Friday, March 13, 2009

A TWO-point night: Caps 2 - Flyers 1

Thanks, Philly.

We don’t know quite what to make of what took place last night in Philadelphia as the Caps defeated the Flyers, 2-1, for their fifth consecutive road win…

Was it the Jose Theodore Talent Show? Theodore set the tone for his game in the contest’s first minute, stuffing a point-blank attempt from Mike Knuble. He would later rob Kimmo Timonen by diving across the crease to glove a drive after he had trouble getting traction on his skates. However, on the latter, if Theodore isn’t a right-handed catching goalie, he isn’t making that save.

Even Philadelphia’s goal was a product of a perfect storm of events that Theodore couldn’t do much about. The Caps were caught in a bit of a sloppy change, and Milan Jurcina chose that moment to step up on Simon Gagne just inside the Caps blue line. Alex Ovechkin – who was just getting onto the ice – couldn’t get into the play fast enough, and Jeff Schultz was left as the last man back on a two-on-one to defend Mike Richards and Mike Knuble. After Richards took a pass from Gagne, he sent a slap pass to Knuble, who had an open net to shoot at after Theodore went down to defend what he thought was a shot coming from Richards. Ovechkin was left about a stride behind Knuble as the Flyer was depositing the puck in the net.

Was it the Alex Ovechkin Variety Show? 15 shot attempts (eight on goal), a goal, an assist, three hits. He had several drives that might have found the net but for some timely scrambling by Flyer goalie Martin Biron (who probably deserved the third star more than Mike Knuble). On this night, at least, Ovechkin seemed to solve the problem that has been Flyer defenseman Kimmo Timonen. Ovechkin used his size to greater advantage, barreling through Timonen when confronted along the boards and using it to get some separation in good shooting areas.

And Ovechkin made up for that inability to get into the play on the Knuble goal by saving Mike Green’s bacon on the power play. After Green intercepted a clearing effort by Braydon Coburn at the Caps’ blue line. As Green skated to the red line rather nonchalantly, his pocket was picked by Simon Gagne, who hotfooted it the other way on a break. Ovechkin, who if you look at the video is skating toward the Flyer end at the moment Gagne makes the steal, can be seen anticipating what is unfolding, started high-tailing it himself in pursuit of Gagne. He managed to catch up enough to dive and sweep the puck off of Gagne’s stick before hauling down the Flyer forward and sliding into the cage himself. Wonder what Adam “The Hack” Gretz thinks of that.

Was it Alexander “Light Finger” Semin? It was Semin who pilfered a pass from Darrell Powe behind the Flyer net, then sent the puck out to Ovechkin at the door-step for the game-winning goal.

And then there was the matter of the Flyers. Who kidnapped them and left that bunch? By the end of the night, Philly fans were in a surly mood, and it might have been as much over the passive play of the home team as the result. The NHL score sheet will record that the Flyers had 24 hits. Don’t know what game they were watching. One number tells us about all we need to know about the state of Flyers physical game in this one – zero. That is the number of hits recorded by professional pest, Scott Hartnell in almost 19 minutes of play. That would also be the number that designated hooligan Riley Cote would have, although his goose egg came in only five minutes of play.

On top of being passive, the Flyers were sloppy – 39 turnovers (giveaways plus Capitals takeaways). That the Flyers would have more giveaways (25) than hits (24) is a good indicator that this wasn’t their typical game.

Even the penalties the Flyers took – hooking and interference (that’s right, only two minors) were of the passive, obstruction sort.

Speaking of hits, or lack thereof, from the home team, it was nice to see a Cap – David Steckel – abuse a Flyer in his own end (Claude Giroux), steal his lunch and force Biron to make a big save. That was the way this game went in a nutshell.

Speaking of abuse, though…16 for 48 on faceoffs?...4 of 13 in the defensive zone. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter combined to go 11-of-13 in the offensive zone, putting the Caps’ defense and Jose Theodore behind the eight-ball right off the bat on at the start of a lot of plays. A team ought to win more draws than that by accident.

Imagine…a goal scored from inside of 30 feet. Brooks Laich scored a power play goal from nine feet (according to the league play-by-play sheet) off a slap pass from Ovechkin. Not all goals from inside 15 feet are ugly. That one was rather pretty, all in all.

Daniel Briere…12 minutes, one shot, three draws (all wins, natch). At least he finished the game upright.

Nothing, not even a win over the Penguins, beats a win in Philly. For the longest time, the Caps couldn’t buy a win there with bailout money. But this makes five wins at Wachovia in the last six regular season games. After such a disappointing home stand, a sweep of the short road swing was nice. Now, the Caps have 13 games left, 10 of them against Southeast Division opponents. Time to take care of business. But this was a sweet one, guys.