The Washington Capitals took to the road in what will be the first of six road games in the next seven covering 13 days. The Caps got off on the right foot on this journey, defeating the Boston Bruins, 4-3, at TD Garden.
It started as if the Caps would run the B’s out of their own building. They outshot the Bruins 12-3 in the first 8:15 of the game and got goals from Alexander Semin and Matt Hendricks. Semin was Alex-on-the-spot to put back an uncharacteristically long Tim Thomas rebound off a drive from the left point by Karl Alzner. Just 25 seconds later, Matt Hendricks finish a play with some hard work on a play filled with it.
Hendricks started the play along the left wing wall in the Boston zone, outdueling defenseman Dennis Seidenberg for the puck. Hendricks swept in deep into the corner, where Jay Beagle took over. Beagle was able to fend off the other defenseman – Joe Corvo – and circled out to find a passing lane. He found Dmitry Orlov at the top of the zone, and Orlov sent the puck to the net. Orlov’s drive was deflected on its way in by Troy Brouwer, preventing Thomas from being able to corral the puck cleanly. Hendricks took one whack and then another as he was being knocked down by Seidenberg at the top of the crease. But the nuisance wasn’t enough to stop Hendricks from snapping the puck past Thomas for the 2-0 lead 8:15 into the game.
The first period was part of some of the best 19:51 of compete level shown by the Caps this season. They were everywhere pressuring the Bruins, keeping the home team from getting clean breakouts and not allowing much in the way of chances when they could gain the offensive zone. They even killed off three penalties in the process. But 19:51 isn’t 20 minutes, and the last nine seconds wiped out a lot of that good work. With a faceoff to Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun’s right, Jay Beagle and Patrice Bergeron tied one another up on the draw. The puck leaked toward the Caps net, and Milan Lucic was more alert than any Capital – particularly defenseman John Carlson, who did not step up smartly when Lucic cut in to grab the puck. Lucic snapped a shot through Vokoun with six seconds left in the period, and the Caps’ lead was halved.
It looked bad for the Caps when Boston tied the game 4:58 into the second period on an unassisted goal by Brad Marchand. But Jay Beagle, who frankly deserved a star in this game, put the Caps back in front on an amazing centering feed from Alexander Semin. Six minutes later the Caps got some insurance on, of all things, a power play. Brooks Laich deflected a drive by defenseman Dennis Wideman through Tim Thomas before Adam McQuaid could get to the top of the crease to defend Laich.
They would need that insurance when Johnny Boychuk scored for the Bruins with 3:13 left in regulation. But the Caps stiffened. In that last 3:13 Boston did a lot of buzzing in the Caps’ end, but they managed only three shot attempts in that last 3:13, two of them on net, and both of them stopped by Vokoun to seal the win.
-- In a space of just a few seconds Caps fans saw what is so confounding about Alexander Semin. He chased down Adam McQuaid in the faceoff circle to Thomas’ right and hounded McQuaid behind the Bruins’ net. McQuaid appeared sufficiently concerned with Semin’s peskiness that he skated smack into teammate Dennis Seidenberg, thus taking both out of the play as Semin skated through and collected the puck in the corner. Then, with Milan Lucic bearing down on him, Semin whipped a centering pass right onto the tape of Beagle’s stick, and Beagle did the rest. It was the kind of play that show Semin’s talent in skating, in his ability to annoy puck-carriers with his stick chipping at their elbows and their stick, his ability to take a hit to deliver a play, and his superior passing skills. One wonders why that sort of mix of talent isn’t in display more frequently. He has it in him.
-- Beagle, Matt Hendricks, and Brooks Laich. With Nicklas Backstrom injured and Mike Green suspended, this was the kind of stepping up the Caps desperately needed on the road in getting goals from that trio.
-- Why did Beagle deserve a star? Well, there was the goal (his second of the season), his winning seven of 11 draws (including four of six in the defensive zone), and in what became a grinding kind of a game as the minutes ticked by he has more even strength ice time (16:44) than Alex Ovechkin (13:03), Brooks Laich (16:20), and for that matter every other Caps forward.
-- Who thought Marty Turco might have gotten the call after the Bruins went down 2-0 early? With the Bruins in Pittsburgh tomorrow, a change there might have given Thomas a break before that game. Now, does Thomas start tomorrow’s game with no rest? Boston is not in any jeopardy of dropping out of the playoff mix, but they are in a fight with Ottawa for the Northeast Division lead (three points, and the Bruins have two games in hand) and a top-three seed.
-- Dmitry Orlov makes a base salary of $640,000 and has performance bonuses of $260,000. Dennis Wideman makes $3,937,500 and will be a free agent after season’s end. Wideman will not be back. His two assists gave Orlov points in three straight games (on ice for only one goal against), and he is 1-7-8, plus-7 in his last 12 games dating back to February 13th. There is always a fear of a sophomore slump (see: John Carlson), but right now Orlov is sturdy enough on the Caps’ blue line.
-- Odd fact. In the first period there was not a single icing call until the 19:38 mark – an icing call against the Caps. Thirteen seconds, there was another, again against the Caps. Three seconds after that, the Bruins had a goal. The Caps just did not manage the ice well in those last 22 seconds, and it cost them.
-- Sometimes, stuff happens. Alex Ovechkin skates into a bad place – or at least one in which he cannot do much if anything good – up along the players’ benches and into a hit by Jordan Caron. As a result, the Caps can’t get the puck into the Boston end as they start to make a line change. Result – a goal two seconds after the hit when Brad Marchand takes up the loose puck with no Caps around him and fires it past Vokoun to tie the game.
-- You have to feel for Mike Knuble. He gets into the game, skates 11:26, and finishes the game with exactly one mark on his line of the score sheet. It is technically a missed shot. It was a snap shot at an open net that hit the near post and caromed away. It would have given the Caps a 5-2 lead with seven minutes left and effectively salted the game away. Boston made it 4-3 less than four minutes later.
-- There is also this odd Knuble fact in this game… he skated more shifts in the third period (seven) than did Alex Ovechkin (six).
-- If you are in the game long enough, you know to make the smart play, even when a superstar is on your line. It came late with the Caps nursing a lead. Keith Aucoin skates into the Boston zone with Alex Ovechkin flanking him. Aucoin could have left the puck inside the Boston line for Ovechkin on his right. But Boston had numbers at the blue line, and a mistake there – a bad pass, Ovechkin fumbling the puck – could have resulted in a rush the other way. Aucoin held the puck and skated it in deeper himself, running a few more seconds off the clock and keeping the Caps with territorial advantage.
-- Another odd fact. Caps fans know that the team has struggled on the power play on the road – last in the league, in fact, coming into this game. But try this on. The Caps have power play goals in two of their last three road games and have two goals on their last six opportunities dating back to the 5-2 win at Ottawa on February 22nd.
In the end, Karl Alzner said it best after the game…
“…it doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile, right? We’re just happy that we got the two points.”
That about says it…this isn’t the Beauty Contest System to crown a champion in college football. Win, and you’re in. The Caps get a chance to double down on their good fortune when they come home to face Toronto tomorrow. And if there isn’t enough incentive for that, if the Caps can knock of the Leafs and Carolina the Panthers, the Caps will find themselves in first place in the Southeast.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. This was a good win, perhaps the best one since the Caps shutout Florida, 4-0, more than a month ago. And they did it with two big pieces missing and by doing it the old-fashioned way, grinding it out when things were getting tough on the road. Sounds like a formula.