The Caps improved to 21-21-5 (47 points) tonight after a 5-3 win over the Florida Panthers at the Verzion Center. This team continues to show resiliency, which is the mark of a good team, as evidenced by the fact that they took a 3-0 lead, gave it away primarily due to some bad penalties, but righted the ship and finished very strong to get the much needed win. Brent Johnson was in net tonight and stopped 25 of 28 shots. It appears that for the near term Coach Bruce Boudreau is going to rotate his goalies on a regular basis.
Viktor Kozlov, a player I have been all over performance-wise this season for obvious reasons, increased his season goal total by 50% pumping in two tallies in the first period. Kozlov must score on a more regular basis if he wants to stay on the top line with Alex Ovechkin (1G, 1A tonight) and Nicklas Backstrom (4A tonight). This game cannot just be a blip on the radar screen for Kozlov. He is big so he needs to get himself in front of the net for deflections and rebounds and also screen the goalies for his linemates.
The win tonight moved the Caps only three points behind Southeast Division leading Carolina (50 points) but the Caps have three games in hand on the Hurricanes. Atlanta (49 points) is two points ahead of the Caps but has played two more games. The entire division is tight from top to bottom with Florida having 46 points and the Tampa Bay Lightning totaling 43 points.
Next up for the Caps are the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night on Versus in HD. NHL sensation Sydney Crosby badly sprained his ankle in a freakish manner on Friday night against Tampa Bay and will likely be out for a month or so. The Caps have not won in Pittsburgh in several years so this will be a tough game. The Penguins managed to knock off one of the hottest teams in the NHL in that team’s own building tonight (the Pens beat the Montreal Canadiens 2-0) so they still have a solid team without Crosby in the lineup.
Willie O’Ree 50th Anniversary
Being a major hockey fan I would be remiss if I did not mention the major milestone that occurred on Friday, January 18th. This date marked the 50th anniversary of the first ever NHL game played by a black player, Willie O’Ree, who debuted that night in 1958 for the Boston Bruins against the Canadiens in the Montreal Forum. O’Ree was honored today in Boston as he dropped the puck for the ceremonial faceoff between the Bruins and the New York Rangers.
O’Ree is a hockey pioneer and a great man who pretty much has dedicated his life to youth hockey. He is currently director of youth development for the NHL’s diversity program. O’Ree paved the way for black hockey players such as Mike Marson, Grant Fuhr, Reggie Savage, Anson Carter, and Ray Emery not to mention my personal favorite current NHL player, Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames. Iginla is one of the top five forwards in the NHL and reportedly one of the best guys in hockey off the ice.
Speaking of youth hockey, I spent the last two years helping coach seven and eight year olds to learn and play the game in the Columbia area and am thrilled to report that I coached kids of several different ethnic backgrounds. Clearly the efforts and hard work of Willie O’Ree are making a difference because people of all ethnicities are learning to play the game.
For those of you who want to read more about O’Ree here are a couple of links: