Ovechkin Wins it in OT AGAIN!!
On a night when a few things seemed to conspire against the Washington Capitals, Alexander Ovechkin and his teammates managed to find a way to get a huge win in Columbus and down the Blue Jackets, 4-3, in an overtime thriller. Once again it was Ovechkin who scored the game winner on a sensational feed by defensemen Tom Poti. This was the Great #8’s second OT winner in the last 3 games and his second goal of the night pushed his league leading goal total to 45 (he also holds the points lead at 72).
So what went against the Caps tonight? First off, after dominating the early part of the first period that earned them a five on three power play for 102 seconds, Washington managed to give all of the momentum back to Columbus in a heartbeat when Nicklas Backstrom tried to force a point pass to Ovechkin that allowed Rick Nash, the #1 pick in the 2002 NHL entry draft, to race in on a breakaway and score a rare two man shorthanded goal to give the Blue Jackets a 1-0 lead. Shortly thereafter Jason Chimera scored to put the Blue Jackets up 2-0 and the Columbus faithful were going nuts.
At this point in the game the Caps of the recent past few years probably would have packed it in and ended up with a lopsided loss that likely would have pushed this team on the brink of thinking about becoming a seller at the trade deadline (a loss tonight would have been four losses in the last six games). But this team continues to show resiliency and whatever Coach Bruce Boudreau and the players talked about after the first period worked because Washington dominated the second stanza to tie the game at two.
Then the unthinkable happened that often would have buried a team with a lack of mental toughness for the game: referee Bill McCreary runs into defensemen Shaone Morrisonn to give Nash a perfect lane to the net which leads to #61’s second goal of the game and gives the Blue Jackets a critical 3-2 third period lead. Surely this was it for Washington, I mean even the referees seemed to be trying to sink the Caps on this night! But no, the men in red, white, and blue refused to quit and lo and behold Poti found the perfect time to score his first goal of the year with just under seven minutes left in regulation to knot the game at three. Once into OT it was the Ovechkin show again and his wicked snap shot off the beautiful Poti feed gave the Caps a very important win and two points in the standings.
The Caps win tonight coupled with the regulation losses by Carolina and Atlanta moves the team just one point behind each of those teams in the standings but Washington has two games in hand on each. The resurgent Florida Panthers, who beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 8-0 tonight, are also tied with the Caps but have played one more game than Washington. With Tampa Bay also winning tonight and now up to 49 points the division race is razor tight and any of the five teams could end up winning this thing.
One thing that continues to impress me about Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau is the way he handles tough situations and losses. After the Caps poured 36 shots on Atlanta goalie Kari Lehtonen in a 2-0 loss last Saturday Boudreau went on the offensive with his team demanding that others step up to help Ovechkin and pay the price by going to the net to get the garbage goals that win hockey games (Note: Clearly his team got the message as Washington charged the net with a passion tonight, in fact Columbus starting goalie Pascal LeClaire was knocked out of the game when Caps forward Quintin Laing knocked in to him going hard to the net). Too many times I’ve seen coaches take the “woe is me” approach and say the other goalie was better and there was nothing his team could do about it. But not Boudreau, he basically told the players like it is: if you want to win and make the playoffs then you have to pay the price.
I also paid close attention to his facial expression and demeanor in the game tonight on two very important occasions, the first when Nash scored the goal on the Caps five-on-three power play and the second when McCreary knocked over Morrisonn and almost cost Washington the game. In both instances I could see Boudreau was ticked and likely seething inside but he managed to maintain his composure, and that was particularly important after the second Nash goal that put Columbus up 3-2. It would have been easy for Boudreau to become unglued and attack the referee giving the team an easy excuse to mail in the rest of the game. But Boudreau did not do that and a composed coach is something the players feed off of when things are going bad and this team definitely exhibits a composure I have not seen it have in many years. After the call the Caps turned up the heat on the Blue Jackets even more eventually tying and then winning the game.
Boudreau is also not afraid to tinker with the lineup and try different things. Tonight former first round draft pick Eric Fehr was inserted into the lineup on the first line and Viktor Kozlov, who actually has been playing very well of late with Ovechkin and Backstrom, was moved off the top line to center Alex Semin and Tomas Fleischmann on the second line. Kozlov’s great pass to Semin in front of the net late in the second period allowed the Caps to tie the game at two.
That Boudreau move worked but sometimes others don’t as evidenced by the decision to put Backstrom on the point on the five-on-three power play in the first period. It probably seemed like a good idea to Boudreau to have two inside shots on the points (Backstrom a lefty on the right side and Ovechkin a righty on the left side) to set up a one timer for either point man but the big problem was that, much like a basketball point guard who only looks to pass, Backstrom never really looked to shoot and that allowed Nash to overplay the pass to Ovechkin and set up his breakaway goal. Either Backstrom has to be told to shoot more or Boudreau needs to end that experiment and move him back down low and put Mike Green back on the point and let Kozlov be the guy in front of the net (instead of Green).
Anyways, I can’t fault Boudreau for trying something to jump start the team and this is a guy who definitely learns from mistakes as evidenced by the fact that when the game was tied 3-3 with a minute to go Semin, the defensive liability who let Mats Sundin go to the net unabated to score the game winner in the last minute on January 23rd, did not touch the ice. I also noticed that Bruce made sure to keep a defensive forward out there to get the game to OT and at least get Washington a point (one they could have used two weeks ago in Toronto). And as we’ve seen many times this season, once into OT Alexander the Great can take over and get the Caps that badly needed second point as he did again tonight.
Washington is in Philadelphia on Wednesday night to take on a very hot Flyers team that leads the Atlantic division with 65 points. Game time is 7pm on Comcast. Don’t miss it or you might just miss another incredible display by Ovechkin, the $124M man.