Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A TWO-point night -- Game 27: Capitals 5 - Senators 3

For Alex Ovechkin it was 2008 again.

After the Ottawa Senators took a 2-1 lead tonight, Ovechkin scored the goal that would put the Caps ahead, 3-2, on the sort of mesmerizing effort that was on display often in his 65-goal season in 2007-2008, but that has been almost completely absent in the past two seasons. It was the high moment of the Caps' 5-3 win over the Senators tonight that allowed the Caps to leap over Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Montreal, and into eighth place in the East.

It sure didn’t have the look of an eight-goal game early on. The teams played the first period even and scoreless, although one might have had an inkling the Caps would break out when they finished the first frame with 15 shots on Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson. The Caps would get the first goal in the third minute of the second period when Jeff Halpern followed up a Dennis Wideman shot by jumping into the middle and swatting the rebound home. It looked a lot like his other goal of the season, scored against Carolina back on November 4th.

Ottawa came back with a pair to take a one-goal lead at the second intermission, and it looked as if it might hold up as the third period was reaching the mid-way point. But Nicklas Backstrom finished a 3-on-2 rush, taking a feed from Brooks Laich to tie the game.

Then Alex Ovechkin took us back to 2008. With the teams skating four-on-four he started the play by collecting the puck in the faceoff circle in his own end and charging out with it. Gathering speed through the neutral zone, he carried the puck down the left wing boards past both Daniel Alfredsson and Erik Karlsson. Ovechkin circled all the way around the net with Karlsson chasing him. As he approached the Ottawa blue line on the right wing side, he slammed on the brakes, and Karlsson skated by. It provided Ovechkin with space to square himself to the goal. With that time and space he wound up as if for a slap shot, but hesitated with Kaspars Daugavins closing on him. It had the effect of causing goalie Craig Anderson to drop into his butterfly to defend the shot. But Ovechkin skipped a beat, moved a half-step out of Anderson’s line, and wristed the puck past him.

Troy Brouwer would put the Caps up by two 15 seconds later, making a bee-line for the net as Marcus Johansson carried the puck down the left side in the offensive zone. With David Rundblad playing horrible defense on Brouwer, all Brouwer had to do was make sure his stick blade was down to accept Johansson’s pass. He did, and he buried the puck past Anderson.

Not two minutes later, though, Alexander Semin took a hooking penalty, and the two-goal lead was halved five seconds after that by Milan Michalek. It got dicier when Joel Ward took his second slashing penalty of the game with less than three minutes left. Ottawa could not solve Caps’ goaltender Tomas Vokoun, though, and John Carlson sealed things with an empty netter with 46 seconds left, everyone in Caps Nation breathing a sigh of relief for a road win after losing five in a row away from Verizon Center.

Other stuff…

-- With seven shots tonight, Ovechkin had only his fourth game of the season in which he had more than five shots on goal. He had only 16 shots on goal in his previous six games.

-- Things did not go as well for the other “Alex.” Alexander Semin skated 15 minutes and change tonight – no points, one shot on goal, a penalty, and minus-1. Not only is he not scoring (no points in his last five games), he isn’t getting shots on goal – seven in his last five games. Since his only multi-point game of the year (1-1-2 in a 3-0 win over Florida on October 18th), Semin has 39 shots on goal in 19 games. Only six times in those 19 games has he had more than two shots on goal.

-- The five goals tonight means that the Caps have scored eight goals in their last 81 minutes of hockey, going back to Cody Eakin’s goal against Florida with 20 seconds left in the second period of the game last Monday.

-- The Caps had a 24-23 lead in faceoffs through two periods. They won the third period in that area by a 17-8 margin. Jeff Halpern was 9-for-9 in the third period. He was perfect for the evening in the offensive (3-for-3) and defensive (4-for-4) zones.

-- Another night, another three-point game for John Carlson. He is 1-6-7, plus-3, in his last three games. Carlson is now tied for fifth in scoring among defensemen. But he was also waving at air when Nick Foligno was skating through the Caps’ defense for the second Ottawa goal.

-- The “second” line of Brouwer, Johansson, and Halpern was 2-2-4, plus-5 for the night. Both goals were a product of going to the net. Go-to-the-net. Write it down.

-- The Caps had only 14 misfires (seven shots blocked, seven misses) among their 48 shot attempts.

-- The power play goal by Backstrom was the first for the Caps in six games. The Caps were on an 0-for-17 run, including a 5-on-3 for 1:46 tonight, before Backstrom’s goal.

-- Even though it was not his best night, it is hard to find too much fault with Tomas Vokoun’s giving up three goals in this one. Ottawa’s first goal was the end result of ghastly puck management as the Caps were exiting the defensive zone. Ottawa jumped on the puck, entered the zone, and pressured the Caps into a breakdown low for Erik Condra’s goal. Nick Foligno took a pass at the Capitals’ blue line, skated through a Dennis Wideman hip check attempt, cut across the low slot where no Cap stepped up to impede his path, then nudged the puck past Joel Ward, who was tied up with a Senator at the right post, and Vokoun. Milan Michalek scored on a power play when the puck laid in the circle following a faceoff, and no Cap made a move to try and pick it up; Michalek had a clear path to Vokoun.

-- Jeff Schultz had an odd game. He skated five shifts in the first period, but only for a total of 1:47. Then he took the ice for a 46-second shift at 54 seconds of the second period. He would not take the ice again until there was 2:06 left in the period. He finished the game with eight shifts (one in the third period, none in the last 16:44) for a total of 3:55 in ice time.

In the end, it was not the prettiest of games, but scoring four goals in the last 10:15 of the game was a welcome explosion of offense. As noted, that is eight goals in the last 81 minutes of hockey. Too soon to be a trend, but enough to be encouraging. The same could be said for the defense and goaltending. The first period found the Caps in lock-down mode (six shots allowed), but the second saw a few too many breakdowns in their own end. But the biggest thing to come out of this might have been an 11-second stretch of the third period when Alex Ovechkin reminded folks why he was once included on the short list of best players in the game.

Whether the Caps – and Ovechkin – can build on this is now the question. They have won consecutive games only twice since the start of November. They have not won consecutive games in regulation since the last two games of their season-opening seven-game winning streak. Toronto comes to town on Friday to test the Caps’ ability to make it two in a row for the first time in a long time.

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