Wednesday, January 04, 2012

A TWO-point night -- Game 38: Capitals 3 - Flames 1

It is said that nothing beats live hockey. If only it had been played at Verizon Center on Tuesday night.

The Washington Capitals defeated the Calgary Flames, 3-1, to win their fourth game in a row and go 8-3-1 in their last 12 games. They did not do it flashy. It was a game that had few exciting moments, the Caps seemingly unable to pierce the Calgary defense at the Flames’ blue line, and the Flames unable to do anything in the offensive zone but swing the puck around the boards.

The game turned on the Caps’ ability to convert power plays. Alex Ovechkin converted a power play on a one-timer from a feed by Marcus Johansson with only 1:11 gone in the game to get the Caps off and running. Well…running is in the eye of the beholder. Troy Brouwer scored the other power play goal to put the Caps up 2-0 mid-way through the second when he converted an Ovechkin drive while standing at the doorstep.

The teams exchanged even-strength goals after that – one from Calgary’s Curtis Glencross at 13:51 of the second period, the other from Dennis Wideman 3:10 after that. After that it was in the hands of the defenses – the Caps keeping the Flames to the outside and preventing good looks, the Flames getting their sticks into passing lanes to foil Caps entries into the offensive zone. It made for boring hockey (especially when compared to what was going on in the second semi-final of the World Junior Championships between Canada and Russia), but it was ultimately winning hockey for the Caps. And that is the object of the exercise.

Other stuff:

-- Frustration? There was a lot of it. The Flames had more shots blocked (24) than shots on goal (19). The Caps had a total – a total! – of 32 shot attempts. They had as many hits (21) as shots on goal (21).

-- Alex Ovechkin recorded a goal and an assist for his seventh straight game with a point (7-4-11) and fourth consecutive multi-point game. The points streak is his longest since a seven-game streak from February 26th through March 11th last season (4-7-11). The multi-point streak is his longest since a four-game streak from February 4-10, 2010 (6-5-11).

-- Nicklas Backstrom recorded three assists to lift him into third place in the league in helpers. The big night extended his points streak to five games (1-7-8). Whether he will get a chance to extend that to six in San Jose on Saturday is unclear. More on that in a bit.

-- It was not a night for Tomas Vokoun to be breaking in a new set of pads, but he made three saves from point-blank range with the game in the balance that were among his best this season.

-- Jarome Iginla did everything but score his 500th goal in this one – an assist, four shots on goal, seven attempts (both shots and attempts led both teams for the night), a hit, a takeaway, 2-for-4 on faceoffs, and finished plus-1.

-- Rene Bourque, come on down and collect your “Mr. Idiot” prize. First, he wraps Dennis Wideman like a fur stole behind the Capitals’ net in the first minute of the game. Alex Ovechkin pounds home a one-timer on the ensuing power play 35 seconds later to get the Caps off and running. That would have been bad enough, but with 9:54 left and the players near their respective benches, Bourque thought it would be just grand to throw an elbow at Nicklas Backstrom’s head. Backstrom skated two more shifts, then was removed by coach Dale Hunter for precautionary reasons. Backstrom was to be evaluated further sometime today.

-- The 24 blocked shots by the Caps made it four games in a row with at least 20 blocked shots (a total of 89 over the four games). In this one, the duties were spread around. Fifteen different skaters had at least one blocked shot for the Caps, none with more than three (Troy Brouwer, Roman Hamrlik).

-- With the Caps going with 11 forwards and seven defensemen, Mike Knuble got a promotion, skating with Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson to start the game, although with the odd number of forwards there was a lot of line switching. The 18:35 in ice time he had was the most for him since skating 20:47 against Phoenix on November 21st. Alas, the two minors and four minutes in penalties he took was the most for each since doing the same on November 11th against New Jersey.

-- If fans were expected Mike Green to do more than scrape the rust off his skating, we wonder what it is they do for a living that they could miss almost two months and jump back in to perform at a world-class level. Green was what he was – rusty. He had his moments of moving the puck smartly up ice, but he also had his moments in which he did neither receive nor send a pass well. And there were his two minor penalties of the obstruction variety (holding, interference).

-- The teams combined for a total of 32 even-strength shots. No Cap had more than two even-strength shots for the night, and only Lee Stempniak had as many as three for the Flames.

-- We do not know who the official scorer was, but we had to wonder if he or she was looking at the same faceoffs we were watching. The Caps were credited with winning 34 of 54 draws (63.0 percent). No Cap taking more than one draws finished under 50 percent. We didn’t think the Caps won nearly that many.

-- John Erskine led the Caps in one area last night – shift length. His average shift was 1:12. Of course, he had only four of them. But he had two hits and two blocked shots in those shifts. He made good use of his time.

In the end, it was not an especially exciting game – even the crowd seemed subdued. There was what amounted to a delayed cheer for the Dennis Wideman goal, perhaps a product of fans thinking Marcus Johansson had been hauled down behind the play. Or maybe just a winter weeknight hockey game thing.

That is not to say the game was inconsequential. Of course, there is the win that puts Washington in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, only three points out of the top spot in the Southeast with a game in hand. But perhaps more important for the time being is the condition of Nicklas Backstrom. Caps fans will be waiting eagerly for news of his condition, because his absence from this team for any length of time, given the depth at center, would be crippling on the ice. More important, it is another case of a head shot that imperils a player for no comprehensible reason. The message just does not seem to be getting through. We suspect that Brendan Shanahan will be visiting some justice on Rene Bourque, but we would rather Backstrom just get better quickly.


Anonymous said...

Vokoun has had the new pads for at least 4 games now...think he is 4-0 in them. Last night was not the first night in them

Anonymous said...

Hey Peerless,
Love you, but your headline has the wrong score. Peace.

Paul R

The Peerless said...

First Anonymous...that might have been too subtle. It wasn't a reference to the new red pads, but rather that if you're going to break in any new equipment (like a new baseball glove), facing so few shots isn't going to do much breaking in of the equipment.

The Peerless said...

Paul...thanks for catching that. The perils of cut and paste. I'll blame Cheerless for that.