Saturday, March 28, 2009

A TWO-point night: Caps 5 - Lightning 3

The cliché du jour is, “it wasn’t pretty.” And, in fact, the second period – again – was down right ugly. But, to use another cliché, a win is a win, and the Caps get two points for one whether they beat Detroit in the last game of January or Tampa Bay in the last game of March.

The Caps beat the Lightning 5-3, but it was a lot more exciting than it needed to be…

-- The Caps scored three goals in the first period by pounding the net relentlessly, then they…stopped. The score sheet will duly record that the Caps had 16 shots on goal in the first period and 13 in the third – what seems to be little difference – but only three of the 13 shots in the second period were from within 30 feet. Compare that to the first period, when all three of the Caps’ goals were scored from inside that perimeter.

- Evgeny Artyukhin is one big man who can skate (in a straight line, anyway). Geez, he’s a load. But kudos to Mike Green who made the effort to stand him up a couple of times.

- And speaking of Green, he looks more and more like a basketball point guard bringing the puck up the ice – he controls the speed and the pace of the play. But where the analogy breaks down is, point guards can drive to the hoop and create something. When Green takes it all the way in and into the corner or behind the net, nothing generally happens, and he is way out of the play going the other way.

- Matt Smaby had a rough time the last time these teams met, going minus-4 and being on the ice for every even strength goal scored by the Caps. Last night he had as rough a time, although it didn’t show up on the score sheet. It seemed like every Cap was taking a run at the guy. Even Sergei Fedorov recorded both of his hits on Smaby.

- Funniest scene of the evening – Keith Aucoin barking at Artyukhin as the players were going off for a shift change. Artyukhin is 6’5”, 254…Aucoin is 5’9” (maybe), 187.

- What happened to Vincent Lecavalier? That might have been the quietest game he’s played against the Caps since he was a rookie.

- Martin St. Louis was anything but quiet. Nine shots on goal (to lead all players), three takeaways, a goal, and generally being the pest everyone wants to see smeared on the glass.

- Nicklas Backstrom had those two goals, but 14 of 16 in the circle?! Including 5-of-6 against former Cap Jeff Halpern??

- Speaking of that, take away Aucoin’s gaze-averting 1-for-8, and the Caps were 36 up and 18 down on faceoffs.

- Tomas Fleischmann can’t get a break. He was credited with the Caps’ second goal (reviewed to see if it was kicked in), then had it changed to Nicklas Backstrom’s at the intermission. If he’s not having goals disallowed (like on March 12th against the Flyers, for instance), he’s seeing them go to teammates.

- Lost in all this, perhaps, is that Brooks Laich had a three-assist night. That’s his best assist total for any game he’s played with Washington, and he scored more points only once – a two-goal, two-assist night against Minnesota on February 26, 2008.

- Tampa Bay played hard, if really unintelligently. Five minor penalties in the first period almost took them out of the game (the Caps conveniently decided not to play in the second period to let them back in it). Giving a team like the Caps nine power plays is a recipe for catastrophe, and that the Lighting “held” the Caps to four goals with a goalie in net is evidence of their at least competing.

- Brian Pothier…14 minutes, a takeaway, a blocked shot, a goal. This is probably his comfort zone as far as time on ice, and he looked very comfortable in it.

- And from the “you don’t see this in other sports,” Tampa goalie Mike McKenna apologized to Alex Ovechkin after the game for remarks critical of Ovechkin in his 50th goal celebration the last time these teams met. Imagine a situation where the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills meet, and Terrell Owens meets Tony Romo at midfield after the game and apologizes for accusing Romo of getting together with Jason Witten to draw up secret plays. Yeah, we’ll wait.

- Matt Pettinger – you remember him – dressed last night. You’d hardly know it. He got a gift assist when Martin St. Louis did a spin and shoot move that ricocheted off Tom Poti and past Jose Theodore, but other than that Pettinger’s score sheet was lily white, with nary a mark on it in almost 13 minutes of ice time.

- We look at Oskar Osala and think that this guy is going to be a regular 25-goal scorer in the NHL. It might be that not even Ovechkin has a faster release on his shot than this kid. We didn’t see that in training camp, but he had a couple of opportunities last night when the puck got to him and it was gone in less than the blink of an eye.

- The one time Michael Nylander sticks his nose in there, he’s standing in the paint when a goal is scored (it was disallowed for that reason).

- That makes ten in a row against the Lightning -- Bruce Boudreau has never lost to Tampa Bay – but double that, and it doesn’t make up for blowing a 2-0 lead in the 2003 playoffs. Over those ten games, the Caps have outscored the Lightning 43-22 and have scored at least five goals in each of the last four games in the series.

This one wasn’t one for the scrapbook – except perhaps it being the game in which Ovechkin registered his 100th point for the third time in his career and Brian Pothier scoring his first goal since December 27th, 2007 (against Pittsburgh) – but (another cliché coming) two points is two points. And, it allowed the Caps to crawl over New Jersey into second place in the Eastern Conference only three points behind Boston. All in all, a productive night.