Huge Win in Nashville
Alexander Ovechkin found a new way to score a goal tonight, albeit it was into an empty net with 3.5 seconds left. Ovechkin, after sacrificing his body a couple of times to block shots in the final minute, gathered a loose puck in the Caps end and banked it off of the boards and all the way down the rink watching it trickle slowly into the vacated Predators net to give the Caps a 4-2 win over Nashville. The Great #8, who took a slap shot off of his foot late in tonight’s first period but played on in pain, added two assists to go with the goal and Cristobal Huet was solid in net making 24 saves for the win. Ovechkin continues to amaze me with his desire to carry this team and tonight his willingness to block shots by putting his body in front of opposing shooters shows you just how far Alexander the Great will go to get this team into the post-season.
Ovechkin now has 58 goals and 44 assists and has a five point lead in the league scoring race over Evengi Malkin of Pittsburgh, who was shut out on Broadway tonight against the New York Rangers in a 5-2 Penguin loss.
The Caps win allows them to keep pace with the Philadelphia Flyers who defeated the Atlanta Thrashers tonight, 3-2, on Broad Street. The Caps moved past the idle Buffalo Sabres into ninth place in the Eastern Conference; although the Sabres have a game in hand (they trail the Caps by a point).
Wednesday night the Caps go to Chicago to take on a talented Blackhawks team that has been led by the superb play of rookies Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Hockey, which was once an impossible ticket in the Windy City, was essentially dead the last several years until a couple of things happened recently (please take note Oriole fans). The team was owned for 41 years by Bill Wirtz who ran the organization like a 1940’s franchise with his stubborn and frugal ways. Wirtz refused to put the team on local television and did everything he could to disengage a once rabid hockey fan base. But when Wirtz passed away last September his son took over the team and he immediately started changing things putting the team back on television and working to reclaim the fan base as evidenced by the following quote.
“Our goal in putting home games back on television is to bring the excitement and energy of our great team back to Blackhawk fans,” said Blackhawks Chairman W. Rockwell “Rocky” Wirtz. “We know that the more our fans are able to see the action of games, the more they will want to come out to the United Center and experience it firsthand.”
Hockey is now alive and well in Chicago (they have had several sellouts at the United Center this season) and the Blackhawks have a promising future with Kane and Toews. This will be a tough game for the Caps.
Nashville’s loss tonight puts Barry Trotz and his team behind the eight ball as they continue to trail Calgary, Colorado, and Vancouver by four points for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Flames and Canucks also have a game in hand on the Predators.
In Saturday night’s contest against the Edmonton Oilers in the late game on Hockey Night in Canada, Phoenix goalie Ilyz Bryzgalov lost his temper and flung his stick against the back glass after Marty Reasoner’s goal put Edmonton up 4-1 midway through the third period. The scary thing is that referee Don Koharski was skating behind the net when Bryzgalov did his best Tommy Bolt impersonation. Luckily, Jim Schoenfeld’s favorite referee was not hit or injured by the stick. Why Koharski did not give Bryzgalov a 10 minute misconduct is beyond me?
On Hockey Night in Canada Radio on Sirius 122 this afternoon the NHL MVP debate raged on led by host Jeff Marek. Everyone pretty much agrees that if the Caps get in the playoffs Ovechkin wins the award hands down although Malkin’s name came up a few times. Malkin scored 40 points in the 24 games that Pittsburgh has been without superstar Sydney Crosby this season. Marek pointed out that some scouts he spoke with at the 2004 NHL Entry Draft thought that Ovechkin would be better early on but that Malkin had the potential to be better over the long haul. The NHL scout I spoke with shortly after that draft told me that Ovechkin would be the best player although he liked Malkin too (by the way, Chicago drew the short straw that year and ended up picking third getting defensemen Cam Barker who was just called up to the big club midway through this season). Personally, I think Ovechkin is better and will continue to be better as long as he stays healthy, although I agree that Malkin is an outstanding player. If the Caps don’t make the playoffs then as I wrote in my blog on Sunday night my MVP vote goes to Red Wings defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom.