Caps Win 4-3
The Washington Capitals got back on the winning track Thursday night beating the Atlanta Thrashers, 4-3, at the sold out Verizon Center The score of this game looks close on paper but the contest really wasn’t, although I did not like the way the Caps let the Thrashers have a chance to tie the game late in the third period due to some horrible defensive zone play on the final Washington power play. But overall the Caps played pretty well Thursday, outshooting Atlanta, 40-24, and they were sparked by their power play, until the very end, going 3 for 8 on the game, including scoring on their first two chances.
Here are some highlights and notes:
– Alexander Semin had a very good game getting his 23rd goal and adding two assists despite being a -2 on the evening. Semin was on the ice for the late shorthanded goal and Rich Peverley’s breakaway goal that tied the game at two in the second period. Semin, who is only 24 years old, did NOT take any penalties on Thursday.
– Mike Green broke a five game goalless drought notching his league leading 23rd goal by a defensemen and he added an assist as well.
– Alexander Ovechkin had an assist and endured some frustrating times tonight. First, he had his stick slashed and broken and referees Stephane Auger and Mike Hasenfratz failed to call a Thrashers penalty in the first period (and we’ve seen the Caps called for that alot recently – more inconsistent officiating). Then on his next shift the Great #8 was clipped with a blatant high stick by Peverley but nothing was called causing Ovechkin to rough up Marty Reasoner in retaliation. While he was giving Reasoner the business Atlanta defenseman Garnet Exelby grabbed and roughed Ovechkin but the zebras only gave a penalty to the Great #8. When Ilya Kovalchuk scored on that ensuing power play to cut the Washington lead to 2-1 they were given life in a game they were on the verge of being run out off. The fans deservedly let the referees have it. Ovechkin also made a defensive zone coverage mistake on the last Thrashers goal going to Kovalchuk and leaving Todd White all alone in the slot when Green had Kovalchuk cut off to the left wing boards. The Great #8 also didn’t receive any help from any of the other forwards on the ice as they failed to back check (Semin, Viktor Kozlov, and Dave Steckel).
– Peverley’s breakaway goal was the result of a major defensive breakdown as Caps defensemen Tom Poti and Shaone Morrisonn were spread out too far apart on the Caps blue line allowing Atlanta’s Niclas Havelid to send a long pass up the middle of the ice to Peverley. I’m not sure what #3 and #26 were doing and the center on that line, Matt Bradley, wasn’t clogging the middle of the ice very well either. This defensive breakdown was reminiscent of the numerous ones we saw the Caps have against the Los Angeles Kings earlier in the month.
– The Caps did a better job of avoiding penalties tonight only taking five minors that led to power plays after providing the Flyers and Penguins eight power plays each in their previous two games.
– Rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth was solid in his second NHL start (21 saves) and is now 2-0. With rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov going 2-0 in his two starts the young Caps rookie goalies are a combined 4-0 this season. “I thought he made the saves he had to. I didn’t think he had to make too many spectacular saves. They scored two breakaway goals and an empty net goal on the power play. I don’t think they had a lot of great chances tonight,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on Neuvirth’s play on Thursday.
– Donald Brashear and Eric Boulton had a spirited fight in the second period. I had a chance to talk with Brashear one on one after the game and will post that interview Friday evening.
– Eric Fehr scored his 10th goal in 41 games which projects to 20 goals over a full 82 game season. The former first round pick is starting to live up to some of his potential and he is working hard and getting scoring chances.
– The Caps were 39-26 on face-offs on Thursday.
– Michael Nylander was a healthy scratch with Kozlov returning to the lineup. Nylander just doesn’t fit on this team and his salary cap hit isn’t helping either.
– I was not overly impressed with the John Erskine and Milan Jurcina defensive pair again tonight. I still assert that Karl Alzner is better than both of these guys and needs to be called up soon so he can get ready for the playoffs. Keeping Alzner up and not sending him back and forth to Hershey would have cost more money against the salary cap but given some of the Caps problems on the back line a seasoned Alzner would be a better option come playoff time. Alzner needs to play and can’t be worrying about the salary cap or getting sent back to Hershey if he makes a mistake. I don’t think #27’s situation has been handled properly so far this season.
– The Caps are now 39-18-5 for 83 points in 62 games. The Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, and Florida Panthers all won tonight so nothing really changed standings wise for Washington in the division or in the conference (Florida is still 13 points back in the division race).
– Boudreau, when asked by Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post if Jose Theodore will start both games this weekend since Neuvirth played on Thursday, said that you can put on record that #60 will start against Boston on Saturday at 1pm. The Caps come home on Sunday to face the Panthers at 3pm.
The first big trade of the year was hatched today between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Anaheim Ducks. Pittsburgh sent defenseman Ryan Whitney to the Ducks in exchange for forward Chris Kunitz and prospect Eric Tangradi. I spoke with one NHL scout at the game tonight who said that Pittsburgh needed a better winger to play with Sydney Crosby than Pascal Dupuis and Miroslav Satan. Another NHL scout I spoke to on Thursday said that he gives Pittsburgh the edge on the trade because of Tangradi. The scout says Anaheim will regret giving away the player they took 42nd overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft in a couple of years.
With Anaheim getting Whitney that means that the door is now open for them to trade either defenseman Scott Niedermayer (unrestricted free agent after this season) or Chris Pronger (signed one more year at $6.25M). One NHL scout I spoke with thinks that the Niedermayer brothers (Scott and his brother Rob of the Ducks) will be shipped to New Jersey. However, Caps Dump and Chase writer Mike Vogel told me heard that Niedermayer has agreed to stay in Anaheim meaning Pronger will be dealt. The guys on Hockey Night in Canada Radio (Jeff Marek, Kelly Hrudey, and Craig Simpson) have all said that they think Pronger is the one to go as well. Assuming the Ducks won’t want Pronger in the Western Conference that means he is likely headed East so Caps GM George McPhee will need to get in the sweepstakes to make sure that teams like Boston or New Jersey or any other top Eastern conference team does not get the big #25 and make life difficult for the Caps in the playoffs. Vogel also pointed out to me that in McPhee’s tenure in Washington he has only gone one trading deadline (2000) without making a deal so you can bet that GMGM will not sit idle next week (the trade deadline is March 4th at 3pm EST).
An NHL scout at the Caps game tonight says he doesn’t think the Detroit Red Wings are the favorites to win the Cup this year because the team is not playing hard night in and night out like it did the last two years. He said “you can’t win playing spot hockey.” He also said that not having home ice, in the event of a series with San Jose, would hurt the Wings. The scout says he likes the Sharks to win the Stanley Cup.