Saturday, February 04, 2012

A TWO-point....uh, afternoon! Game 51: Capitals 3 - Canadiens 0

Groundhog Day is celebrated on February 4th in Montreal (not really, but humor us). Saint-Laurent Sebastien comes out of the St. Lawrence River, and if he sees his shadow, proclaims that the Canadiens will lose another 3-0 hockey match with the Washington Capitals.

Well, Seb must have seen his shadow, because it happened again.  For the second time this season, the Caps shutout the Canadiens, 3-0, at Bell Centre.  It was the third consecutive shutout of the Habs by the Caps, the trick turned by three different goaltenders.  Braden Holtby did it last season, a 2-0 shutout.  Michal Neuvrth did it by a 3-0 score last month.  And it is the third time int the last six times these teams have met that the Caps skated off with a 3-0 win against Montreal. 

The Caps set a club first in this one, the first time in franchise history that they were the recipients of two penalty shots in the same game.  Troy Brouwer was granted the first one when Monteal goalie Peter Budaj got caught up in the whole "stick save" concept and let go of his stick with a loose puck lying close.  He was called for "throwing object at the puck," but he made up for it on the ensuing penalty shot by foiling Brouwer's attempt to solve the five-hole.

Budaj was not as lucky later.  Alexander Semin intercepted a ghastly backhand pass by Tomas Kaberle just inside the Caps' blue line.  All Kaberle could do after horking up the puck was chase and hook.  He did, and he did, and Semin was awarded the second penalty shot of the afternoon.  Amid a chorus of boos, just as had been the case for Brouwer on his attempt, Semin skate in, faked a fake slap shot, and rifled a slapper over Budaj's glove to provide the final margin of victory.

Before that, the Caps got a pair of odd goals -- Dennis Wideman took a slap shot from the point in the game's ninth minute that had the look of Bing...or maybe it was Bob, on the links.  Like a Titleist struggling to gain altitude out of the sand trap, the puck pitched up, fluttered, and settled ever so gently behind a startled Budaj for the Caps' first goal.

The second goal was a little more conventional, although its scorer might have been a bit unexpected.  Brooks Laich did some nice work with the puck behind the goal line to Budaj's left and inched out to try to score himself.  But the puck got lost in the noise of players around Budaj, and it squirted out to the slot where Matt Hendricks pounced, flipping the biscuit into the cupboard for his third goal of the season.  A chip, a flip, and a zip, leaving the Canadien fans booing at the end for things other than the other team getting a penalty shot.  And that was all it took for the Caps to inch just that much closer to a playoff spot.

Other stuff...

-- One shot.  Five attempts.  Not exactly the most auspicious return to the ice for Alex Ovechkin, but hey... it was a win, so it's all good.

-- 30-23 (shots), 68-45 (shot attempts)... More blocked shots (27) than shots on goal (23).  Only one Cap had more than two shots on goal (Semin).  Stop us if you've heard this before.

-- Only a fan would think it appropriate that if a goalie gets a shutout, he should earn it with a big save in the dying seconds.  We're betting Tomas Vokoun would just as soon not had to face a breakaway by Tomas Plekanec in the last half minute of the game.  He turned away Plekanec shot, and we wonder that had it gone in, whether Vokoun would have clubbed Dennis Wideman within an inch of his life for letting Plekanec get free to take a pass in the neutral zone from P.K. Subban on a backhander flip from the Montreal goal line.

-- The Caps displayed a little more balance in ice time than we are used to seeing under Dale Hunter. No skater was on for more than 22:30 (defenseman John Carlson), and no forward skated as many as 20 minutes.

-- Motto for the Caps' power play lately... "We might not be good, but we're exciting."  One shot on three power plays, two shorthanded shots allowed.  Not what we're looking for here.

-- Brooks Laich probably deserves better.  He did have two goals in his last four games coming into this game, but those had been his only two goals over his past 17 games.  He had enough effort to add to that total, but he was shut out from scoring on his own.  He did have a pair of assists, five shot attempts, two blocked shots, and he won 13 of 23 draws.

-- Keith Aucoin did play in this game (only 7:57) but he did make his presence felt with a couple of hits.

In the end, a solid, if not especially dominating win.  And if the object of the exercise on the road is to break even, the Caps did that on this three game road trip; they went 1-1-1.  But given the opponents and their precarious position in the standings, it had the feeling of an opportunity lost. 

Now the Caps get the Boston Bruins at home 24 hours after a road game.  Not the easiest way to spend a Super Bowl Sunday.

Programming pre-game blog for the Boston game.  We'll be back in the next day or two.

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