Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top Ten Stories of 2011 -- Number 8: "The Streak III"

Next up in our look at the top ten stories of 2011 for the Washington Capitals is another streak. Imagine that…

On March 9, 2008, the Washington Capitals hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins in a Sunday afternoon game that would complete the 2007-2008 season series for the two teams. Pittsburgh won two of the first three matches, all three of the games decided by one goal and two of them in extra time (each team winning one).

This one looked as if it would be another one-goal, overtime affair as the clock ticked down to the one minute mark in regulation time. Then something odd happened. With a crowd of players jabbing at the puck in front of Capitals goalie Cristobal Huet, the puck squirted to Nicklas Backstrom at Huet’s left. In an effort to relieve the pressure, Backstrom looked as if he was trying to nudge the puck past the post and behind the net. However, his aim was not true. He backhanded the puck into his own net to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead with 28 seconds left. Jordan Staal added an empty net goal moments later, and the Penguins won the game, 4-2, and the season series three games to one. It was a game marked by some interesting milestones…

-- The loss was the second in regulation in a row suffered by the Caps, the first time it had occurred in 48 games under head coach Bruce Boudreau, who took over the club in November 2007.

-- It was the tenth time in eleven tries that Sidney Crosby’s Penguins beat Alex Ovechkin’s Capitals when both players dressed.

-- It was the eighth game in a row that the Capitals did not allow a first period goal.

And one other thing… it was the last time the Caps would lose to the Penguins in regulation time in a regular season game for more than three years.

The next time the teams would meet in the regular season, no sane person would have looked on and thought the Caps were about to embark on a three year run of success against the Pens. In the first meeting of the 2009-2010 season, Pittsburgh ran out to a 3-0 lead less than 22 minutes into the game. But the Caps got them all back, and they added one for good measure from the unlikeliest of sources – Boyd Gordon doing the deed with 4:17 to play – to hand the Penguins a home-ice loss.

Starting with that game, the Caps would earn points in 13 consecutive games and post a record of 11-0-2 against Pittsburgh from the beginning of the 2008-2009 season through the first game of the 2011-2012 season. Some things to note about the streak…

-- The Capitals would outscore the Penguins by a 51-31 margin in those 13 games.

-- In the 11 wins the Caps would have 10 game-winning goals (one win came via a Gimmick). Nine different players had those game-winners. Sergei Fedorov, Boyd Gordon, Matt Bradley, Mike Knuble (he had the Gimmick winner, too), Alex Ovechkin, Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Dennis Wideman each contributed a game-winning goal. The only player with two was Tomas Fleischmann.

-- The leading goal scorer was, as you might expect, Alex Ovechkin with 13 in the 13 games. He was also the leading overall point-getter with 18 points (13-5-18). Nicklas Backstrom was 1-16-17 over the streak. Alexander Semin was 6-7-13, and Mike Green was 1-8-9 for a total Young Guns contribution of 21-36-57.

-- What the fan who watches the Caps closely would not be surprised by is the fact that Mike Knuble, despite playing in only nine of the 13 games, was second in goals scored for the Caps against the Penguins in the streak. He had eight goals in those nine games.  He has been a Penguin killer his whole career.

-- The Caps were 31.7 percent on the power play, 83.9 percent on penalty kills.

-- Only twice in 13 games did the Caps receive more power play opportunities than the Penguins. Pittsburgh had the advantage in opportunities eight times. Three times the Caps had but one opportunity in a game; in two of them they scored.

-- 17 different players would record goals in the streak; 28 different players would record points.

As far as the goalies are concerned, here is how they fared:

-- Jose Theodore: 6-0-1, 2.92, .907
-- Semyon Varlamov: 2-0-0, 2.00, .935
-- Michal Neuvirth: 2-0-1, 0.65, .977, two shutouts
-- Tomas Vokoun: 1-0-0, 1.92, .951

Ah, but all good things do come to an end. And while “13” would be a lucky number, it would not become “14.” The Caps won the first game on the 2011-2012 season series against the Penguins on an overtime power-play goal from Dennis Wideman. But the Penguins ended the streak when they visited the Caps on December 1st.

It was a hard fought game, but frankly one that the Caps probably should have won. They did a fine job of holding back the Penguin stars. Sidney Crosby did not record a point, had two giveaways, and was only 6-for-22 on faceoffs. Evgeni Malkin had seven shots on goal, but did not record a point, either. The Caps were beaten by a pair of grunts – Chris Kunitz and Craig Adams getting the goals – and a grinding defense that limited the Caps to 17 shots on goal, only three of them coming from the trio of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin.

Still, the Caps loss at home to the Penguins did nothing to change another streak that still lives against the Penguins. The Caps have not lost a game in regulation to the Penguins in Pittsburgh since February 18, 2007, a 3-2 loss. Only five Capitals who played in that game are on the current roster – Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Brooks Laich, John Erskine, and Jeff Schultz. Brent Johnson, who currently toils as the Penguins backup netminder, was the losing goaltender for the Capitals in that game.

But that is a streak for another day’s discussion. That the Caps extended their points-streak against the Penguins by four games in 2011 – starting with the Winter Classic, adding two shutouts, and ending it with an overtime winner in the Penguins’ shiny new palace – places this streak among the top ten stories of 2011 for the Capitals.

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