Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A TWO-point night: Caps 4 - Rangers 2

Now that’s what a 60-minute effort looks like.

The Caps did not wilt when the New York Rangers scored 1:16 into the game; they didn’t wilt after they took a lead, only to see the Rangers tie the game in the third period. It wasn’t a perfect game, but it was 60 minutes of honest effort, and the Caps were rewarded for it with a 4-2 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

It was the return of Alex Ovechkin to the lineup, and he didn’t disappoint, scoring a goal on a power play in the first period. But as much as he will be the story in most of the recaps of the game, the guts of the game was what the Capitals did on defense, both to neutralize the Rangers and to take the crowd out of the game for long stretches, and what guys like Quintin Laing, Matt Bradley, and Brooks Laich contributed to this win.

The Caps held the Rangers to 20 shots on goal, only five in the first period. What’s more, the Rangers only managed 13 shots on goal by forwards. If not for the wizardry of Marian Gaborik, who scored one goal when he popped out in front of goalie Semyon Varlamov to sneak a puck into the net before either of defensemen Shaone Morrisonn or Jeff Schultz could react, then another when he flicked one in from a severe angle on a power play, the Rangers really weren’t much of an offensive threat on this night.

At the other end it was special teams – two power play goals (Brooks Laich getting the other one) and an empty netter with the Rangers skating the extra attacker in the last minute.

Other stuff…

- If anything, the early Ranger goal woke the Capitals up more than it provided a lift to the Rangers. The Rangers steered three shots on goal in the first 1:16, the last of that group being the first goal by Gaborik. The Caps proceeded to outshoot the Rangers 15-2 over the rest of the period.

- The defense numbers looked like this – 10 hits, eight blocked shots, a takeaway, and only one giveaway. As a group, they were 1-2-3, +1. They acquitted themselves well.

- Speaking of defensemen, John Erskine… six shot attempts (three shots on goal). He might not get that many attempts in a month.

- Another game, another point for Tomas Fleischmann. That’s nine games in a row in which he has a point.

- “Heart in throat” moment… Semyon Varlamov stepping out from the post with a Ranger looking to shoot from the circle. He left a couple of feet available on the short side, but the Rangers could not take advantage.

- Even though he had two goals in last spring’s playoff series win over the Rangers, Matt Bradley’s goal tonight was the first time he’s potted one against the Rangers in the regular season as a Capital. He hadn’t registered a goal against the Blueshirts since December 28, 2000, while skating for the Sharks.

- The retaliation always gets called – always, even if you’re retaliating on behalf of a teammate. That was John Erskine’s fate as he decked Sean Avery after the uber-pest punched Semyon Varlamov in the side of the head as he skated through the crease after a whistle. With guys like that, one might pick their spots better.

- Admirable as it was, we’re not keen on the idea of Alex Ovechkin stepping in to defend a teammate (in this case Nicklas Backstrom). Other Caps need to step up there.

- Speaking of Ovechkin… one shot on goal, one shot in goal. But seven hits to lead all players for either team (tied with Chris Higgins for the Rangers). He was feeling pretty good.

- 15 skaters had hits for the Caps. Seven had at least three.

- Jay Beagle, just called up from Hershey, sampled the score sheet buffet with gusto… one shot, one shot blocked, one shot missed, three hits, a giveaway, a takeaway, and 5-for-9 on faceoffs. All in barely 10 minutes of ice time.

- Quintin Laing… what can you say. The guy pays a price, but geez. Last year, he ends up with a lacerated spleen in his only game with the Caps. Tonight he takes a puck to the jaw that will keep him in New York overnight for observation.

- And to round out the “lunch pail” boys, Brooks Laich makes things happen by driving to the net and cleaning up the trash. Laing, Bradley, Laich. These are the kinds of guys who might have a bigger say in how far the Caps go this year than guys who get the ink.

- Wade Redden is probably going to take some heat in tomorrow’s New York press for not being able to keep the puck from squirting behind him where Bradley picked it up and scored on a break. But the other half of that was how Bradley was able to fend off the rookie, Matt Gilroy, as he was closing on Henrik Lundqvist.

- There was David Steckel again… eight defensive zone faceoffs taken, seven of them won.

- Mathieu Perreault had but one shift in the third period, none in the last 16:55. That might not be so unexpected, given Perreault’s lack of experience and the Caps in a tight one. Eric Fehr didn’t play in the last 16:55. That seemed a bit odd given that he had more than 15 minutes in the game against New Jersey (he finished with 9:19 tonight). But Shaone Morrisonn didn’t play in the last 16:55, either. That bears watching.

- Bradley again… The Matt Bradley hat trick – a goal, a fight, and a hit (actually, four hits).

- Bruce Boudreau wasn’t stuck on 99 wins for long. He is the fastest coach to 100 wins in Caps history and fourth fastest all time in the NHL.

Again, Ovechkin got the goal – he’ll be the highlight in the game wraps – but this was a night for the blood-and-guts guys. Bradley gets in a scrap (and wins, if the early returns at hockeyfights.com are a reliable indicator). Quintin Laing takes one off the jaw for the team in an effort that Brooks Laich said afterward was “humbling.” Laich gets a greasy goal by driving to the net.

If the NHL Network broadcast a show that was the equivalent of “Dirty Jobs” on the Discovery Channel, Matt Bradley and Quintin Laing could be credible hosts. They might not get a lot of ink, but if statements like those of Brooks Laich are representative, they don’t lack for respect from their teammates. This was their night.