Thursday, November 13, 2008

A TWO-point night: Caps 5 - Hurricanes 1

And the points keep coming…

That could apply to the Caps, who have won four in a row to take sole possession of the top spot in the Southeast Division, or to the boys on the BOSS line – Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Alexander Semin – who combined for a 4-8-12, +12 night in thoroughly demolishing the Carolina Hurricanes, 5-1.

Alexander Semin led the way with his first five point night as a Cap, as he had a hand in all of the visitors’ scoring (2-3-5). With that explosion, Semin took over the league lead in goals (13), points (27), plus-minus (+17), and is in a tie for most game-winning goals (3). After 15 games, Semin has put together quite a start. How impressive is it?...

-- Semin now has nine multi-point games. Last year, he had seven…total.

-- He has been held off the score sheet only twice in 15 games. Last year, he was scoreless in ten of the first 15 games he played.

-- Last year, after his first 15 games, he was 2-3-5, -7. He is now 13-14-27, +17.

-- He is on a pace to go 71-76-147, +93.


Semin was hardly alone last night, though. His linemates – Ovechkin and Backstrom – had fine nights of their own. Ovechkin had a three-point night (1-2-3) and was plus-4, while Nicklas Backstrom had a four-point night with his first goal of the year (1-3-4) and was also plus-4.

Getting Ovechkin and Backstrom into a scoring rhythm was especially encouraging as they – with Semin – can keep teams honest in having to cheat toward their own end of the ice to defend rather than look for breakouts the other way. Almost as impressive as the scoring, none of the three were charged with a giveaway – they were smart, as well as effective, with the puck. Some other things of note…

-- Speaking of giveaways, only one skater was charged with a giveaway (John Erskine). We don’t know if that was strange scoring (Carolina was credited with 20 takeaways), but the Caps generally seemed to play a lot smarter with the puck than in some other games we’ve seen this year.

-- Let’s not forget the other plus-4 in the group. Mike Green had a fine night, too…1-1-2, plus-4, and five shots on goal.

-- Is Eric Staal now number three in the Staal Family Rankings? Missing open nets twice in an early flurry is not how the franchise center is supposed to perform. Going minus-2 and losing 11 of 15 faceoffs didn’t help the Hurricane cause, either.

-- Folks got a glimpse of what Jose Theodore can be for this team. No, not an emergency injury relief backup…a guy who can keep the Caps in games and give his team a chance to do what it can do at the other end of the ice. True, Theodore had a lead, and he didn’t have to stand on his head for the last two periods. But he was fine in relief of the injured Brent Johnson. He was solid, made the saves, and didn’t allow any cheap goals that could have let the Hurricanes back into the game.

-- We noted in the prognosto that if the Hurricane defense was fully engaged in the offense, it could be a difficult game for the Caps. Well, they had one point – Joni Pitkanen earning an assist on the Scott Walker goal. Otherwise, the Hurricane defense had eight shots (six others blocked and three misses).

-- We wonder…when Shaone Morrisonn comes back, is he going to resume his role as Mike Green’s partner? Jeff Schultz is 0-1-1, plus-6, in three games since Morrisonn went out (he was +4 last night).

-- OK, Cam Ward gave up five goals to Atlanta…Michael Leighton gave up five goals to the Caps. Who’s next for Peter Laviolette?...Daniel Manzato?

-- The Caps were 13 of 19 on draws in the offensive zone, making sure that they could keep offensive pressure on the Hurricanes (conversely, Brandon Sutter by himself was one of eight in the defensive zone for the Hurricanes). They were also 12 of 21 in the defensive zone (David Steckel took 12 of those draws, winning seven).

-- His knee might still be bothering him, but it really would be nice to get Viktor Kozlov off the schneid…he is without a point in his last five games (longer than any scoreless streak he had last year). But he might be close. Four shots last night gave him 11 in his last three games (he had only ten in seven games up to that point).

-- They say a lead-off walk in baseball always comes back to haunt you. We’re thinking the same thing about delay-of-game penalties for shooting the puck over the glass. It’s a dinky little penalty that always seems to bite the team that does it in the butt. Last night, Milan Jurcina got caught, and Scott Walker scored his goal five seconds later.

It was a fine all-around night for the Caps. While all the scoring came from the young guns (5-9-14, +16, for Semin, Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Green), the rest of the team chipped in a solid effort at keep the Hurricanes – who often pile up goals in home games against the Caps – from ever getting going.

While it’s tempting to put that 2-3-1 stretch (both wins coming in extra time) out of our minds, it should serve as a reminder that no club can just pull on their sweaters and get a win. Last night, the Caps out-skated, out-hustled, and out-talented the Hurricanes in announcing that their being at the top of the heap in the Southeast is no fluke, and it isn’t likely to end soon…so long as they put in the effort.

That will be put to the test in a home-and-home with New Jersey this weekend, and with a western road trip to follow. But for now, that was quite a game. Well done, boys.

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