Caps Sweep Weekend Games
The Caps went 2-0 this weekend hammering the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday night, 4-1, and then knocking off the Boston Bruins, 2-1, in a shootout on Sunday. The wins were critical and Washington is now just two points behind the 8th place Philadelphia Flyers with just nine games to go. The Caps sit in 10th place one point behind the 9th place Buffalo Sabres. Also still in the mix are the red hot Florida Panthers who have won seven games in a row. The Panthers are tied with the Caps in points but have played one more game. The Caps still trail the Southeast Division leading Carolina Hurricanes by five points but do have a game in hand. Washington now goes on a six game road trip that will likely make or break their season.
As I mentioned in my blog last Wednesday night, the Caps needed Sergei Fedorov to step up offensively and he delivered this weekend getting the only goal in Sunday’s win and adding two assists on Friday night. The other major offensive bright spot for the weekend was forward Brooks Laich who continues to overachieve scoring two goals on Friday night and adding an assist on Sunday. Laich has a career high 19 goals this season because he continues to go to the net.
Goaltending was excellent from Cristobal Huet on Sunday afternoon as he stopped 39 shots and did not allow a shootout goal. Huet and Olie Kolzig will both need to remain hot for Washington to get in the playoffs.
The Caps go to Nashville Tuesday and then to Chicago on Wednesday before finishing the regular season tilt with seven games against Southeast Division opponents. With two games against Carolina upcoming the team basically controls its own destiny, although right now that means winning all nine games to get in the playoffs. The way I see it at this time, seven wins out of nine looks like a minimum number to qualify for the postseason.
More reason to root against the Anaheim Ducks: Defensemen Chris Pronger was suspended for eight games last week for stomping on Vancouver forward Ryan Kesler’s leg. It was a despicable act by Pronger and is consistent with the Ducks over the edge style of play. Luckily Kesler was not critically hurt.
Usually you hear about the players who play for Coach Mike Keenan as the frustrated ones but not so this year. After the Flames lost to the Caps and Thrashers in consecutive nights last week Keenan called his team one of the most frustrating and perplexing he has ever coached and Iron Mike has coached eight different NHL teams.
The Northwest Division continues to be razor tight with the Wild, Flames, Avalanche, and Canucks all within two points of each other heading into the last three weeks of the season. I still have no idea who will win this division. You can’t figure out what Flames team will show up each night. Colorado has won eight out of their last 10 games but continues to be hit by injuries and they play all nine remaining games against division opponents. Vancouver is banged up on defense but still keeps fighting. The Wild has been relying on the lesser known goaltending tandem of Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding.
Speaking of the Canucks, “all grit” performance of the week goes to Vancouver defensemen Willie Mitchell who took a puck in the mouth during a third period Dallas power play last night and finished the shift and the game. Mitchell’s face was bloodied and marked up yet he continued to throw his body in front of defenders and shots down the stretch as the Canucks hung on for a huge 4-3 win in Dallas.
The return of Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski on defense helped the Red Wings get back on track recently as Detroit won five games in a row but then back to back weekend losses to the Predators and the Blue Jackets show that all is still not well in Hockeytown. Detroit leads the President’s Trophy race with 100 points but they are not playing at a first place level right now and will face a difficult first round matchup in the playoffs.
So if the Caps do not make the playoffs then who should win the NHL’s MVP award? My vote is for Detroit defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom who has 61 points in 66 games and is a +39 overall. Also, Detroit was 2-3-1 when he was out of the lineup recently. Other candidates include Calgary’s Jarome Iginla (45 goals and 87 points in 72 games) and New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur (40-22-5 with a .922 save percentage). Another player I think deserves consideration but likely won’t get it is Montreal forward Alexei Kovalev who is probably having his best season ever with 31 goals and 43 assists in 73 games. Kovalev has been a +13 this season after going -19 in Montreal last year. Apparently Kovalev is also stepping up and becoming more of a team leader than ever this season and he has the Canadiens battling for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
If the Caps can defy the odds and get into the playoffs then Alexander Ovechkin is a lock for MVP and Coach Bruce Boudreau should win coach of the year over New Jersey’s Brent Sutter and Montreal’s Guy Charbonneau. If Nicklas Backstrom continues to produce down the stretch then he should edge Chicago’s Patrick Kane for rookie of the year honors (Calder Trophy).
Can’t Miss Games of the Week:
Monday: Colorado vs. Minnesota on Versus in HD at 7pm. First place in the Northwest Division and playoff positioning is on the line.
Tuesday: Washington at Nashville at 8pm on Comcast in HD. Both teams are on the outside looking in right now and desperately want and need to make the playoffs. Ovechkin is ALWAYS can’t miss TV.
Wednesday: Anaheim at Dallas (Centre Ice Package, 830pm). Unless either team gets hot and catches the San Jose Sharks this is a playoff preview between the #4 and #5 seeds in the Western Conference.
Thursday: Colorado at Calgary (Centre Ice Package, 9pm). First place in the Northwest Division and playoff positioning is on the line.
Saturday: New Jersey vs. Pittsburgh (Centre Ice Package, 730pm). These teams are battling with Montreal for first place in the Eastern Conference.