Thursday, November 12, 2009

A TWO-point night: Caps 5 - Islanders 4 (OT/Gimmick)

Answer the following multiple choice question…

“The Agony and the Ecstasy” is:

a) A 1961 novel by Irving Stone
b) A 1965 film directed by Carol Reed
c) The 2009-2010 season to date authored by Alexander Semin

OK, it’s a trick question. They’re all true. Fans were treated to “The Full Semin” tonight as the Caps struck with lightning early, got thundered shortly thereafter, stormed back in the second, weathered a tying goal in the third, and… well, we’re out of weather analogies. The Caps finally put this one to bed with a Mega-Gimmick (11-round) 5-4 decision over the New York Islanders.

As for Mr. Semin’s night, he wasted no time putting his mark on the proceedings, taking a feed from Brendan Morrison, skating over the Islander blue line, and rifling a slap shot over goalie Dwayne Roloson’s glove for a 1-0 lead a mere eight seconds into the game. After the Islanders shook that off to take a 2-1 lead in the next 5:02, Semin had the puck on his stick in the Islander zone as the clock was ticking toward the seven-minute mark of the period. He stick-handled past one Islander, then another, then… he was plastered by Trent Hunter, and the puck squirted to Sean Bergenheim, who took the puck the distance, roofing the puck over Jose Theodore’s stick to give the visitors a 3-1 lead. That goal ended Theodore’s night with three goals on five shots in 6:54 (that’s a GAA of 26.09, by the way).

Semin was hardly done, because he who taketh also giveth away, then taketh again. And with the Caps having crawled back into the game on a Tomas Fleischmann power play goal late in the first period, Semin found a void in the Islander coverage on another power play while Mike Green circled around the Islander net. Green came out the other side and slid the puck to Semin, who taketh the shot and snapped it past Roloson to tie the game.

And still he wasn’t done. In the third period Semin had seven shot attempts, five of which were on goal, and it could be said that every one on goal required a superior save by Roloson to keep Semin from getting his hat trick.

With all that, though, Semin was probably not only not the best player on the ice tonight, he wasn’t the best Russian. That would go to Semyon Varlamov, who stepped between the pipes when Jose Theodore’s mates did a lot of standing around and watching in those first six minutes and 54 seconds, leaving him to fend off only two of the five shots he faced.

Varlamov was, in a word, “spectacular.” He turned aside 25 of 26 shots, the only one to elude him being a roof shot by Trent Hunter on a power play that clipped the crossbar on its way in. Then, he allowed a tally by Jeff Tambellini to open the Gimmick phase of the game, whereupon he slammed the door in the visitors’ faces thereafter, stopping nine straight attempts. That allowed Chris Clark to be the thinking man’s Gimmick participant in the 11th round of the trick-shot competition. Rather than try to deke left, deke right, and dipsy-do on deteriorating ice, he skated over the line, took a couple of steps, and snapped the puck over Roloson’s glove. All that was left was Varlamov trying for his tenth straight stop, this time against Mark Streit. The Islander defenseman tried a wrist shot on the blocker side, but Varlamov held his ground, and the game was – finally, mercifully – over. Varlamov stopped 35 of 37 shots in hockey and trick shot phases of the game.

Other stuff…

- Semin had 11 shots on goal. Yes, that is a career high.

- The Caps had three players winning ten or more draws – Brendan Morrison (10-of-17), Nicklas Backstrom (10-of-16), and David Steckel (11-of-17, eight of nine against players not named “Tavares”). But it was the loss of a defensive zone draw by Backstrom that was followed three seconds later by Mark Streit’s power play goal.

- We said Milan Jurcina would be a key, and wouldn’t you know it, he almost was… and not in a good way. It was his boarding penalty taken right after the Caps had just killed off a penalty that led to Trent Hunter’s game-tying goal with 2:08 left in regulation.

- The two goals for Semin ends a six-game goal scoring drought.

- Mike Green had two assists. If you’re keeping track, that’s 13 points in his last 12 games (2-11-13).

- That’s four straight games in which Chris Clark has recorded an assist. That would be a career high.

- Count us among the disappointed that Rob Schremp didn’t try some wacky trick shot in the Gimmick. It’s not like he’s been shy about it in other venues.

- In the “you always miss the shots you never take” file, that was some no-look flick of the wrist by Eric Fehr for the goal that gave the Caps a 4-3 lead in the third period. He would say in the post-game radio show that he was trying to get the puck to a teammate on the back side of the play.

- Jon Sim… no goals, stuffed in the shootout. Yes, the spell is broken.

- Mike Green does things other than shoot the puck and skate 200 feet. Two hits, three takeaways, three blocked shots.

- Only two skaters for each team did not record a shot on goal. For the Islanders, the guys drawing blanks might be expected – defensemen Andy Sutton and Freddy Mayer. For the Caps, it was forwards Quintin Laing and Mathieu Perreault.

- Laing was not credited with a blocked shot, but we could have sworn we saw him get a sliding block on a shot from the top of the Capitals’ zone.

- And Perreault might not have recorded a shot on goal, but he had what would have been the prettiest pass of the night if it could have been converted into a goal.

- The Laich-Morrison-Semin line had 17 of the Caps’ 41 shots on goal. They were busy.

- 40 minutes… no penalties. 20 minutes… three penalties. –SMACK!—

- 18 games, 18 games in which the Caps have had a lead at some point in the game.

- Note to Caps fans… if a player has two goals in the hockey portion of the game, and he gets another in the Gimmick? IT’S NOT A HAT TRICK! Stop throwing hats. It's embarrassing.

- I spent the whole game thinking to myself, “I wish I had the concession on Brendan Witt’s hair conditioner.” He was back to his old ways… four hits, three giveaways, minus-1.

- Andy Sutton… one hit in almost 24 minutes? He should get more than that by accident skating off on a line change.

The Islanders are one of those teams that is going to make a team like the Caps look bad. They don’t have the skill to trade haymakers with the Caps, they know it, and they play within themselves as a result. If you think their having taken the Caps to three extra time games in three meetings is an exception, they’ve done the same thing to Pittsburgh and Boston this year, too, losing in a Gimmick in each instance. In fact, eight of the Islanders’ 18 games (after which they stand 6-6-6… cue the Twilight Zone music) have gone to extra time. That they are 2-6 in those games does nothing to dim the view that this is a team that will – eventually – be a very good one if the talent in John Tavares, Kyle Okposo (out for this one) and Josh Bailey develops, and they maintain the work ethic they displayed in the three games against the Caps so far.

The Caps deserve a measure of praise for coming back from a 3-1 deficit less than seven minutes into the game. At the same time, they still have the third period penalty problem to deal with. But on balance, it’s still better having the best record in the East tonight than any alternative.