Caps Still Alive
The never say die Washington Capitals did it again tonight winning another game in which they had to in order to keep their season alive. Today’s win was a hard fought 3-2 victory over Philadelphia at the Verizon Center and marked the second straight game that the Caps have played a more physical game than what we saw from Washington in the first three games of this series that was heavily dominated by the Flyers. Game six is Monday night in Philadelphia and the Flyers are only one win away from the second round.
Washington came out hard in this game hitting every Flyer in sight and the Caps totally dominated the first period out-shooting Philly 12-4. Washington held the Flyers without a shot on goal for the last 14 minutes of the period. However, the Caps were only up 1-0 after that period and the lone goal came on a five-on-three power play from Nicklas Backstrom off of a great feed by Alexander Semin.
The start of the second period was a continuation of the first as the Caps dominated play to take a 2-0 lead on Sergei Federov’s backhander 85 seconds in. At the midpoint of the period the Flyers woke up and started playing better but the only goal they netted in the second was by Vaclav Prospal on a five-on-three power play.
In the third period the Flyers, despite being shorthanded three times, still managed to throw 21 shots at Capitals goalie Cristobal Huet only getting Derian Hatcher’s late goal. Fortunately Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t take my advice to start Olie Kolzig in Game 4 and he definitely made the right move as Huet had his best game of the series in Philadephia that night (despite losing) and followed it up with a dandy today at the Verizon Center.
Boudreau, however, did modify the power play as I suggested last week, moving more traffic in front of Flyers goalie Martin Biron. In games 4 and 5 on five-on-four power play situations Alexander Ovechkin has now been moved off of the point and in the slot in front of Biron along with Brooks Laich who has been stationed right in front of the crease. Since Boudreau’s change the Caps have gone a blistering 4 for 10 on the power play.
Ovechkin hasn’t been scoring any goals, and he has the hockey gods to blame in Game 4 when the puck bounced over his stick on an empty net that would have put the Caps up 4-2 in the that contest, but he is becoming more and more of a force in the series in front of the Flyers net. In case you didn’t notice, that was the Great #8 who was screening Biron on Federov’s backhander and Ovechkin was again in front of the net on Semin’s game winner today. Ovechkin, who has been shadowed by Flyers defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn throughout the series, is starting to adjust to the extra attention and today he had six shots on net and several scoring chances. Perhaps Game 6 is when Alexander the Great finally breaks out of his goal scoring drought? Ovechkin also had the hit of the game on Jim Dowd knocking the Flyer forward into the bench.
Semin has been taking a beating lately but the kid has stepped up his game and has been a big reason the Caps are generating more scoring chances after being dominated in games two and three. Semin has four points in the last two games.
The Flyers are continuing their strategy of crashing the net because Washington’s defense is not that strong. Looking at the final ice times from today’s game Shaone Morrisonn, the Caps best defensive defensemen, only played just over 14 minutes. It will be interesting to see if the Caps report any injury to #26. Something is definitely up there because Morrisonn typically plays over 20 minutes a game for Washington.
The good news for the Caps is that Flyers forward Mike Knuble, who scored the game winner on Thursday and had five points coming into today’s game, suffered a partial tear of his hamstring and is out for the series. Still forwards Daniel Briere and Vaclav Prospal are really hurting the Caps, especially on the power play. The Caps cannot afford to take penalties in Philly on Monday if they are to win.
The task is still very difficult for Washington and when talking about the series with a Western Conference scout on Friday he pointed out that one of the big factors in the Flyers strong play was the return of Hatcher in game three. With Hatcher in the lineup they were able to take out weak link Lasse Kukkonen and Coach John Stevens has a top three defense of Hatcher, Timonen, and Coburn (whom the scout called a “stud” and a steal for the Flyers in their trade with Atlanta last season – they gave up old and broken down defensemen Alexei Zhitnik for Coburn). Coburn was the eighth player chosen in the 2003 NHL Entry draft immediately after Nashville took defensemen Ryan Suter and right before Calgary took back liner Dion Phaneuf. All three are very good NHL players but Phaneuf is definitely the best of the three. (By the way, if you get a chance go back and look at the names taken in that 2003 first round – what a draft!).
Home ice will be a factor on Monday as Stevens will be able to get the on ice matchups he desires thanks to having the last change. If the Caps do find a way to win then Game 7 is on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center.
Don’t look now but the Boston Bruins have put up a five spot against rookie Habs goalie Carey Price in back to back games erasing a three games to one deficit and forced a game 7 with the Montreal Canadiens. Tonight’s game six was an instant NHL classic as the Bruins scored four times in the third period to erase a 2-1 deficit. Boston’s Phil Kessel (5th pick of 2006 NHL Entry Draft; chosen immediately after the Caps took Backstrom) notched two goals but the game winner was a beautiful play by Bruins forward Marco Sturm who came out of the corner with the puck and fired it on net, skated over and around the Montreal defense to gather his own rebound, then faked Price to the ice, and deposited the puck over the outstretched and prone goalie into the top shelf. This was the first time I had a chance to watch this series but Boston followed the same strategy the Caps had today – hit everything that moves and go to the net. Clearly this rattled Montreal and it seemed like every time Alexei Kovalev got the puck Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward was all over him. Kovalev, the MVP for the Canadiens this year, was a brutal -3 tonight and was one of the reasons the Habs lost. Game 7 is Monday night from Montreal.
I have always been a big Martin Brodeur fan but his decision to not shake Sean Avery’s hand after the Rangers eliminated the Devils on Friday was a bad one. The NHL series ending handshake is the ultimate in sportsmanship and typically what happened on the ice in the series stays there. Avery is annoying and has said some galactically stupid things in the past but he is just trying to win. Brodeur dropped a notch in my book by showing a lack of class in that series ending moment.
Look for the San Jose Sharks to finish off the Calgary Flames on Sunday night. The Sharks are just better than Calgary plus at 57 years old coach Mike Keenan seems to have lost his edge. He has once again ruined Flames forward Kristian Huselius (he did the same thing with him in Florida). Memo to Iron Mike: there is only one Mark Messier so you need to focus on coaching the players that you currently have. Alex Tanguay’s subpar performance this season (58 points in 78 games and just three assists in five playoff games) is also a direct reflection of the lousy job Keenan has done coaching the Flames this year. Once Calgary is eliminated it will be interesting to see what Flames GM Darryl Sutter will do because Keenan surely cannot be brought back. The Flames could use a coach like Bruce Boudreau but hopefully for Caps fans GM George McPhee has locked up the current Caps coach for several years (if not, that is a major mistake!).
According to an NHL scout the top seven players in this year’s NHL entry draft are potential NHL impact players led by Sarnia’s Steven Stamkos, who will be taken first by the Tampa Bay Lightning (announced by Tampa GM Jay Feaster on Hockey Night in Canada radio last week). The 2008 draft is in Ottawa on June 20 and 21.
Great Customer Service
One Final Note that isn’t on ice related but worth sharing: I called down to the Verizon Center last week to inquire about Caps playoff tickets but had to hang up before being able to leave a message for anyone. So I get in my car on Friday to drive home and I have a voice message on my cell phone from a sales person from the Caps who called me back using caller ID and said if I needed anything to call him back and let him know. Wow, what customer service! Ted Leonsis should give that guy a raise and perhaps a certain baseball team in Baltimore could learn a thing or two from the Caps marketing and sales department on how to be more accomodating and fan-friendly?