Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A TWO-point night -- Game 70: Capitals 5 - Islanders 4 (OT/Gimmick)

For 39 minutes they had nothing…nothing.

But for the Washington Capitals there was that last minute of the second period. Down 4-1, outshot 21-13, having already allowed two goals on four New York Islander power plays, the Caps made a play. Jeff Schultz took a hit to slide the puck to Dennis Wideman. Then, Wideman chipped it off the boards to Alex Ovechkin. From there, a cross-ice pass to Marcus Johansson. As he crossed the Islander blue line Johansson found Brooks Laich cutting to the middle. Laich snapped a shot on Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov, and Nabokov made the save. But he left a juicy rebound in doing so, right onto the stick of Ovechkin who was cutting to the net on the left side. Ovechin swept the puck into the net, and the Caps were within two with 53 seconds left in the period. A play on which all five skaters touched the puck for the Caps, it was a harbinger of things to come in the last 20 minutes.

111 seconds into the third period, Dmitry Orlov went all Josh Bailey on the Islanders. You might recall in the last meeting of these teams, Bailey scored for the Islanders when he stormed down the slot, and the Caps’ defense parted in a scene reminiscent of Charlton Heston parting the Red Sea in the movie, The Ten Commandments. This time it was Orlov steaming down the slot, taking a pass from Marcus Johansson, and with three Islander defenders forming a nice triangle around Orlov, the Caps’ defenseman had a clean, clear look at where he wanted to put the puck. Where he put it was behind goalie Evgeni Nabokov to cut the Islander lead to one.

Then it was Ovechkin one more time. Joel Ward dribbled the puck across the Islander line and pushed it to Keith Aucoin in the middle. Aucoin forwarded the puck to Ovechkin skating down the left side. Ovechkin took a shot…repelled by Nabokov. Another…repelled again. The third time was the charm, Ovechkin chipping the puck over Nabokov’s shoulder to tie the game.

After a scoreless overtime, it was time for the trick shot competition, and in this a player like Matt Hendricks has found his niche. Hendricks has only four goals in the hockey portion of games this season, but last night he Charlie Brown’ed Nabokov, articles of goalie equipment scattered throughout the crease, and backhanded the puck past a prone Nabokov for the game-winning score and the extra standings point. It was Hendricks’ second goal in the Gimmick this season, both of them being game-deciding scores.

Other stuff…

-- In case you have not been paying attention, Dmitry Orlov is now third among rookie defensemen in scoring. His 17 points trails only Carolina’s Justin Faulk (19) and Toronto’s Jake Gardiner (21). Orlov has played the fewest games of this trio (51, compared to 54 for Faulk and 63 for Gardiner).

-- Ovechkin is getting better at one part of his game. Recall the indifferent effort in a shot block attempt that led to the only goal in a 1-0 loss to Philadelphia recently. Last night…two blocked shots.

-- A difficult night for John Carlson…on ice for three goals against.

-- The Caps went 64 games without being held without a power play opportunity. It has now happened twice in the last six games.

-- At the other end, this was the second time in four games that the Caps allowed two power play goals (the other coming in the 3-2 overtime win over Tampa Bay last Thursday). In March the penalty killers are only 11-for-16 (68.8 percent).

-- In the battle for territory, the Caps had only nine faceoffs (again) in the Islanders’ zone last night, winning only three of them. Brooks Laich took ten by himself in the Washington end (of a total of 26).

-- Jay Beagle and the off-ice official in the visitors’ penalty box at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum are now on a first name basis. Beagle took three minor penalties last night, all for obstruction type inforations (two trips and a hook).

-- The Caps certainly did not play their best game of the season last night. It wasn’t even their best game this week. But it might not have been as bad defensively as allowing four goals might look. The Islanders managed only 20 even strength shots on goal in 65 minutes of play. If not for the leaky penalty kill, the Caps might have had control of this game much sooner.

-- If you are wondering, yes, that was a career best night for Keith Aucoin. Three assists marks his first three-point game in the NHL. And with seven points in 15 games, it is not out of bounds to think he could set a career best in points for a season (currently 13 in 38 games with Carolina in 2007-2008).

-- Should it have been surprising that the Islanders lost the way they did? Perhaps not. They were 15-1-7 (emphasize the “seven”) when leading at the second intermission of games this season. Now, 15-1-8, dead last in the league in winning percentage of such games.

-- There was that whole third-period horror show, too. The Islanders came into the game having allowed 74 goals in the third period of games and carrying a minus-15 (goals for/goals against). Now, 76 goals and minus-17.

In the end, the Caps won a game they probably should not have won, and they managed to keep the heat on Florida, a 5-2 winner over Toronto last night. A good thing, too, because the suddenly resurgent Buffalo Sabres (6-2-0 in their last eight games) are only four points behind the Caps for eighth place in the East and host Colorado tonight. There is no relief from here on out. Spring is in the air, and you can smell a “playoff” scent.

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