Thursday, March 10, 2011

A TWO-point night -- Game 68: Caps 5 - Oilers 0


It took 44 games, but the Washington Capitals finally scored two power play goals in a game, which might have been the most important factor in beating the Edmonton Oilers, 5-0, last night. The first of them – and the game’s first goal – came off the stick of Alex Ovechkin, the result of a nice slap pass from Jason Arnott to Ovechkin lurking on the weak side five minutes into the second period. It was Ovechkin’s first power play goal at Verizon Center this season.

Eric Fehr got the second power play goal – and second of the game – five minutes later when he batted home a rebound of a John Carlson drive from the top of the Edmonton crease.

Those two goals were prelude to a three-goal third period in which Ovechkin started things off by picking Kurtis Foster’s pocket at the Oilers’ blue line, circling in with Marcus Johansson on a two-on-none break, and after a couple of back-and-forths with Johansson, roofing the puck over a sprawling Nikolai Khabibulin.

Eric Fehr got his second of the game when Khabibulin chose…poorly. With a loose puck skittering into the Oiler zone and Jason Chimera speeding after it, Khabibulin chose to charge out to try to reach the puck before Chimera. He couldn’t get there before Chimera chipped it ahead, and with Khabibulin out near his own blue line, Chimera found Fehr, who had only to wrist the puck past Ladislav Smid (or “Schmeeeeeed,” if you are Joe Beninati) into the Oilers’ empty net.

Alexander Semin closed out the scoring when he saucered a pass to Marco Sturm on a 2-on-1 break, then took the return pass and stuffed it past Khabibulin with 5:30 left, setting off the goal horn for the fifth time – the most goals the Caps scored at home since December 21st (a 5-1 win over New Jersey).

-- The five goals were as many goals the Caps scored in regulation time at home as they scored in their previous five games, combined.

-- Ovechkin’s two-goal game was his first multi-goal game since recording a hat trick against Toronto on January 22nd. It was his first multi-goal game on home ice since the home opener on October 9th.

-- Eric Fehr’s two goals made it his first multi-goal game on home ice this season (he had a pair in Pittsburgh on New Year’s Day (well, night).

-- Five power plays. As many as in the previous three games, combined. Only the fifth time they received that many opportunities in their last 29 games.

-- An amazing start to the game, an unbroken 7:02 of time elapsed before a stoppage in play. But…there were only six shots on goal in that sequence (Edmonton: 4, Washington: 2). Lots of skating.

-- Fehr was the picture of efficiency – two goals on two shots, three hits, and a takeaway in 13 minutes of ice time. He was really playing for a sweater full time.

-- Brooks Laich kicked ass and took names in the circle, winning 15 of 21 draws. He also just kicked ass with a team-high five hits.

-- When Dennis Wideman picked up the second assist on the Semin goal, it marked his 200th point in the NHL.

-- Marco Sturm got his first point as a Cap with his assist on Semin’s goal, and it forged a personal tie. He now has 238 career goals and 238 career assists.

-- Does it really matter who is in goal lately? Over the six game winning streak Caps goalies have allowed eight goals on 171 shots, a .953 save percentage.

-- Braden Holtby earned his first NHL shutout, stopping all 22 shots. That’s 4-0-1 in his last five appearances, 0.62 GAA, .977 save percentage and a shutout. Pretty good, ya think?

-- Managing minutes…only Dennis Wideman and John Carlson skated more than 20 minutes. At this time of year, that might be a godsend to the other guys who didn’t have to bear a big ice time burden.

-- Speaking of Wideman, in his 23:34 of ice time he had an assist, was plus-1, had three shots on goal (seven attempts), three hits, and seven blocked shots. That trade is looking like a steal at the moment.

-- Jeff Schultz is not having the year he had last year, and his ice time reflects that. But in 13:33 last night he was plus-2, a couple of shots on goal, and a hit. Better still, you hardly noticed him. That’s the kind of defense he has to play. If you’re not noticing Schultz, the other team isn’t scoring when he’s on the ice.

-- Only Jason Chimera and Karl Alzner failed to record a shot on goal. Oddly enough, neither attempted a shot on goal.

In the end, one has to temper one’s happiness with the result with the fact that it wasn’t exactly the 1984 Oilers out there. But that’s what good teams are supposed to do against weaker opponents – get a lead and stand on their throats. Holding the Oilers to 12 shots over the last two periods while building a lead is how you do that. It was as complete a win as the Caps have had in a while.

Meanwhile, Braden Holtby is giving the Caps a lot to think about. He looks entirely at home in the Caps’ crease, a far different goaltender than he was in his five-game stint in November. In his bifurcated 2011 portion of the year (three games in January, two in March) he has yet to allow a power play goal, thus denying opponents a chance at gaining some momentum and at the same time giving his own guys a lift. And last night, when he stoned Andrew Cogliano on a breakaway, he might have given the Caps the lift that led to a goal at the other end moments later.

It would be a leap to say Holtby is “playoff-ready” at this level, but he is making a strong case that he is squarely in the mix of goaltenders fighting for the number one spot for the future. Ovechkin’s breakout might have the more immediate impact on the team, but the way Holtby played and has played recently might be the bigger long-term story coming out of last night’s game.