was solid in goal and, as they saying goes, the power play’s best defender when he had to be.
-- Eight different Caps shared in the scoring, each member of the top two lines recording at least one point, and defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner getting an assist apiece.
-- There is that whole “short bench” thing going with the Caps these days. The fourth line even-strength ice time – Matt Hendricks: 6:44, Jay Beagle: 5:55, and Mike Knuble: 6:55 – was barely as much (19:34) as Dennis Wideman had in even-strength ice time by himself (18:41). The fourth line had one even-strength shift in the third period. But that said, only Nicklas Backstrom among the forwards recorded more than 20 minutes of ice time, and that was a product of his getting 4:22 in shorthanded ice time.
-- Only nine of 51 faceoffs were taken in the Caps’ offensive zone (the Caps won five of them). Twenty-five of the 51 draws were taken in the neutral zone.
-- It was a game that might have ended a lot differently but for the Rangers’ defensive breakdowns. The Caps managed only 49 shot attempts in 60 minutes (only 13 in the third period) and only 23 shots on goal. But the Caps were spot-on in taking advantage of those breakdowns when they occurred.
-- Jeff Halpern wins the ticket to the all-you-can-eat score sheet buffet. He had an assist, three shots on goal, six shot attempts, three hits, two blocked shots, won seven of 11 draws, and finished plus-2.
-- John Tortorella does not take losing gracefully. Some might find that charming. In fact, it is somewhat refreshing to hear someone who is genuinely angry when they lose, rather than searching for the right tone. But his commentary about the Caps after the game might get remembered the same way Dan Bylsma’s comment about Michal Neuvirth’s skill as a goaltender last season might have been remembered (you will recall Neuvirth shut out the Penguins twice after Bylsma was heard during the HBO 24/7 series saying of Neuvirth that "this goalie isn't that good, all right? He will give us rebounds, he has, and he will give us cheesy ones on the net."). After last night’s game, Tortorella said of the Caps, “"They're an opportunistic team. They don't want to defend. They want nothing to do with it. So what do we do? We don't allow them to defend on those plays and they go score goals and then they get rolling.”
In the end, we will repeat what we said at the beginning. The Caps were efficient. They were, as John Tortorella put it, opportunistic. They were not dominating. But on a night like this, when they were not dominating, they have to have their skill players come through when the opportunities are available. Alexander Semin is Exhibit “A” for that idea. He had perhaps his best game of the season – two goals, a blocked shot, no penalties taken. And he had help from Alex Ovechkin, who set Semin up for one goal and provided an assist on Semin’s second goal.
It was a solid win against an opponent that plays well on the road and was riding a five-game winning streak. It would be hard to ask for more…
…except to do it more often than once a week.