Caps Retake Southeast Division Lead

February 11, 2008 | Ed Frankovic

Caps Back in 1st

Olie Kolzig had one of his best games of the season in goal for the Washington Capitals on Sunday allowing the Caps to leapfrog the Carolina Hurricanes and Atlanta Thrashers back into first place in the Southeast Division. The Caps had relinquished first place when they lost to the Hurricanes, 2-1, on Friday night in a game they dominated but went zero for seven on the power play (Atlanta also won on Friday night against Tampa Bay).

Yesterday Kolzig was stellar in net making 31 saves, many of which were on quality scoring chances, and Alexander Ovechkin figured in on all three Caps goals (1 goal and 2 assists) as Washington knocked off the New York Rangers, 3-2, at the Verizon Center before 17,873 fans (including yours truly). Defensemen Mike Green blasted the game winner home from the point on a power play for Washington in overtime off of an Ovechkin feed. Green now has 15 goals on the season and he continues to lead all NHL defensemen in goal scoring.

Ovechkin’s three points pushed his league leading total to 76. Ottawa forward Daniel Alfredsson had tied the Great #8 at 73 points on Saturday night when the Senators captain put up five points in a 6-1 Ottawa shellacking of the Montreal Canadiens. Alexander the Great also leads the league in goals with 47 this season.

Finding a way to win on Sunday was very big for the Caps considering that the Rangers carried most of the play in the game. The Rangers are a very good team and they caused numerous turnovers in the Washington end. Caps defensemen Shaone Morrisonn, who is usually very solid, had an off game taking three minor penalties and also got caught too close to the boards allowing forward Scott Gomez to set up the Rangers first goal (scored by pesky Sean Avery).  As a result of Morrisonn’s trips to the sin bin defensemen Tom Poti had to pick up extra minutes (had 25:25 of ice time) and Milan Jurcina was the primary physical presence leading the defense with three hits. This game could have easily been a rout for New York if not for Olie the Goalie’s outstanding play.

On the offensive side, Washington heeded Coach Bruce Boudreau’s guidance and went to the net with aggression and all three Caps goals were either the result of rebounds or heavy traffic in front of the net (two of the goals came on the power play to halt a 1 for 24 dry spell). Caps forward Eric Fehr chipped in an assist and also was stopped in close on a quality scoring chance in the third period. Fehr continues to improve but will need to step up his game even more the rest of the way. Fehr, who was drafted in the first round in the 2003 NHL entry draft by Washington, is a restricted free agent after this season so these next two months will be telling for both parties.

This week the schedule gets very important for the Caps as they hit the road and play Southeast Division foes Atlanta, Florida, and Tampa Bay (three games in four nights starting Wednesday). Washington still has a game in hand on Carolina, Atlanta, and Florida.

NHL News

Scary sight in Sunday evening’s Florida-Buffalo game as former Capitals forward Richard Zednik was cut in the neck and rushed to the hospital after being hit by teammate Olli Jokinen’s skate. At this time it appears Zednik will be okay after immediate surgery last evening. As ESPN is reporting, the game was almost cancelled and many players, including Jokinen were particularly upset that it was not called off after Zednik’s injury.

Interesting piece on former Capitals forward Joe Juneau on Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada. Juneau, who scored the winning goal in overtime against Buffalo in 1998 to put Washington into the Stanley Cup Finals, recently moved to Kuujjuaq, Quebec to head a hockey program for Inuit youth in northern Quebec focused on encouraging academic progress, a contribution for which he received the 2007 La Presse/Radio-Canada Personality of the Year Award. It was interesting to hear Juneau’s take on the 1994 trade that sent him to the Caps from Boston in exchange for defensemen Al Iafrate. Juneau said he never wanted to leave the Bruins and that he really idolized Ray Bourque. Juneau said he always felt “abandoned” after that trade.

After being smoked, 5-0, by Edmonton last Monday Night, the Calgary Flames exacted revenge on their bitter rivals on Saturday night by a 4-1 score. Mike Keenan, who took over the head coaching job with Calgary this year, had his team set a physical tone early as evidenced by the three fights that took place in the first period. For those who like old time hockey grudge matches, this was one you didn’t want to miss. Calgary ended up totally dominating the game but Oilers goalie Mathieu Garon kept the game close throughout. These two teams face off again on Saturday, March 29th but by that time I expect the Oilers to be out of the playoff picture.

The New York Islanders have now lost seven straight games and could become a “seller” at the trade deadline if things continue to go downhill these next two weeks. Miroslav Satan, Mike Comrie, and Ruslan Fedotenko are all unrestricted free agents and would likely draw interest around the league. Bill Guerin could also be moved since he has only next season at $4.5M remaining on his current contract.

Tonight on Versus in HD see Wayne Gretzky’s Phoenix Coyotes travel to Dallas to take on the Pacific Division leading Stars. Phoenix has been one of the big surprises in the NHL this year and rookie center Peter Mueller (1st round pick, 8th overall in 2006 NHL entry draft) has played a big role recently in the team’s success scoring eight goals and four assists in the last 10 games. The Coyotes have won two of the three games played between these teams this season.