For the first time since May 13, 2009, a blowout loss in game 7 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals faced the Pittsburgh Penguins and despite spotting the Pens with an easy early goal (a Jose Theodore giveaway), the Caps carried the play much of the evening against the home Penguins en route to a 6-3 victory. The Capitals, who were tied at three after two periods, struck for three final stanza tallies. Alexander Ovechkin was dominant in this contest with two goals and an assist and he ran his record as Washington Capitals captain to 8-1. The Great #8 showed everyone in the league that he once again is the NHL MVP tonight, not just for his scoring but because of his two way play. Ovie was fantastic in every zone on Thursday night and you could see he really wanted this one. The victory is Washington’s 5th in a row and they are still in first place in the Eastern Conference at 32-12-6.
Let’s get right to the highlights and analysis:
MVP, MVP, MVP: Check out Alexander the Great’s stats tonight: 2 goals, 1 assist, 8 shots on net, 7 hits, and +2 in 20:39 of ice time. Ovechkin set up Mike Knuble for the Caps first goal, which was key after Theo literally gave the Penguins an easy one to take a 1-0 lead, by abusing defenseman Kris Letang and driving hard to the net. The Great #8′s shot bounced off of former Caps goalie Brent Johnson’s pads and #22 banged it home. Ovie then had a power play goal to tie this one at three in the second period and he finished the deal with an empty net goal. He was all over the ice on Thursday night.
Special Teams Perfect, on paper: The Caps power play (2 for 2) was a huge factor in the win as Ovechkin’s tally on the Capitals first man advantage knotted this one up for the third period and then Nicklas Backstrom’s sweet upstairs goal from in close gave Washington an early 5-3 final stanza advantage. On the penalty kill, the Caps were successful on all four Penguins power plays, although Kris Letang’s goal that made it 3-2 for Pittsburgh, was scored one second after rookie John Carlson came out of the penalty box (Carlson was recalled on Thursday morning to replace an injured Mike Green). It was clear that better ice made for improved passing for the Caps on the power play and they really had the Pens on their heels. Conversely, the Penguins had moments where they were very good on the man advantage but Theodore came up big when he had to, especially on Sidney Crosby early in front with the score 1-0. Overall though, Washington did a good job of keeping the Pittsburgh power play on the perimeter.
Goaltending Edge for Washington: Despite Theo’s stick handling gaffe and the bad rebound goal he gave up that resulted in Nik Johnson’s first goal of the season, #60 (35 saves) was fairly solid in the win. He did have a couple of other instances where he did not control the puck well on shots but the key was he compensated for that by making some big stops at critical junctures in the contest. At the other end, with Marc-Andre Fleury out due to a fractured finger, Johnson (28 saves) got the call for the Pens and after a decent start, I did not think Johnny was very good. His biggest mistake was going down and giving up the short side on Backstrom’s power play goal that cemented this one for Washington. To be fair though, one goal that went by him, Eric Fehr’s tally in the second period, was knocked in past him by his own defenesman, Brooks Orpik.
Winning the Draws: The Caps destroyed the Penguins in the faceoff circle, 41-25, and that helped them control the puck for most of this one. Brendan Morrison was a perfect 8-0 from the dot while Tomas Fleischmann was 11-5. Crosby took 30 face-offs and was a pitiful 10-20.
Defense Strong: Washington’s defense was still strong without their ice time and production leader, Green. I thought all three pairings were strong and even though Karl Alzner was -2 and Jeff Schultz -1, they were good together. They each received a minus on Theodore’s blunder early on and they were the pair on at the end of the Pens power play that resulted in Letang’s goal. The ice time was fairly well distributed with Tom Poti leading the way with 22:27 while Tyler Sloan had the fewest minutes, but he still logged 16:32. I thought Washington’s defenders did a good job of stepping up in the neutral zone and at their own blue line to take away the Penguins speed and transition game. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was likely proud of his so-called “much maligned” D on Thursday night.
Game Winning Goal: Alexander Semin only played 15:42 but his lone point came on a good defensive play followed by an even better saucer pass that sent Fleischmann in on a breakaway. #14 froze Johnson and beat him upstairs to stun the home Penguins just 2:32 into period three. Flash now has 17 goals in just 39 games this season.
Overall, this was a big win for the Caps on enemy ice. It was clear that Washington wanted this one and had their legs from the get go, unlike Tuesday’s tilt against the Red Wings (Theodore won that game). Earlier in the week Boudreau called the three contests against the Flyers, Detroit, and the Penguins as a measuring stick and with a 3-0 record you have to concede that his Caps rose to the occassion, for the most part. Next up are the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday night at the Verizon Center. The Coyotes, who are coached by former Cap Dave Tippett and are led by goalie Ilya Brzgalov, have had a very good season and will be the fourth tough challenge in just seven days. Phoenix is a good hockey team, but they do not have the recent playoff track record like the Flyers, Wings, and Pens, so Ovechkin and company must try to avoid an emotional let down.
That is it for me tonight, sorry for the lack of quotes, but it has been a long day but a good one for me. The Caps victory was the icing on the cake for the Frankovic family this evening as Christian Edward Frankovic was born today at 4:58 pm at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore. Yes, my son is now officially 1-0 against the Pens, have a great night!