Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A TWO-point night: Caps 4 - Hurricanes 3 (OT)

Well, we had the score right, but we did not think it would take an overtime to do it. The Caps needed that extra frame to secure a 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center. It was Tomas Fleischmann doing the deed at the 3:20 mark of the overtime, taking a feed from Eric Belanger in the right wing circle and one-timing the puck past Hurricane goalie Manny Legace.

It looked like a very uneven game for the Caps. They appeared to have much more jump early than they did against the Stars on Monday. And they played a much more solid game early on defense with active sticks breaking up many plays by Carolina, giving the Caps momentum to initiate their transition game.

The tone was set early when Alexander Semin finished a play started by John Carlson at the other end of the ice. The rookie collected the puck behind his goal line and fed Brendan Morrison at the Caps blue line near the home bench. Morrison wasted no time sending a stretch pass down the wing to a breaking Alexander Semin, who had only defenseman Jay Harrison to beat. Semin worked the angle outside and got position on Harrison. Cutting across the slot, he faked Legace to the ice and lifted a backhand into the top of the net to start the scoring 2:24 in. Hurricanes’ head coach Paul Maurice was not happy…

But what the Cap taketh, sometimes they giveth away… almost… more than once. Jose Theodore was called upon to make a stop on a semi-break by Ray Whitney 6:25 into the period. He had to make bang-bang stops on Tom Kostopoulos.  Later, at the 17:41 mark of the period, Mike Green hauled down Brandon Sutter on a short-handed breakaway, resulting in a penalty shot. Sutter looked rather indecisive in skating in on the freebie, finally choosing to try the forehand on Theodore’s five-hole. Cam Ward… uh, Jose Theodore says “NO.” If you’ve ever listened to a Carolina TV feed, that phrase gets abused into oblivion.

Eighteen seconds later, Mike Green atoned for the takedown and made Theodore’s big save count by potting the power play goal off an amazing pass from Nicklas Backstrom, who from the bottom of the left wing circle sent a saucer pass through traffic and out to Green pinching down the right wing side. Green snapped the puck past Legace, and once more, Maurice was not happy…

The Caps now had a two goal lead… the most dangerous lead in hockey.

Carolina showed why by scoring on their next shift, courtesy of Patrick Dwyer. It was an odd play that started with the sort of effort folks have been wanting more of from the Caps. Jay Harrison teed one up from just inside the Caps’ line, and Mike Knuble went down to block the shot (that's called "leading by example," kids). It seemed to have the effect of making the Caps freeze in their tracks. Harrison took another whack, getting it through to the net where Theodore knocked the puck into the air. As it was fluttering back to the ice, Dwyer whacked it in before any Cap could contest him. Skating off down 2-0 at the first intermission instead of 2-1 seemed to give the Hurricanes a lift in the second.

Carolina got the equalizer 8:43 in on a goal by Tuomo Ruutu. It was the result of a giveaway by Mike Green, who tried to pass the puck through the center of the ice from the bottom of the right wing faceoff circle. It was picked off by Chad LaRose, who in turn found Ruutu to finish the two-on-one created on Jeff Schultz in front of Theodore.

The Caps got the lead back on Green’s second goal, the product of good fortune after the puck squirted back toward the Carolina line out of a scramble in front. Alex Ovechkin whiffed on the moving puck, but Green following in behind him to whistle it past Legace. Again… Maurice was not happy…

But the Hurricanes tied it one more time, this time on the power play at the 15:03 mark of the second period. It was a simple case of Ruutu driving down the left wing side, then whipping the puck back to Jokinen cutting across the grain in the middle. In one sweeping motion, Jokinen fired the puck over Theodore’s glove and it was tied at three, the sort of goal one scores when one is on fire – it was the 16th goal in the last 20 games for Jokinen.

The third period went scoreless, and all that was left was to let Fleischmann take care of business before the Caps had to endure a second straight Gimmick outcome.

Other stuff…

-- Another game, another power play goal allowed. The Caps have allowed at least one power play goal in nine of their last 12 games (35-for-50, 70.0 percent).

-- It was unfortunate for the Caps to allow a power play goal, because early on the penalty killers were active and assertive, not the tentative crew that allowed two on two tries by Dallas on Monday. Carolina was given no time to set up, let alone threaten. If the Caps can take solace, it is in that the Hurricanes managed only three shots in five power plays, two of them by defenseman Brian Pothier.

-- Speaking of special teams… seven shots on four power plays for the Caps (one goal) – good. Giving up four shorthanded shots on four power plays – not so good.

-- Eric Staal… three shots, three misses, a giveaway, and he lost 16 of 24 draws, while going minus-2 in 24 minutes. Not a good night.

-- It wouldn’t be fair to say the Caps played poorly in letting the Hurricanes back into the game. It just seemed that if the Caps made a mistake, it was in the net – letting up after the Knuble blocked shot, the Green turnover, the power play.

-- The Caps forced the play, getting 80 shot attempts to 54 for Carolina.

-- The Caps’ penalties certainly had a “non-hockey” flavor to them… a “clipping” penalty on Scott Walker (that gets called about three times a year)… an interference penalty on Joe Corvo, who set a pick on Zach Boychuk. Good if you’re Shaquille O’Neal, not so good if you’re Joe Corvo.

-- Sometime… sometime soon… Alex Ovechkin is going to go all off on someone. He had 18 shot attempts tonight, many of them from what is for him prime scoring space. The puck might have hit a stick, nicked a skate, or went just wide… but soon…

-- Eric Belanger… 1-for-9 in the dot? Yeesh…

-- Eric Belanger… nice management of the 3-on-2 on the game’s last play to hold the puck and freeze the Carolina defense as Fleischmann was working his way down the right side for the winner. Yay!

-- Take Belanger out, and the Caps were 34 up and 20 down in the circle. It’s all about having the puck, at least if you’re going to play a puck possession game.

-- Brian Pothier had a solid game in his return to Verizon Center… four shots (two others blocked), three blocked shots, and he had a very Mike Green-ish 6:47 in power play time and another 3:30 in PK time on his way to a 26:27 night.

-- Speaking of Mike Green, two shots on the power play, two goals. Hey, do that more often.

-- Nicklas Backstrom got the first star, not so much for his overall play (which frankly, was still not quite the Backstrom we know), but for becoming the fourth player in franchise history to hit 80 points in consecutive seasons (Dennis Maruk, Mike Gartner, and Ovechkin are the others). He got the 80th point with that sweet feed on Mike Green’s first power play goal.

-- The two power play goals put Green at the top of the defenseman heap in that category. He is first in goals, first in assists, first in points, second in plus-minus (behind only Jeff Schultz), first in power play goals, first in power play assists, first in power play points, tied for third in game-winning goals.

All in all, it might not have been the prettiest game of the year, but given that there is at the moment a continuing audition for spots on the third and fourth lines, the second and third defense pairs, and even in goal, getting two points can’t be sneered at for lack of style points. The Caps are still on a 121-point pace for the season, and as the lineup comes into greater focus over the next dozen games or so, you’d have to think they’ll get to that rare air. Part of getting there is grinding out wins like this.

But hey, Paul… smile, you got a point.

Makin' "Whoop"ee

There is a tradition in Caps Nation that bears some explaining to you new fans of the Caps out there. On occasion, you will be watching the action unfold on the ice, and a player from the opposing team will take possession of the puck. All of a sudden, it is as if you were transported to a bird sanctuary where field research was being done with whooping cranes.


What you’re hearing is a love song, of sorts. It is not the “whoop” that calls a mate, but rather Caps fan code for, “YOU USED TO PLAY HERE AND SUCK, AND WE REMEMBER, SO PISS OFF, YA BUM!”

The tradition, if it rises to that level, began during the tenure of Larry Murphy as a Capital. Some of you might recognize the name as that belonging to a defenseman who played in 21 NHL seasons, has his name on the Stanley Cup (with two different teams – Pittsburgh and Detroit), and who is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Ah, but such was not the case in 1983. In October of that year, Murphy was traded to the Caps from the Los Angeles Kings (for Ken Houston and Brian Englblom, if you’re keeping score). Murphy arrived in the midst of the go-go era of NHL hockey with the reputation of being an “offensive” defenseman. Unfortunately, as Caps fans found out (or perhaps merely perceived), Murphy had “issues” in his own end of the ice. He was prone to the odd, ill-timed turnover and was not among the more physical defensemen of his day, or at least not to the exacting standards of Caps fans, who had the pleasure of seeing the rough-and-tumble exploits of Rod Langway and Scott Stevens in those early-to-mid 1980’s.

Murphy became something of a convenient vessel into which Caps fans deposited all their frustrations at the club not having achieved much in the playoffs. He was booed often, many times merely for being “Larry Murphy.” He was traded to Minnesota in 1989 (with Mike Gartner, for Dino Ciccarelli and Bob Rouse), but that did not end the affair between Caps fans and Murphy.

Enter, the “whoop.”

Upon his each and every return to Landover, Murphy would be serenaded with the call of Caps fans who remembered – not fondly – his time with the club. The “whooping call” became a staple of Murphy appearances, whether he played for Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Toronto, or Detroit (his stops after leaving Washington).

As the whooping tradition took a foothold by virtue of repetition, the practice expanded to other ex-Capitals that had fallen out of favor with Caps Nation. But there was a certain discipline to it. One might “whoop” a Dmitri Khristich (a player who joined the Caps in the 1990s, but never realized his potential before he moved on to Los Angeles and other teams) or a Sergei Gonchar (mainly because now he is a Penguin), but one would never dare “whoop” Peter Bondra (who after setting many scoring records for the Caps was traded to Ottawa for Brooks Laich in the great purge several years ago).

There are players you “whoop,” and there are players you don’t. There are no hard and fast rules about this sort of thing, it being more or less a folk tradition. But there are some general rules of the road about “whooping” that seem to have evolved...

First, the player has to be an ex-Capital. And not just some scrubeenie who played a handful of games (no Curtis Leschyshyn’s here). They had to play an important role on the squad.

Second, they have to have had a flaw in their game, real or perceived. Murphy’s was his intermittent problems in his own end and not being physical enough. Gonchar was the guy who turned the puck over to Marty Straka for the series-clinching overtime goal against the Penguins (then he ended up playing for them).

Third, they cannot have established themselves deep in the Capitals record book (Murphy was with the Caps very early in his career), or they did things that transcended their accomplishments (see: Sergei Gonchar, Martin Straka).

Fourth, one does not “whoop” good guys. Think of the 2003-2004 team that was gutted…

Dainius Zubrus – don’t “whoop” (even if he underachieved in fans’ eyes, he worked hard and was a mentor for Alex Ovechkin)

Brendan Witt – “whoop” to your heart’s content (he didn’t want to stick around for the rebuild)

Mike Grier – don’t “whoop” (another hard worker who just didn’t get the hoped-for results)

Jaromir Jagr – make as much “whoopee” as you please (other than cashing the checks, he didn’t seem to like it here)

Robert Lang – don’t “whoop” (he did all he was asked and was scoring leader in the league when he was traded to Detroit)

Jason Doig – tough call…he was the guy who took the too-many-men penalty that led to the series-ending goal in the Tampa Bay playoff series in 2003 that nearly sent Ted off a cliff, but he seemed a decent fellow who tried hard, and he did pretty much convince Eric Lindros to end his career.

So, when you take your seat tonight with Brian Pothier and Oskar Osala in the house, you might want to consider whether you really want to “whoop” it up. Pothier fought his way back from injury to contribute to a playoff run last year. Osala just wasn’t here long enough to reach the “whooping” threshold (and he seems a decent sort, too).

Whooping is a tradition among Caps fans, not like that silly “one-two-three-it’s-all-your-fault” nonsense, or shouting out “RED” AND “O” during the National Anthem. This is something that goes back decades, whose honor needs to be preserved. Don’t go wasting your “whoops” on every Tom, Dick and Brendan who comes back to pay a visit…

…Oh, Brendan Witt, yes… Brendan Morrison (if he should leave and visit from time to time), no.

The Oscars are over, but...

From this morning's Washington Post...

"Searching for solutions, [Caps assistant coach Dean] Evason, head coach Bruce Boudreau and assistant coach Bob Woods met at Kettler Capitals Iceplex during the Olympic break. They watched, then replayed each power-play goal the Capitals have surrendered this season."

Must have been quite a film.  What would you name it?  "Silence of the Lambs?"  "Night of the Living Dead?"  And folks thought Avatar was long?