Monday, October 11, 2010

A TWO-point night -- Game 3: Caps 3 - Senators 2 (OT)

Sometimes you overwhelm with sheer force. Other times you prevail with sheer will. For the Caps it was the latter tonight as they defeated the Ottawa Senators in overtime, 3-2. It did not have the fireworks that fans saw on Saturday, but two points is two points, any way you get there.

Alex Ovechkin, who was held in check for most of the night by a smothering Ottawa defense (and what looked to be an injured left hand) found his touch in overtime with a nifty move to change his shooting angle that prevented defenseman Chris Phillips from lining him up to block the shot.  It also prevented goalie Pascal Leclaire from squaring properly to the shot. The deft move to slide the puck to the outside was enough to give Ovechkin a shooting lane that allowed him to squeeze the puck through Leclaire’s five-hole for the win with 32 seconds left in overtime.

Until then, it was a long hard slog as Ottawa did its best to keep the Capitals from getting any sort of skating momentum, aggressively challenging puck carriers at the Caps blue line all night. It kept the Caps from generating any momentum or gaining the offensive zone with any speed, nullifying much of the Caps’ strength.

Alexander Semin got the Caps started by converting an odd feed from Brooks Laich. Laich was skating down the left wing boards where he was being challenged by Zach Smith and Chris Campoli. He outfought both for the puck and sent it puck across in a manner that suggested any of several players could intercept it… if any were there. But it floated all the way across to the inside of the right wing circle where Semin had time to shift his body to get the puck to his forehand, and he lifted it over goalie Pascal Leclaire to start the scoring less than 90 seconds before the first intermission.

Jarkko Ruutu got it back midway through the second period when he started and finished the play in the Caps end. From the top of the left wing circle he sent the puck across to Chris Neil, who redirected it back to Matt Carkner at the right point. Carkner sent a shot that looked as if it would be blocked away by goalie Michal Neuvirth, but before the puck could get to his blocker a cutting Ruutu swatted the puck past Neuvirth out of mid-air to tie the game.

Eric Fehr restored the Caps’ lead by converting pass from behind the net made by Matt Hendricks. Hendricks called for the puck from behind the Senators’ net, and Boyd Gordon found him. Hendricks threaded the puck along the ice to Fehr rushing the net. Fehr snapped the puck into the net from the left post before Leclaire had a chance to get across to defend the shot.

Ottawa got the equalizer that sent the game into overtime when Nicklas Backstrom and John Erskine were caught stepping up on Peter Begin at the Capitals’ blue line. The puck came free to Ryan Shannon with only John Carlson back on defense. Shannon backed Carlson off, then ripped a wrister past Neuvirth to tie the game in the eighth minute of the third period. All that was left was for Ovechkin to do what he does, getting his eighth overtime game-winner in his career.

Other stuff…

-- Matt Bradley skated three shifts in the first period and no more. The dreaded “lower body injury.”

-- Ditto Tom Poti, who was a late scratch.

-- Eric Fehr formula for success… 12 minutes (ok, 13), a goal. Except these days that goal isn’t coming from the top of the circle, it’s coming from in close.

-- These are not your father’s Ottawa Senators. The high-octane days of days of Alfredsson-Spezza-Heatley have given way to a grind-it-out mentality that worked for long stretches tonight. The Caps did not get their 20th shot on goal until the 51st minute of the game.

-- The power play looked discombobulated. Rarely did the power play gain the offensive zone with control, and on the few occasions on which they did, the Senators did a good job of denying the next pass. Bruce Boudreau said in the post-game that it will get better, citing a history of slow starts. But last year the Caps had power play goals in each of their first five games and were 7-for-24 (29.2 percent). They did have a slow start in 2008-2009, going 5-for-32 in their first six games (15.6 percent).

-- At the other end, the Caps killed off all five shorthanded situations they faced, and that makes them 12-for-12 in the early going this season. By way of comparison, the Caps were 14-for-17 on the penalty kill in their first three games last season. Killing all of them is good, facing five fewer situations in three games is better.

-- Matt Hendricks didn’t get a star, but he should have. An assist (a pretty feed from behind the net for Eric Fehr’s goal), four blocked shots, two hits, and a plus-1, but it was his energy on the fourth line that set the pace for the Caps.

-- John Carlson isn’t going to be a hero every night. He was on the ice for both Ottawa goals tonight. On the second – Ryan Shannon’s marker – he got caught backing off too far to allow Shannon space to get his shot off.

-- His partner, John Erskine, had a difficult night. Minus-2, three giveaways, and a blown tire that forced Neuvirth to make a save on Shannon in overtime. It’s worth noting that Carlson did good job of getting back and forcing Shannon to the outside – the only place from which he could shoot – making things easier for Neuvirth to make the save.

-- Ovechkin had the game winner, but the rest of his night did not escape notice. Bruce Boudreau: "Only Alex can play like he did and still score the OT goal and be the hero. Go ask him how he played. He’ll tell you, ‘Not too good.’”

-- You know, when referees gather at the center circle for their little secret handshake ritual before games? Once… just once, I wish they’d tell one another, “watch Ruutu for diving.” Every game, he starts something, and player brushes him, and he goes down like he was shot with an elephant rifle.

-- Nicklas Backstrom was the only Cap to win the majority of the faceoffs he took (7-for-13).

-- Mike Green skated 31:53 tonight. That puts him at 85 minutes of ice time for the year so far. He’s been on the ice for one goal against. But he can’t play defense… right?

-- Neuvirth, three games in four nights… 27 saves on 31 shots, 31 on 33, 29 on 31. Not bad.

-- Would you have thought that Eric Fehr and Boyd Gordon would combine for seven of the Caps’ 26 shots on goal? Me neither. Three of Fehr’s shots came on the power play.

You have to give the Senators credit. They came to play, fashioning a road game that might not have been long on skill, but had hard work very much in evidence. They did not allow the Caps to free-wheel much in any on the three zones and bottled up the skill players quite a bit. That they did not get the second standings point was not a matter of effort, but one of skill – Alex Ovechkin’s. A coach is relieved…

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