Thursday, October 13, 2011

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

No Sidney Crosby…it’s only regular season…it’s the third game of the year.

Sure, but the record will say that the Caps won – in Pittsburgh, again, for the eighth straight time in the regular season. It might have been dicey – the third time in three games that the Caps relinquished a third period lead – but a 3-2 overtime win in the Burgh makes any Caps fan smile.

If you looked only at the score sheet, you might be inclined to say that the Caps didn’t deserve this one. They were out-shot, 41-19. In fact, Pittsburgh had more shots on goal (41) than the Caps had attempts (40). They drew only one penalty in almost 63 minutes.

But it is not how, it is how many, and in the end, the Caps had three, the Penguins two. With the 3-2 win the Caps had their first 3-0-0 start since the 2007-2008 season.

The Caps did it with goals from guys they need to get scoring from – Mike Knuble driving to the net and scoring ugly, Alex Ovechkin getting his first goal with a nifty tip-in, and finally Dennis Wideman off a splendid saucer pass from Nicklas Backstrom on the power play in overtime to clinch the win.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin does that little tip-in thing in warm-ups before every game. Maybe it’s just horsing around with his teammates, but it is the sort of thing that builds a certain memory of motion. The thing about that tip in goal though was that Penguin defenseman Paul Martin was right behind him and could not or did not apply any resistance to Ovechkin setting up in the low slot. He looked badly overmatched.

-- How do you like Tomas Vokoun now? Forty-one shots, 39 saves, and the two goals came on weak-side lapses by the Caps that left James Neal with clear looks at open nets. But stopping 17 of 18 shots in the third period was what Vokoun is here for.

-- It seems worth noting that despite the fact that the Caps have played all three games thus far into extra time, Ovechkin is averaging just over 20 minutes of ice time a game. He had only 18:55 tonight.

-- OK, Nicklas Backstrom hasn’t scored a goal in 20 games (going back to last season and including playoffs), but that pass he made to Dennis Wideman is why he gets his money. A saucer pass, across his body, skating at speed, right on Wideman’s tape. Are there three players in the league who can be counted on to make that pass in that situation?

-- If that wasn’t the ugliest goal in the career of Mike Knuble, it has to be in the top-five. He walks out from the goal line, gets ridden off the puck by Derek Engelland, and as he is trying to keep his balance skating behind the Penguin net, the puck somehow slithers under goalie Brent Johnson. Only a guy with 30 goals in 61 games against the Penguins would get a goal like that. Even Kanoobie hid his eyes looking at the replay.

-- John Carlson and Roman Hamrlik might be decent offensive linemen in football, because they can “block.” Carlson had six blocked shots, and Hamrlik had seven.

-- There are nights when Alexander Semin is so clearly the best player on the ice, that he is jaw-droppingly awesome to watch. There are other nights when you wonder if he dressed. Tonight was a night of the latter variety. He had an assist on the Knuble goal, but that was incidental to an ugly play. Otherwise he skated 15 minutes and change, had one shot on goal, and nothing else – no other shot attempts, no hits, no takeaways, nothing. And he hasn’t yet skated more than 18:38 in a game (yes, it’s early).

-- We note that after three games there are five Caps in “minus” territory. All four of the “Young Guns” are in that category.

-- From the “working the kinks out” file, Roman Hamrlik was on ice for both Penguin goals, Mike Green for one of them. That pair has the dubious honor of “leading” the Caps in goals scored against/on ice so far. Hamrlik has been on the ice for six of the ten goals scored against so far, Green for five.

-- These teams give their fans their money’s worth. The Penguins have now played in three extra time games out of five played (1-2), and the Caps have had all three of theirs go to extra time (3-0).

-- About the two Penguin goals, it seemed as if on both that Vokoun had his feet in awkward positions, as if he was between a butterfly and a stand-up posture. We’re guessing that in March, when he’s in the rhythm of a season, he stops them both.

-- And about this Arron Asham/Jay Beagle scrap. It really was a fight in three parts. There was the tangle of Beagle and Kris Letang that sparked the whole affair. Beagle might have been rightly called for roughing, but it wasn’t as if Beagle flattened Letang in open ice away from the play. What was it about this scrap that needed a third party to police it? Then there was the fight itself. Asham is a bruiser; he’s had 82 fights in the NHL before tonight. Beagle? A tough guy, but not a fighter. Tonight was his first NHL regular season fight. The results were entirely predictable. Finally, there were the antics displayed by Asham after the bout was over – the boxing referee knockout gesture, then the “go to sleep” gesture. And that with Beagle bleeding on the ice. To his credit, Asham realized later that it was, as he described it himself, a “classless” gesture. He deserves credit for that. But in the moment, perhaps playing to the home crowd, it is the kind of thing that needs to be nipped in the bud by the league.

In the end, the game looked as if it was played almost at a playoff pace. Players might say that it is just an early season game, that it is only one of 82, but the play on the ice revealed that lie. It was a closely played game that the Penguins probably held an advantage in, in terms of territorial play. But the Caps got goals from players they need to have produce, in ways they have to produce – Knuble on an ugly piece of work, Ovechkin with some deft stick work, and Wideman burying an open look at the goalie. And if a Caps fan was disappointed with the overall play, or was inclined to pick apart individual performances, remember that the Penguins have spent the last year winning games like this in greasy fashion – playing it close and winning in extra time. Not tonight. And right now, that speaks well for the Caps in trying to become that kind of team.