Sunday, October 31, 2010

A TWO-point night -- Game 11: Caps 7 - Flames 2


Welcome to “Nightmare on Saddledome Rise.” That’s what it must have looked like to the Calgary Flames on this Devils Night as the Caps treated the Flames to a 2-0 lead early, then unleashed a horror show in the middle 20 minutes on their way to a 7-2 decision.

Calgary got two goals early, largely the product of poor defense in front of Caps’ goaltender Michal Neuvirth. Olli Jokinen got one in the first minute of play, threading his way between defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner to deflect a shot off the stick of Jay Bouwmeester past Neuvirth. Curtis Glencross got one a little more than ten minutes later when he was allowed to skate free and easy through the neutral zone, and then with defenseman Brian Fahey backing off to defend a developing two on one, he roofed a shot over Neuvirth’s glove to give the Flames a two-goal lead. Caps fans might be forgiven for thinking that the dull funk that was the Minnesota game on Thursday was carrying over into this one.

It might have been that way, but Neuvirth was making saves after defensive breakdowns to keep the Caps in it. Then, with under five minutes to go in the period Alex Ovechkin sent a long stretch pass from the faceoff circle in his own end to the Calgary blue line where Brooks Laich collected it and skated in. Laich dropped the puck for Mike Green, who found Nicklas Backstrom skating down the right side. Backstrom wristed the puck into the back of the net before goalie Miikka Kiprusoff could get across the crease, and the lead was halved. That would be a mere forshadowing of horrors to come in the second period…

-- At 1:54, the Flames took a too many men on the ice penalty (cue the eerie music)

-- At 2:16 Glencross took a ghastly penalty in tripping Mike Green in front of the Caps’ net (shrieks in the background)

-- At 3:43 on the 5-on-3 portion of the power play Alex Ovechkin one-timed a Mike Green feed past Kiprusoff, who couldn’t cheat on the pass because Green was left with too much of a possible shooting lane.

-- 12 seconds later, Ovechkin again, converting the back-half of the power play by wristing a shot past Kiprusoff…Caps take the lead.

-- 10:28, Mike Green steaming down the middle, taking a feed from Alexander Semin and roofing the puck over Kiprusoff.

-- 13 seconds later, Matt Bradley got credit for a goal that Flames defenseman Cory Sarich shot into his own net off Bradley.

-- Barely three minutes later Alex Ovechkin skated down the middle of the Calgary defense, and with Kiprusoff locked onto Ovechkin in anticipation of the shot, Ovechkin slid the puck over the Alexander Semin, who sent the puck past a sprawling Kiprusoff.

-- Just before the end of the period, David Steckel beat Mark Giordano to a loose puck on a Flames power play, and then took off with nothing but clear ice ahead. Giordano tried to catch up and hang on for dear life, but merely succeeded in denying Steckel a clear scoring chance. A penalty shot was called, and Steckel scored when relief goalie Henrik Karlsson – a six-foot five-inch goalie – did his best 1970’s stack the pads routine before Steckel had begun to shoot. Steckel had only to lift the puck over the laid-out goalie, and he did just that, the bottle-popper capping a six-goal second period.

Coach Sutter?...

That ended the competitive portion of the evening, leaving the crowd to contemplate their favorites giving up four, five, and then seven goals over their last three games. For Caps fans, it was “where had this been?” It was the first time that the Caps scored more than three goals in a game since pounding the New Jersey Devils by the same 7-2 margin in Game 2 of the season.

Other stuff…

-- It was a “Young Guns” night… Ovechkin was 2-1-3, Backstrom was 1-3-4, Semin was 1-2-3, and Green was 1-2-3. A combined 5-8-13, plus-4 is a very good night.

-- Going 3-for-4 on the power play was the first three-power play goal night since getting three (in nine chances) against the Rangers last February 4th.

-- The two power play goals for Ovechkin were his first two of the year and his first two-power play goal night since getting a pair against the Islanders on January 19, 2009.

-- Michal Neuvirth allowed a goal on the second shot he faced, and then allowed only one on the last 27 shots he faced. It is part of a trend. So far this season Neuvirth has allowed 11 goals on 108 shots in the first period (.899 save percentage), only nine goals on 164 shots thereafter (.945 save percentage).

-- In the first period it looked as if it was a practice, and the drill du jour was defending 2-on-1’s. The Flames had no fewer than four such odd man breaks in the first period, scoring on one of them.

-- There weren’t many of those odd-man breaks after the first period, which is perhaps why the Flames could register only 13 shots in the second and third periods after getting 16 in the first.

-- The Caps had 12 shots on goal and four goals to start the second period before Calgary could get its first shot on net 11:14 into the period.

-- From the “good things come in threes” file… Mike Green had three points, three shots on goal, three hits, and three blocked shots.

-- D.J. King had almost as much ice time (9:02) as did Matt Hendricks (9:07), and it was Hendricks who dropped the gloves with Tim Jackman in a brief scuffle. Odd night.

-- We might be wrong, but Matt Bradley seems to get more hits-per-minute than just about anybody. Four in 11 minutes tonight.

-- David Steckel might have had the rare difficult night in the circle (8-for-20), but he held his own in the defensive end (6-for-11).

-- The Caps lost 16 of their first 25 draws, but they recovered to go almost break-even the rest of the game (23-for-47).

-- If Caps fans were longing over the unfulfilled prospects of securing the services of Robyn Regehr last summer, this game should have done little to make them long for him much more. He was on the ice for three of the six goals the Caps scored not of the penalty shot variety and took a penalty of his own in 18 minutes of ice time. Maybe it was just a bad night.

-- Ovechkin gets the ticket to the buffet… two goals, an assist, seven shots on goal, a shot attempt that was blocked, three misses, four hits, a giveaway, a takeaway, and one faceoff taken (a loss). And all in only 18 minutes and change (barely four minutes in the third period…see what having a lead can do?).

-- Five of Ovechkin’ seven shots came on the power play.

-- Alexander Semin was desperately trying to get Ovechkin his hat trick. It seemed every time he had the puck in the third period, he was looking for “8.” Looking a little too much; he passed up some good scoring opportunities.

-- John Erskine and Brian Fahey had about as good a night as you could hope for – 30 minutes of combined ice time, one turnover between them, and both were on the ice for only the second Calgary goal. But I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that a “444” defensive pair is – or should be – a novelty.

-- Speaking of novelty, this whole letting the other team score first and take a lead into the first intermission needs to become a novelty pretty quick, too. Relying on a team’s utter collapse in the second period (as was the case in allowing two goals to New Jersey in the home opener before getting four in the second, and allowing two last night against Calgary before getting six in the second in winning both games 7-2) is not a recipe for consistent success.

-- The seven wins the Caps have in their first 11 games matches the number of wins they had in their first 11 games last season (7-2-2).

-- No, the six second period goals was not a record for goals in a period.  The Caps have scored eight in a period (against Tampa Bay in 1999) and seven in a period in a road game once (against Los Angeles in 1993).

In the end, the fans in the Scotiabank Saddledome were treated to the full spectrum of horrors the Caps can unleash on an opponent. Three power play goals, three even strength goals, and a shorthanded penalty shot goal. At the other end, they saw the quiet style of Michal Neuvirth, who has given the Caps the chance to come back  games because he has been almost impenetrable after the first period of games so far. Neuvirth did not get a star in this one, but perhaps he should have. If he did not have the first period he had, foiling those two-on-one rushes, the Caps would have had too deep a hole out of which they could dig in the second and third periods when the stars of the game – Ovechkin, Green, and Backstrom – could do their work.

Still, as much as it was a team problem in the first (ten different Caps skaters were on the ice for the two Calgary goals), it was a team effort in the second and third to steamroll the Flames into the Saddledome ice. The Caps seem never to be truly out of a game with an offense that can turn scoreboards into a blinking frenzy. But it would be nice if they did this to bury teams early more often than having to come back from multi-goal deficits. But four points on a three-game road trip has to be considered a success.

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