Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A TWO-point night -- Game 63: Capitals 3 - Islanders 2 (OT)

It is nice to say of another team that they did not play 60 minutes of hockey.

For 56 minutes last night, the Washington Capitals and the New York Islanders did not so much play sloppy hockey as they did indifferent hockey. The Islanders might be excused for their sluggish play; they are all but out of the race for the playoffs and were in selling mode on Monday, sending Brian Rolston and Mike Mottau to Boston for futures. They are playing out the string. But at least they scored goals. Josh Bailey got one as a product of awful defense by the Caps – Jeff Schultz being faked to the ice by a slap shot that never came from Bailey’s stick, a hapless wave at the puck by Mathieu Perreault from behind, and the parting of the Red Sea, as it were, allowing Bailey to skate to the net and get not one, but two chances to swat the puck past goalie Michal Neuvirth.

That goal almost held up as the only score of the game until the Isles scored again in the third. Matt Moulson deflected a waist high drive by Steve Staios that jumped over the glove of Neuvirth for the 2-0 lead just over two minutes into the last period. Other than that, the Isles didn’t look like an especially energized team.

The Caps? For a team fighting for a playoff spot, playing in front of their home crowd, and about as healthy as they are going to be for the rest of the regular season, they looked grim for those first 56 minutes. They did out-shoot the Islanders by a 13-3 margin in the first period, buy hey…Jay Beagle had three of them. Beagle is a guy who can give a team some hard minutes, but scoring in them is not a big part of his resume.

Then, Troy Brouwer joined the party. He resuscitated the Caps in the 57th minute, converting a superb centering feed from the left wing wall by Mathieu Perreault to halve the visitors’ lead, and then with 26 seconds left deflected a Brooks Laich drive to tie the game and send it to overtime…

…which became “Ovechkin-time” 95 seconds into the extra frame. Ripping a page from the old Ovechkin song book, he charged up the left side, backing Travis Hamonic off with speed. With Hamonic too far away to sweep check the puck, Ovechkin angled toward the middle and ripped a low shot past Hamonic’s left skate. Goalie Evgeni Nabokov could not close the five-hole in time, and the Caps were the unexpected winners of two points they needed to have.

Other stuff…

-- Give credit to Jeff Halpern on the last goal of regulation. He dug deep – literally; his nose was almost touching the ice he was so low to the dot – and wrestled Franz Nielsen to a standoff on the faceoff that started the play, eventually winning that draw. Five seconds later, the Caps were tied.

-- All of a sudden, what Washington sports fans love most – controversy at the most important position – might be at hand. Michal Neuvirth won his third straight decision and is 1.66, .944 in those three games. It might not match the interest of a Grossman-vs.-Beck, or even an RG3-vs.-Manning as far as sports controversies in these parts go, but we might now have a goalie race. “Might,” mind you.

-- If the Caps power play was a power source, you would not be able to see the back of the refrigerator when you opened the door. Another oh-fer night (0-for-4) makes the Caps 2-for-32 (6.3 percent) in their last nine games.

-- Ovechkin’s game-winner was only his second this season (his first since December 15th), but he is now 6-4-10 in his last ten games.

-- With the two goals on three shots, Troy Brouwer is 12th in the league in shooting percentage among players with 100 or more shots on goal.

-- The Caps had 72 shot attempts to 46 for the Islanders. A long time since there was that kind of difference favoring the Caps.

-- It was a game characterized by a whole lot of skating around (only 52 total faceoffs for the game) without a lot of evident purpose.

-- Watching overtime start is a little like the coin flip in a football game. The Caps chose to “defend” to open the extra period with Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer at forward and Karl Alzner and John Carlson the opening defense pair. It is worth noting that those four were also the group on the ice to finish the last shift of regulation as the Caps tied the game, then took it to the buzzer.

-- Then the Caps went all-in…Ovechkin and Johansson in front; Dennis Wideman and Dmitry Orlov in the rear. It worked.

-- Jay Beagle led the team with five shots on goal. In 11 minutes of ice time. Imagine that. No, really…imagine that.

In the end, this is not the Beauty Contest System to pick a college football champion. The object of the exercise is to get two points by any means possible. Even if you look pretty grim doing it. And that is how the Caps did it. The Islanders went to sleep for the last four minutes of regulation, or you could say the Caps returned the favor of poor play (the Bailey goal and the first Brouwer goal) and bad luck (the Moulson goal and the second Brouwer goal). The difference in the end being the Islanders had one shot in the extra session – by Milan Jurcina from 39 feet, while the Caps had one shot on goal – from Alex Ovechkin. Who wins that battle 99 times out of 100?